Libya petrol smuggling affects southern Tunisia
By Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 23/08/11
Tunisia is experiencing a fuel supply problem. In the southern part of the country, it is verging on a crisis.
"During the past days, the [southern] region has seen a gasoline shortage as a result of a number of private trucks acquiring large quantities and smuggling them to Libya," said Yosri Damarji, Regional Director of the Ministry of Trade and Tourism for Sidi Bouzid.
To prevent potential smugglers from acquiring large quantities of petrol, Sidi Bouzid set a sales limit of 50 litres per person.
Before the measure, some smugglers were able to "procure about 2,000 litres and convey it covertly in tanks on trucks", he said.
"I went back to my hometown during summer vacation, but I could not find petrol for my return to the capital, forcing me to purchase it on the black market at expensive prices," said Sofien Mokhtar, who lives in Tunis but comes from Sidi Bouzid.
"Frankly, that day I deeply sensed the crisis we will be in if the Libyan war continues," he told Magharebia.
Another young Tunis resident is equally apprehensive. "Perhaps the Libyan war has a more negative impact on us than the Tunisian revolution," Mohamed Aoun said.
"The lack of certain basic materials has made us apprehensive about how the future will be," he said.
The Tunisian Ministry of Industry said issues other than the Libya crisis were behind the current petrol shortages.
According to Khaled Kaddour, the top energy official at the Ministry of Industry and Technology, "National consumption of gasoline peaked in July, recording an increase of 35% compared to last year."
"Disruption of the supply process in some areas of the south caused demand to double more than 15 times, and this is mainly linked to the strikes seen at a number of oil corporations," he added.
Moreover, oil companies who supply the south must pay extra fees to ensure the security of their deliveries, Kaddour told Magharebia.
Only 6 exploratory wells were completed out of the 14 that were planned for 2011. Recent labour strikes were also the reason for halting the project to connect Gafsa and the Mongi basin with natural gas, he said.
Touhami Ben Rjeb sees yet another reason for the shortages. As a taxicab owner, his livelihood depends on filling his tank.
"The presence of Libyans among us has contributed greatly to this phenomenon," he said."There are a large number of Libyan refugees with their cars, creating a new, difficult situation," he added.
"Now that Libya is almost out of its crisis, people here hope that this shortage will not last longer," another Jarjis resident offered.
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