L-annimali, il-moħqrija u l-ikel fuq il-platt

Issa għaddew iktar minn seba’ snin minn meta issejjaħ ir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li kien inizjattiva ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika flimkien ma’ koalizzjoni ta’ 13-il għaqda ambjentali u tal-ħarsien tal-annimali u li kien intilef b’numru żgħir ħafna ta’ voti. Kultant dan il-proċess demokratiku jerġa’ jissemma’ fl-aħbarijiet u dan billi l-għaqdiet tal-kaċċaturi jridu  jnaqqsu l-aċċess għal dan id-dritt. S’issa, fortunatement, ħadd ma jidher li ta każ tagħhom. Imma ħadd ma jaf jekk l-affarijiet jinbidlux fil-futur!

Flok ma nirrestrinġu l-użu demokratiku tal-għodda tar-referendum għandna nikkunsidraw li nestendu l-użu tiegħu. Sal-lum għandna d-dritt li niġbru l-firem biex jissejjaħ referendum li jipproponi li titħassar liġi jew parti minnha. Għalhekk jissejjaħ referendum “abrogattiv” għax huwa referendum li jħassar ligi jew parti tagħha. Dan id-dritt demokratiku  għandu jkun estiż biex ikun possibli li jittieħdu inizjattivi dwar liġijiet li l-Parlament jevita b’mod kontinwu.  ADPD-The Green Party repetutament ippropona li dan isir bi proposti speċifiċi fil-manifest elettorali. L-aħħar darba li dan sar kien fl- elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2022.

Ir-referendum tal-2015 dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa kien biex jitħassru regolamenti li kienu jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. B’dan il-pass kienet tkun qed tiġi imħarsa l-bijodiversità u dan għax fil-perjodu li l-għasafar ibejtu l-ebda kaċċa ma kienet tkun permessa.   Dan imma ma kienx jindirizza l-ħarsien tal-għasafar b’mod iktar wiesa’. Biex dan ikun jista’ jseħħ teħtieġ li tkun abolita l-kaċċa f’kull żmien. Din fil-fatt kienet, u nifhem li għada, l-posizzjoni ġustifikata tal-għaqdiet li jaħdmu favur l-annimali.

Id-dibattitu lokali dwar il-ħarsien tal-annimali hu sfortunatament limitat għall-annimali li nżommu fid-djar (pets), dawk li jintużaw fir-riċerka, kif ukoll riċentment għaż-żmiemel li jintużaw mal-karozzini. Ittieħdu diversi inizjattivi dwar iż-żwiemel u dan wara ħidma bla waqfien mill-għaqidet li jaħdmu favur il-ħarsien tal-annimali.

Il-mod kif l-industrja tal-agrikultura timxi mal-annimali fl-irziezet hi materja ta’ importanza. Qed jingħata importanza dejjem ikbar fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Riċentement, Alison Bezzina, il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tal-Annimali ippruvat testendi d-diskussjoni dwar dan kollu billi ikkummentat dwar il-konsum tal-ħalib. Il-kummenti tagħha saru fil-Jum Dinji tal-Ħalib (3 ta’ Ġunju). Hi ibbażat il-kummenti tagħha fuq dak li jgħaddu minnu l-baqar li jipproduċu l-ħalib b’mod naturali għall-għoġġiela tagħhom u jispiċċaw jeħdulhom kemm il-ħalib kif ukoll lill-għoġġiela biex jinbiegħ kummerċjalment!  

L-argument dwar il-mod kif nimxu mal-annimali jkompli. Intqal illi kieku l-biċċerija għandha ħitan tal-ħġieg, ħadd iktar ma jiekol laħam. Il-punt hu li l-mod kif jiġi prodott il-laħam jassoġġetta lill-annimali għall-moħrija esaġerata li, kieku tkun magħrufa, tant taħsad nies li kważi ħadd iktar ma jmiss il-laħam b’mod permanenti.

It-trasparenza fil-biċċerija u l-fabbriki tal-annimali hi essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li r-regoli bażiċi li jħarsu lill-annimali mill-moħqrija bla sens qed jiġu osservati.

It-triq mir-razzett sal-mejda tal-ikel hi mimlija bi problemi konnessi mat-trattament ħażin tal-annimali. Li kellna nkunu nafu iktar dak li jseħħ wara l-bibien magħluqin tal-irżieżet jew tal-fabbriki tal-annimali bla dubju jkollna  nibdew naħsbu sewwa dwar l-għażliet tagħna ta’ dak li nieklu. Dawn huma għażliet li ħafna drabi nagħmluhom b’għajnejna magħluqa, bla ħafna ħsieb. Huma għażliet awtomatiċi li ħafna drabi ftit tajna każ ta’ xi jfissru: għax dejjem hekk għamilna.

L-etika dwar dak li nieklu hi estensjoni naturali tad-dibattitu ambjentali. Fil-fatt il-ġustizzja ambjentali u l-ħarsien tal-annimali huma tewmin.

In-numru ta’ dawk li ma jieklux laħam qiegħed jiżdied kif qiegħed jiżdied in-numru ta’ dawk li ma jridux imissu prodotti ġejjin mill-ħalib. Din iż-żieda hi waħda fuq livell globali. Dawn l-għażliet qed isiru fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali, konsiderazzjonijiet dwar ħarsien tal-annimali kif ukoll konsiderazzjonijiet etiċi.

Il-Gvern jippenalizza lil dawk li jagħmlu għazliet etiċi dwar l-ikel. Dan ġie emfasizzat riċentement waqt intervista ta’ Darryl Grima, ambjentalist, veġan u attivist kontra l-qtil tal-annimali għall-ikel. Hu meħtieġ li l-Gvern ma jibqax jippenalizza lil min jagħmel dawn l-għażliet. Darryl Grima jsemmi eżempju wieħed. Il-ħalib hu meqjus bħala prodott tal-ikel u għaldaqstant fuqu ma titħallasx taxxa fuq il-valur miżjud (VAT). Imma l-prodotti li jintużaw bħala alternattivi għall-ħalib ma jitqiesux bħala ikel u allura huma soġġetti għall-VAT. Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel.

Mahatma Gandhi kien jemfasizza li “l-kobor ta’ nazzjon u l-progress morali tiegħu jitkejjel minn kif huwa jittratta lill-annimali.”  Dan jgħodd għal kulħadd, f’kull żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 10 ta’ Lulju 2022

On birds and other animals

It has been seven years since the spring hunting referendum, a Green Party initiative in Malta supported by a coalition of 13 environmental and animal welfare NGOs, was lost by the smallest of margins.  Occasionally we still have public references to that democratic process as the hunting lobby wants to restrict its availability. So far, fortunately, they have not been heeded. One does not however know whether this will remain so.

Rather than restricting the use of a referendum by popular demand one should consider extending it. The right to call an abrogative referendum should be extended to also include a referendum which proposes legislative initiatives. So far, we have the right to take the initiative to delete legislation or part of it, hence the term “abrogative” meaning “to delete”. This democratic right should be extended to make it possible to include the taking of legislative initiatives by the electorate, in particular those initiatives which are continuously avoided by Parliament. ADPD-The Green Party has time and again proposed the matter in its electoral manifesto, including in the manifesto for the 2022 general elections.

The 2015 spring hunting referendum sought to delete from the statute book legislation permitting spring hunting. This would have addressed issues of biodiversity by abolishing hunting during the bird breeding season. The 2015 referendum initiative did not however address issues of animal welfare as in such a case one would have to consider the complete abolition of hunting. This was and in fact still is the valid view of a number of animal welfare NGOs.

The local debate on animal welfare is unfortunately limited to treatment of pets, to animals used in research and relatively recently to the welfare of horses used by the local cabs (karozzini). Various initiatives in this respect have been embarked on in the past years as a result of the persistent lobbying by animal welfare NGOs.

The treatment of farm animals is a basic issue which is not given due weight by the agricultural industry. It is given an ever-increasing importance within the EU.

Recently, Alison Bezzina, the Animal Welfare Commissioner sought to extend the animal welfare debate by challenging the need for milk consumption. She did this in her comments on World Milk Day (3 June) basing her arguments on what cows are made to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption. It was pointed out that access of the new born calves to that same milk which nature provides for their subsistence is diverted to human use!

Extending the argument further, it has been stated by many others that if the abattoir had glass walls none of us would ever eat meat again. The point made being is, to put it mildly, that the process to produce meat for our consumption causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to animals, which, if we are aware of, would put most of us off meat consumption permanently.

Transparency at the abattoir and farm factories is essential in order to ascertain as to whether the basics of animal welfare standards are being adhered to!

From the farm to the fork there are many issues of animal welfare which are continuously ignored by one and all. Being aware as to what goes on behind the closed doors of farms and farm factories would undoubtedly force us to think carefully about our choices of food. Choices which, so far, we take for granted, as they are choices which we consider to be automatic ones and which we rarely think about.

The ethics of what we eat is a natural extension of the environmental debate. In fact, environmental justice and animal welfare are twins.

The number of those who do not eat meat as well as those who do not consume dairy products is on the increase on a global level. Their choices are based on environmental, animal welfare and ethical considerations.

Government penalises those who make ethical choices when it comes to food! This was emphasised recently in an interview by Darryl Grima, an environmentalist, vegan and End the Slaughter campaigner. It is about time that government does not penalise those making such choices. Darryl Grima refers to one example. Dairy milk is considered as food and is therefore not subject to value added tax (VAT). Its substitutes, however, plant-based milks, are still subject to VAT. This is unacceptable and should change.

Mahatma Gandhi used to emphasise that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”.  This is food for thought: pun intended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 July 2022

After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

If pigs had a vote

pigs

The latest shots in Malta’s environmental siege that followed so soon after the Żonqor debacle, were fired earlier this week by Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius who, accompanied by PN Sports spokesperson David Agius launched a call for expressions of interest in connection with the Concession for the Design, Build and Operation of Motor Recreation and Education Park.

The call specifies the functions which must be fulfilled, namely national and international motor racing events, motor sport training and other related activities including motor research and development. Ancillary activities deemed to complement the project can also be included.

The terms of the call are very wide such that it is ensured that those responding would have sufficient flexibility. The proposed site has not been selected yet, although, as declared by Parliamentary Secretary Agius, the government is aware of the available potential sites due to it having been lobbied by motor racing groups for quite some time. TVM news stated on Tuesday that three specific sites have been identified. From other sources it is known that one of the sites is in Ħal-Far while a second one lies in the limits of Siġġiewi. The location of the third site is so far unknown.

On Thursday, Siggiewi Mayor Karol Aquilina commented that the area known as Ta’ San Niklaw, close to id-Dar Tal-Providenza Siġġiewi, which, he said, was potentially being considered as a candidate site. I think that it is highly unlikely that the Siġġiewi site would be selected in view of the fact that all indications in the past three years have pointed towards the Ħal-Far area as the preferred location. But one never knows.

The call does not limit the site area. Motor racing enthusiasts are speaking of approximately 80 hectares of land which would be required for a three to five kilometre racing track as well as the ancillary facilities. In 2013, during the electoral campaign, the footprint referred to was much smaller, around half the size.

The call for expressions of interest refers to protection of the environment, protection of cultural heritage, long-term sustainability of the project as well as adherence to Natura 2000 protection criteria. Interestingly, however, the call makes no commitment to protect agricultural land. This may be very indicative as to what lies in store.

The scale of the project and its uptake of land, is massive by Maltese standards. It is also out of proportion to the size of the Maltese islands.

Irrespective of the selected site, the land used will undoubtedly include large areas of agricultural land still in use. In good time we will also be informed that abandoned agricultural land will also be incorporated into the project. In such a large area, most of which has never been substantially disturbed, it is also inevitable that some archaeological remains will surface.

There are also issues of air quality and noise pollution. These impacts will be of relevance to communities closest to the selected site. The submitted proposal will undoubtedly include mitigation measures, in particular those relative to noise pollution. Residents have votes and as a direct consequence of this fact there will be a concerted effort to minimise the impact of noise in residential areas. The extent to which this is successful and/or acceptable can only be established when the exact parameters of the proposal are known. Noise pollution will, however, be a major issue irrespective of the identified site.

The Habitats Directive of the European Union is applicable to a number of areas in the Maltese islands. Through the implementation of this Directive, it is not only the specific sites which are afforded protection. This protection extends beyond the sites to activity in the area surrounding the sites in so far that the said activity will have an impact on the protected sites.

The proposals to be submitted will have an impact on nocturnal natural life on the selected site and its surroundings. Such nocturnal life is heavily impacted by both noise and light pollution which will result from motor sport activities .

Farm animals in the vicinity of the selected site will also be in for a hard time. Noise pollution from the racing track will have a considerable impact on the operation of farms as well as on farm animals.

Pigs, cows and birds do not vote. If they did we would definitely not need to worry about ODZs any more.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 October 2015

Barely scratching the surface

The Noise White Paper, just published for public consultation, identifies the need to coordinate the existing fragmented administrative structures as its first target. This is being done in the belief that it will eventually lead to a smoothening out of administrative inconsistencies. Better coordination could also ensure that, in the long term, issues in respect of which the authorities have, to date, been reluctant to act upon can be addressed in an appropriate manner. Hopefully.

The White Paper deals with the abatement of neighbourhood noise. Its reach should have been much wider. It postpones dealing with the noise generated by fireworks and village feasts to some future date. Cultural aspects and tradition are reasons used to justify this postponement. In reality, the government at this time cannot withstand the anticipated reaction of the fireworks lobby, which has yet to come to terms with restrictions based on safety as is evidenced by reactions to the findings and recommendations of the November 2011 inquiry report on accidents in fireworks factories. Clearly, the government considers that now is not the time to regulate excessive fireworks noise. On the eve of a general election, votes are considered to be a more important consideration.

We have been informed (correctly) that the EU Environmental Noise Directive is not applicable to our airport because the traffic it handles is below the established threshold.

The White Paper does not address the issue of noise generated by aircraft approaching or taking off from Malta’s only airport when flying over residential areas. In particular, the impact of approaching aircraft on Birżebbuġa’s residential area at all times of the day (including during the night) comes to mind.

Now, to be fair, one must state that the airport cannot be transferred to any other site. The flight paths leading to the airport are fixed and their use is determined by the prevalent winds. Malta needs its only airport to be operational. Yet, its operation must be such that it does not cause unnecessary hardship to residential areas along the approaches to and around the airport.

This leaves only one option: regulating the airport’s operating times to restrict aircraft movements during the silent hours as is done at Heathrow, Brussels and Fiumicinio, to mention three airports with which readers are familiar.

The airport authorities need to encourage the use of less noisy aircraft through the determination of differentiated aircraft landing charges dependent on the noise generated by the aircraft. It is about time that the airport authorities start respecting the surrounding communities. This is a missing but essential element of the airport’s sustainable development strategy.

The Noise White Paper draws up a list of those authorities that are empowered to regulate some aspect of noise control. One would expect that the police, the Malta Tourism Authority, the health authorities and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority coordinated by the Noise Control Board to now be in a better position to ensure that commercial outlets (particularly those in a mixed use area) are no longer a nuisance to residents in the vicinity.

It should also be less problematic to deal with nuisance caused by air conditioners fixed in the most awkward places.

But noise does not only impact the health of human beings. It also has a health impact on flora and fauna. This is partly regulated through the Habitats Directive of the EU, which is an integral part of Maltese law.

It is positive that the Noise White Paper recognises this and emphasises the need to ensure its implementation. This should now place more onus on Mepa to ascertain that open-air activities generating excessive noise are immediately brought to order. Examples that come to mind are open air discos at Buskett, Paradise Bay and Ta’ Qali. The first two impact biodiversity in Natura 2000 sites and the last is too close to residential areas, particularly Attard. The aborted Mistra “Spin Valley Disco”, which the Nationalist Party and its stooges at Mepa defended before the 2008 election, would also fall foul of these provisions as it was sited right in the middle of a special area of conservation.

Excessive noise also has a damaging impact on the welfare of animals, both farm animals and pets. The impact of noise on farms and agriculture is completely ignored by the White Paper.

Fireworks regulations, for example, are only concerned with residential areas and the distances to be observed from areas that serve as a residence for more than 100 humans.

Excessive noise in agricultural areas severely impacts agricultural production (like milk, poultry, eggs, rabbits…) and can have a considerable economic impact.

It is up to the minister in question to decide whether to prefer the fireworks at the expense of negative impacts on animal husbandry. He may not worry unnecessarily as animals do not vote!

While the White Paper on Noise Prevention is welcome, it barely scratches the surface. We need to go deeper and tackle areas ignored by the White Paper because noise pollution is an issue that has been neglected for far too long.

 

This article was published in The Times of Malta , April 14, 2012

 

on the same subject on this blog :

7th February 2009 : The value of silence

7th November 2009 : When pigs are able to vote

Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!