Bizerte is located in northern Tunisia, on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In 2019, the city joined the ASToN (African Smart Town Network), a network of 11 African cities developing leading and innovative digital projects to transform in an inclusive and sustainable way. Within ASToN, Bizerte elaborated a project that aims to integrate digital technology into waste management and disposal. There are two main objectives: to improve service delivery in the waste management sector and to involve residents in the management of public services. The technological solutions being developed will contribute to a better quality of life for city dwellers.
The challenge of urban expansion
Bizerte has a population of 165,000 inhabitants, with rapid urban growth. The number of houses has increased from 35,000 in 2004 to 48,000 in 2014. The city attracts new residents, particularly from large urban centres like the capital Tunis, sixty-five kilometres away. This urban growth causes pressure on municipal services, such as waste management.
The region of Bizerte has important natural and tourist potential: the lakes of Bizerte, Ichkeul and Ghar El Melh; the island of Jalta, with beautiful landscapes and considerable fish stocks; Cap Blanc, the northernmost point in Africa; and the Mejerda River, which flows all year round through vast agricultural lands. Nature conservation and management of urban spaces are priorities for the city and its four districts (La Medina, Ain Meriem, Zarzouna and Hached).
“The municipality of Bizerte is seeking to continuously improve the quality of life of its citizens, specifically in the way it manages waste,” according to city officials. However, this project seems to be hampered by complex realities. There are two main points of concern for the city’s local leaders.
The first concern is the urban sprawl and the recent expansion of the city’s boundaries, particularly into suburban and rural areas. “The surface area of the city has quadrupled, making it more difficult to monitor waste trucks, increasing the number of “blank spots” in service delivery and limiting the level of citizen satisfaction,” according to the Tunisian project team.
The second concern is the lack of internal and external communication, between the members of the waste management department on one hand and a lack of external communication with the citizens on the other hand. In addition, there is no digital transformation plan for the municipality.
The main opportunity for Bizerte, and the whole of Tunisia, lies in the existence of a strong digital infrastructure as well as a good understanding of digital issues by the municipality’s services, which already use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) successfully.
It is in this context that the Bizerte project aims to improve the quality of service delivery. This should be measurable through three indicators: cleaner neighbourhoods; a better understanding of citizens’ needs; and a better satisfaction with the delivery of municipal waste services. These issues are summarised by Kamel Ben Amara, mayor of Bizerte: “Our objective is to make the city cleaner, to improve the engagement with the population and to transform our waste into energy, with renewable energy technologies”.
A platform with two main objectives
“After the first phase aimed at the analysis of the current situation, we launched our second phase of exploration and then we started the experimentation phase, the current stage of our local project,” explained Wiem Amri, head of the IT department of the Bizerte municipality and one of the focal points of the project. These three stages enabled the local team to define the needs and design digital solutions for the city. “We are using digital technology to optimise the use of the municipality’s resources in waste management and to improve coordination between the human resources in charge of this issue,” added Wiem. Bizerte is developing an interactive platform for the waste management sector, with a double interface. The first one is internal to the municipal team and aims at optimising the management of the service and its coordination. The second one is external and is dedicated to receive complaints and grievances from residents. Amri clarified: “This platform will allow a greater transparency of the management of this sector”.
The citizens have a key role in local decision-making and are calling for greater engagement in the management of their city.
“During this project, the participatory approach was implemented, through surveys and meetings with representatives of the population,” according to Amri.
The application currently being developed should facilitate citizen engagement and the management of their complaints online. “The key to the project’s success is citizen ownership,” insists the ASToN focal point in Bizerte.
The platform was tested during the experimentation phase. Amri explained that “a pilot area was chosen with the participation of ten waste collection truck drivers and two supervisors, on ten collection routes. This phase allowed us to measure the quality of the work and the role played by the platform”.
This gradual approach is in line with the spirit of the ASToN programme. “We are starting to roll out the digital solution on a small scale. This allows us to put in place small but solid measures to find the right solution for our local challenges. There is no miracle or unique solution,” according to the head of the IT department in the municipality of Bizerte.
The path towards a smart city seems to be quite clear.
Written by Salaheddine Lemaizi.