St John’s Beheaded ?

25 October 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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The ongoing debate of where to house exhibits related to St John’s Co-Cathedral at times appeared to be getting out of hand. Contrary to what some would have us believe, it is an issue which should not be left exclusively to the experts! St John’s belongs to the nation.

The fact that it is the subject of a public debate is healthy and we should thank the NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Friends of the Earth for having had the foresight to understand that bringing up the matter in the public domain would encourage the search for and the analysis of alternative solutions.

St John’s Co-Cathedral is not just a place of worship. It is also a museum and, indirectly, a money spinner. The monies generated from those visiting pay for its upkeep. Placing more exhibits on view would make St John’s Museum more attractive to tourists. It will also, however, make the provision of a decent space for the exhibits a necessity. So runs the thinking of the foundation in charge of St John’s.

So the proposal is to consider the manner in which additional exhibition space is to be provided. One such idea was to roof over the knights’ graveyard, bordering Merchants’ Street and reconstructed as part of War Damage. Since St John’s Co-Cathedral complex is a scheduled Grade 1 monument in its entirety this proposal is clearly out of the question: Grade 1 monuments are untouchable!

A second proposal is to excavate below St John’s Square and below parts of St John’s Street and Merchants’ Street, Valletta.

Even if one were to (temporarily) set aside the issue of dust and quantities of excavated rock resulting from such works, a matter which merits consideration is that the proposal to excavate would possibly damage the underground tunnels housing Valletta’s sewers, which tunnels meander below Valletta’s streets. Having, as a civil engineer in the then Drainage Section of the Works Department in the early 1980s, walked through most of these tunnels I clearly recollect that they have a varying width and do not run in straight lines but approximately in diagonals below most of Valletta streets. This would not necessarily show up in the available drawings and would require verification through a detailed survey. The proposed excavation would thus mean that these tunnels, a 450-year old civil engineering feat, could be damaged.

This would consequently exclude from consideration most of the areas earmarked for excavation leaving available just two options: the utilisation of existing vacant properties in the vicinity or else limiting access in the same manner as is being done in the case of the Ħal-Saflieni Temples.

I am pointing this out of concern as there seems to be an underlying interest to create an artificial barrier between those in favour and those against the foundation’s proposals. In reality, it should not be an issue of being in favour or against but in seeking the best way forward in the interests of a better protection and appreciation of our heritage.

The matter will be subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA) whose terms of reference are being drafted.

It may be worth pointing out that in the short time that EIAs have been carried out in Malta (as far as I am aware) there has not been one instance where the assessors have been critical of a project such that it was abandoned or subjected to substantial modification. This, in my view, is the result of the manner in which members of the EIA team are appointed.

The responsibility of Mepa in vetting the appointment of the EIA team by the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation is enormous. The public needs to be assured that the EIA exercise will not be one of trying to justify the foundation’s proposal. There have been too many instances where an EIA in Malta was effectively used or perceived to have been used for this purpose – the flawed site selection exercise relative to the Sant’Antnin waste management plant at Marsascala being one of the most notable examples. In that instance, serious deficiencies in the site selection exercise were ignored, thereby fuelling opposition to a project which, if properly assessed, could have led to different conclusions as well as universal acceptance.

I am purposely limiting myself to the above issues. There are others related to the running costs of providing an adequate internal environment for the exhibits.

It is obvious that this could be much more costly if an underground space is excavated then if a built-up space above ground level is utilised.

Protecting our heritage includes speaking up whenever necessary. Let the discussion continue until all the difficulties raised have been examined. Only then can a reasonable solution be considered but not a beheading!

Ta’ Ċenċ Salvat !

 

Il-MEPA estendiet il-protezzjoni ta’ Ta’ Ċenċ. Dan hu pass tajjeb il-quddiem fil-ħarsien ambjentali li għandu ħtieġa tiegħu pajjiżna.

Imma jkun floku li niftakru li dan sar wara snin ta’ protesti u oġġezzjonijiet għall-iżvilupp propost fl-inħawi. Ġew dedikati mijiet ta’ siegħat f’laqgħat u protesti minn bosta, fosthom Alternattiva Demokratika u l-parti l-kbira tal-NGOs. Fl-aħħar, il-Gvern permezz tal-MEPA baxxa rasu. Għal snin sħaħ iżda irresista dan il-pass.

Tafu x’kienet id-differenza ?

Is-sħubija ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea għamlet id-differenza kollha : huwa biss bħala riżultat tal-isħubija ta’ Malta fl-EU li l-Gvern permezz tal-MEPA ġie f’sessieh.

Kien hemm diversi attentati sa l-aħħar mumenti biex ikun hemm resistenza istituzzjonali  għal dan il-pass. Fosthom iż-żjara (rappurtata fil-gazzetti) mill-iżviluppatur akkumpanjat (skond il-gazzetti) minn uffiċjali pubbliċi go Brussel. Kien hemm ukoll xi laqgħat li saru bil-kwiet biex titrattab l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti ta’ żvilupp ta’ Ta’ Ċenċ.

Imma fortunatament is-sħubija fl-EU bdiet tagħti l-frott għall-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Li kieku 4 snin ilu Malta ma ssieħbitx fl-Unjoni Ewropea jien konvint li Ta’ Ċenċ diġa ilu kkundannat għall-kostruzzjoni.

Issa wara Ta’ Ċenċ imiss Ħondoq ir-Rummien li ukoll jeħtieġ li jkun imħares minn ħalq l-ispekulaturi.

Nistennew u naraw.  

Sa fl-aħħar : strateġija dwar l-ilma

 

 

Kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li naqra illum li l-Awtorita dwar ir-Riżorsi qed tħejji strateġija dwar l-ilma. Għalkemm damet ftit biex tistenbaħ għar-realta’ ta’ min jiehu pjaċir li fl-aħħar bdiet tiċċaqlaq.

Waqt konferenza tal-aħbarijiet il-bieraħ li kienet indirizzata mill-Ministru għar-Riżorsi u l-Affarjiet Rurali kien imħabbar li qed tiġi mħejjija din l-istrateġija. Tħabbar ukoll illi permezz ta’ żewġ avviżi legali beda jseħħ pjan għall-ħarsien tal-ilma tal-pjan (ground water). Dan billi matul it-tnax-il xahar li ġejjin mhux ser ikun possibli li jitħaffru boreholes ġodda.

L-istrateġija dwar l-ilma f’pajjiżna trid tħares fil-fond lejn is-sorsi kollha tal-ilma fil-pajjiż.

L-ilma tal-pjan huwa wieħed minnhom u l-Gvern għamel pass tajjeb li beda l-proċess li għandu jwassal għall-protezzjoni tiegħu. Daqstant ieħor iżda hemm ħtieġa illi nqiesu sewwa l-ilma tax-xita (storm water). F’dan il-kuntest mingħajr iktar dewmien il-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jidentifika għaliex hawn ħafna binjiet residenzjali li m’humex pprovduti b’bir kif suppost skond il-liġi. Il-konsegwenza ta’ dan huwa li ħafna ilma tax-xita qed jinħela, jiġri fit-toroq jew agħar minn hekk mixħut fid-drenaġġ. Din hi r-raġuni li f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta jfur id-drenaġġ meta tagħmel xita qawwija.

Dan m’huwiex biss ħela ta’ ilma, iżda ukoll sors ta’ mard kif ukoll piż żejjed fuq l-impjanti tat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Dan huwa ilma li nistgħu nużawh aħjar u l-istrateġija trid tqis dan fil-fond u tħejji pjan ta’ ażżjoni xieraq.

Sors ieħor ta’ ilma huwa dak li jiġi imsaffi mill-impjanti tad-drenaġġ li s’issa minnhom għandna tnejn u minn hawn u ftit iehor ikollna t-tielet wieħed. Pajjiżi oħra bħal Singapore bdew t-twettieq ta’ pjan li għandu jwassal biex dan is-sors ta’ ilma jkun jista’ jintuża ukoll għax-xorb. F’Malta dan l-ilma qed jintrema l-baħar !

Dan (il-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-ilma) huwa qasam li fih għadna lura ħafna bħala pajjiż. Li titħejja l-istrateġija huwa pass tajjeb. Imma minn hemm irridu ngħaddu biex din l-istrateġija tkun tista’ titwettaq u dan fil-futur qarib.

Impjant ieħor għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ fil-Mellieħa

 

Tlesta impjant iehor għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. It-tieni wieħed minn tlieta. Qiegħed fil-Mellieħa fl-inħawi ta’ Popeye Village. Jgħidulu Anchor Bay. Iżda mill-Mellieħin magħruf bħala l-Prajjiet !

Bħalma ġara fil-każ tal-impjant t’Għawdex, l-ilma msaffi qed jintefa l-baħar. Ftit il-fuq, fiċ-Ċirkewwa hemm imbagħad impjant tal-RO (Reverse Osmosis) li jerġa’ jiġbor l-istess ilma mill-baħar biex jippreparah ħalli jkun tajjeb għax-xorb. L-istess jiġr ftit kilometri l-isfel, f’Għar Lapsi, fejn hemm impjant iehor tal-RO !

Hemm bżonn naħsbu ftit iktar fil-fond bħala pajjiż fuq il-politika dwar l-ilma. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nħarsu sa mneħirna. Din tal-impjanti tat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ fl-opinjoni tiegħi hi biċċa xogħol oħra li saret minn sieqha. Min fassal is-sistema ikkunsidra biss li l-ilma li jintefa l-baħar ma jniġġisx. Allura fil-prattika waħħal filter fit-tarf tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Din insejħula “end of pipe solution“.

Kien hemm bżonn ftit iktar ħsieb. Fi ftit kliem kien hemm bżonn li jinstab mezz utli għall-ilma msoffi. (Probabilment li biex ikun jista’ jintuża l-ilma jkollu bżonn jgħaddi minn iktar proċessi biex jitnaddaf iżjed u dan b’mod li jkun tajjeb għall-użu ppjanat.)

Pajjiż ieħor, Singapore, għandu problemi li jixbħu lil tagħna dwar l-iskarsezza tal-ilma. Fi ftit snin oħra jagħlqihom iż-żmien stabilit f’wieħed mit-trattati li għandhom mal-Malasja biex tipprovdihom bl-ilma tajjeb għax-xorb. Il-Malasja hi lesta li ġġedded dan it-trattat imma bi prezz finanzjarju għoli hafna. Il-politiċi ta’ Singapore fasslu pjan li tul medda ta’ snin jissostitwixxu l-ilma impurtat mill-Malasja.

Dan ser jagħmluh fost ohrajn billi jieħdu ħsieb jiġbru iktar l-ilma tax-xita kif ukoll billi l-ilma tad-drenaġġ jissaffa b’mod li jkun tajjeb għax-xorb.

U aħna f’Malta, fl-għerf kollu tagħna narmuh il-baħar. L-ispiza imbagħad tinġabar b’rati għola għall-konsum tal-ilma! Fl-istess ħin l–awtoritajiet iħallu lil min jiflaħ jieħu l-ilma tal-pjan u jbiegħu bil-bowsers !

Sakemm jibqa’ s-serq tal-ilma tal-pjan u l-bejgħ tiegħu bil-bowsers ħadd m’hu ser jitħajjar jibda jagħmel użu mill-ilma tad-drenaġġ imsaffi. Għax, ngħiduha kif inhi : għalfejn tħallas għal dak li tista’ tieħu bl-irħis jew tant aħjar b’xejn !

Il-bomba ta’ Austin Gatt

 

Il-bomba li sploda Austin Gatt dwar il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma ilha ġejja. Ilha tinħema.

Il-problema ma nħolqitx issa, iżda ilha teżisti. Il-Gvern permezz tas-surcharge u s-sussidji lill-Enemalta u l-Korporazzjoni ghas-Servizzi tal-Ilma stenna sakemm  għaddiet l-elezzjoni. Dan biex jevita reazzjoni tan-nies u tal-industrija li inevitabilment kien ikun tradott f’voti.

Kif qal tajjeb Lino Spiteri fit-Times illum id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Austin Gatt kienet żball ekonomiku u politika. Il-Gvern permezz ta’ Austin Gatt u bil-parteċipazzjoni tal-konsulenti mill-KPMG għamel prinċipalment ezerċizzju tal-calculator – kif kien għamel il-Gvern ta’ Alfred Sant fl-1997 : u li bħala riżultat kien ħaffef il-waqa’ tiegħu.

X’inhu meħtieġ ?

L-ewwel nett li wara li ġie kwantifikat l-impatt ekonomiku, jiġi determinat ukoll l-impatt soċjali. S’issa ma jirriżultax illi dan ġie eżaminat. Huwa neċessarju li dan ikun eżaminat, għax l-aċċess għall-enerġija u l-ilma huwa meħtieġ biex il-kwalita’ tal-ħajja tagħna ilkoll tkun waħda diċenti. Irid allura jiġi stabilit x’inhu l-aċċess minimu neċessarju għall-elettriku u ilma għal kull tip ta’ familja fil-pajjiż.

Mhux biss. Imma huwa ukoll neċessarju li jkunu stabiliti mekkaniżmi biex ma jkunx hemm abbużi minn dan l-aċċess minimu garantit.

Sal-lum il-politika tal-prezzijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma dejjem hekk kienet f’dan il-pajjiż. Dejjem kien hemm rati differenti dipendenti mill-konsum : rati baxxi għall-konsum baxx. Rati għola għall-konsum għola.

Fuq dan il-bażi għandu jkun possibli li jinħoloq kunsens nazzjonali. Il-piż għandu jinġarr minn min jikkonsma ħafna.

Illum il-5 t’Ottubru ……….. Jum l-Istudent ……… Jum il-GWU

Dan il-Jum huwa għalija marbut mal-5 t’Ottubru 1977, Jum l-Istudent.

Ifakkar il-ġrajjiet ta’ dakinnhar. Meta studenti tal-Mediċina li inqabdu fin-nofs fit-tilwima bejn il-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Laburista u t-tobba intrabtu bil-ktajjen mal-ħadid tal-Berġa ta’ Kastilja biex jipprotestaw kontra l-għeluq tal-Iskola Medika u l-effett li dan kellu fuq l-edukazzjoni tagħhom.

Ifakkar in-numru kbir ta’ studenti  li tlajna minn Tal-Qroqq lejn il-Belt b’appoġġ u r-reazzjoni vjolenti tal-Pulizija.

Żminijiet oħra li għalina li konna hemm u għaddejna minnhom żgur li l-anqas noħolmu bihom ma nixtiequ. Għal dawk li ma kienux hemm diffiċli li jifhmu.  

Illum huwa ukoll Jum il-GWU. Ifakkar meta din il-Union twaqqfet fl-1943, 65 sena ilu. Jum importanti u ta’ riflessjoni għal Union li flimkien ma kontribut posittiv qawwi għamlet ukoll żbalji kbar fil-passat. Ovvjament inħarsu l-quddiem b’tama li l-iżbalji ma jirrepetux ruħhom.

A Price To Pay

The report to the UK government by Sir Nicholas Stern in late 2006 underlined that the effects of climate change are on our doorstep. There is a cost which we will have to pay even if we act in good time. The cost is, however, substantially higher if we do not act at all and it increases further with every “bad” policy decision.

Malta needs to take all possible action to reduce its carbon emissions. It is an unavoidable necessity. Within this context it is necessary to debate on a national level the utility of having a carbon budget, a point which I emphasised last year (Wanted: A Carbon Budget, October 10, 2007). Carbon budgeting will entail reporting regularly to Parliament on the manner in which targets are to be achieved as well as the extent to which Malta would be in line with its set targets.

The opposition spokesman on climate change has already declared his intention of presenting a private member’s Bill in this respect. In the process he is trying to lay the foundations for a credible opposition environmental policy which has been nowhere in sight for ages. The opposition’s initiative, stated the minister responsible for climate change, is ill-timed as a climate change commission has just been appointed and one should have the decency to await its conclusions.

There is obviously another side to the argument. That we are fed up of commissions reporting: report after report with nothing tangible resulting. The minister responsible for climate change has been in office for more than 10 years (having a portfolio responsible for the environment and, consequently, climate change for most of this time) and throughout all these years he had more than ample time to plan for national action on climate change. But, obviously, he was too busy dealing with local plans and could ill afford the time to act for climate change !

Malta urgently needs to plan for both the short term as well as the long term effects of climate change. The most obvious effect is that caused by changing patterns of climate. Extremes of weather in the form of higher temperatures, more intense rainfall and more severe storms are already being felt. A rise in sea levels is also on the cards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has forecast that sea levels could rise between 28 and 43 centimetres by the end of this century. Yet, new research is already pointing towards the 1.50 metres range as being a more likely occurrence by 2100.

Depending on its magnitude, a sea level rise could play havoc with Malta’s coastline which would change beyond recognition. It could also threaten the existence of coastal settlements like Msida, Gżira, parts of Sliema, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa, Għadira, Marsalforn and Xlendi. The Freeport, seaside facilities including hotels and resorts as well as Grand Harbour facilities would also be under threat.

Effects would not be just along the coastline. They could move further inland towards low-lying areas like Marsa, Qormi, Burmarrad and beyond. This would also have a bearing on our territorial waters, on fishing rights and oil exploration rights. Although these are “just” long-term effects they should be taken seriously as it seems that this will be the inheritance we will pass on to future generations! (On a global level as many as one billion people could be forced to move from their homes by 2050.)

A sea level rise will also cause further damage to what’s left of our water table, currently the source of 40 per cent of Malta’s potable water supply. This will increase the salinity of the ground water thereby causing it to be of little use for human consumption. Coupled with a predicted annual rainfall reduction this will have a devastating effect on the sustainable freshwater yield from our aquifers. It will increase the pressure on energy intensive RO plants.

Agriculture will be effected too. Changed weather conditions will not be able to sustain our current crops. Our farmers will have to switch to new crops.

A change in climate will also accelerate an ecological change as it will create the right conditions for the establishment of alien species that cannot do so to date, simultaneously wiping out existing species on the islands. In the long term, Malta’s climate could start resembling that of the tropics. This would create the right conditions for new pests and diseases currently prevalent in such climates.

Most of us have been aware of the above for years. Sufficient information has been available to enable the government to act. Unfortunately it had other priorities, or, worse, it did not have the will to act.

The longer the wait the harder it will be to take action and the higher the price which the Maltese community will have to pay.