Once set apart from the city, today half of Tunis’ residents live on the banks of the “sebkha”, or mudflat, where more than 100,000 birds of around 100 different species spend winter. The birds’ human neighbours complain of pollution, recurrent flooding and swarms of mosquitos from the lagoon, one of North Africa’s most important wetlands that became a dumping ground during decades of urbanisation. A government-led project that includes buildings, concrete embankments, and digging into the mudflat aims to control pollution and regenerate the habitat, but some environmental groups have pushed back against the initiative. The lagoon plays a vital role not only in absorbing the overflow of water during heavy rains, but also as a breeding ground for the flocks of migratory birds that gather there at the end of winter. But as rural populations flocked to Tunis, unauthorised building flourished in the former agricultural suburbs of the city and the lagoon became a dump for waste mainly from construction. But environmental activists are concerned about the potential impact of the project, whose cost could reach more than $153 million.
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