Communication as a strategic consideration for government and operators

The water sector in Tunisia also suffers from a dearth of communication between government and service providers, and more broadly among the various stakeholders. There is a lack of awareness about environmental problems, and communication with users is not always seen as a priority by government bodies and operators, including the Communication Divisions within SONEDE and ONAS, which often lack qualified personnel for pursuing true public communication campaigns. At the present time, the communication divisions of the two operators have no real communication plans, nor do they have the financial resources needed for effective communication activities. In 20042005, SONEDE attempted a water awareness campaign through spot advertisements and training sessions, but that strategy did not achieve the expected results. There may be a role here for donors, whose technical assistance programmes could include components for encouraging Tunisian businesses and government authorities to make communication a strategic activity in the future. The authorities also have trouble identifying the target audience, and this diminishes the return on the purchase of often costly advertising space in the media.

Experience in OECD countries has shown that water communication campaigns can be effective in transmitting clear and understandable messages to the general public, establishing dialogue, and encouraging a shift in water consumption habits. Similarly, increasing numbers of countries in the Middle East and North Africa are investing in the media. In Egypt, for example, all the major dailies publish weekly stories on environmental activities and they report the more serious violations of environmental legislation. Since 2000, the government has had in place an environmental information programme for journalists, and has been conducting a public awareness campaign (World Bank, 2005).

Objectives could be set for encouraging the development of communication and media plans geared specifically to large consumers (businesses, hotels etc.), consumer associations, households etc., and at the same time for strengthening operators’ communication skills. For example, the “2030 Water Agenda” adopted in Mexico in 2011 calls for water-related communication campaigns as an economic and social development tool, together with information dissemination programmes in co-operation with the education and industrial sectors to make the public aware of the challenges in the regions where they live, and ways of addressing them (OECD, 2013b).

Strengthening the communication capacities of service providers is essential for achieving greater user involvement, starting with clarification of the target audience. A mapping and analysis of stakeholder expectations as well as their mode of communication (newspapers, social networking etc.) could contribute to the development of effective media strategies. Strengthening the communication divisions of SONEDE and ONAS and creating true customer service units would improve their capacity to respond to complaints from consumers, to anticipate their needs, and to understand the evolving context. The new 2050 water strategy now being developed is an opportunity to make communication a cross-cutting activity as part of a water sector review. Today there are no plans to celebrate World Water Day, although this could be an opportunity to disseminate messages about the value of water in the context of water scarcity.

Strengthening and stimulating the existing participatory and consultative forums

The existing participatory and consultative forums could be improved by systematising them and broadening them to deal with questions concerning the delivery of water and sanitation services, as a means of engaging consumers. Ensuring public access to information about water and sanitation is an essential step toward effectively engaging the public, and consumers in particular, in the decision-making process. But it will have little impact unless it is handled through fora where citizens can express themselves and take action. This will require some kind of institutionalised participatory mechanism in Tunisia, beyond informal processes and occasional initiatives, in order to ensure real consultation and input for projects and reforms in the water sector.

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