An hour or so after arriving in the southern Tunisian coastal city of Gabes, my throat was overtaken by an unfamiliar agitation, causing me to assume that I had either suddenly acquired asthma or inadvertently swallowed a swarm of mosquitoes.
I apologised to my companions for disrupting our stroll along the promenade with graceless coughing convulsions. Habib Ayeb - a Tunisian academic and documentary filmmaker based at the University of Paris VIII in France - quickly debunked my auto-diagnosis. “It’s the pollution.”
Gabes, which boasts the world’s only coastal oasis, unfortunately also has several other distinguishing characteristics, including comprehensive contamination.
Since the 1970s, the city has hosted an industrial zone that presently comprises phosphate refineries and other poisonous for-export operations primarily under the command of the state-owned Tunisian Chemical Group. The area has now attained the distinction of being Tunisia’s cancer capital and a general hub for human and animal afflictions.
Of course, the powers-that-be do their best to obscure this obvious cause-and-effect sequence. After all, what connection could ecosystemic malaise and rampant illness possibly have to “clouds of rotten-smelling yellow gas” emitted from smokestacks and tonnes of radioactive waste dumped into the sea?
As often happens these days in the face of existential concerns, the trusty narrative of “development” is trotted out. Factories mean jobs, so the story goes, and are thus necessary for survival - never mind if you can’t breathe. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.