It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020

Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020

It-tnaqqis tal-iskart iġġenerat, jipproteġi l-art agrikola

Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa jilmentaw dwar it-tniġġiż mill-ħsejjes iġġenerati mill-Port Ħieles. Ir-residenti tal-Furjana jilmentaw dwar l-impatti tal-cruise liners fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom, kemm minħabba t-tniġġiż tal-arja kif ukoll minħabba t-tniġġiż akustiku. Ir-residenti tal-Gudja, Ħal-Luqa, Ħal-Kirkop u tal-irħula tal-madwar huma effettwati mill-operat tal-uniku ajruport li għandna. L-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin għat-Trattament tal-iskart qatt ma tqies ġar eżemplari mir-residenti ta’ Wied il-Għajn.

Ħadd ma jixtieq miżbla wara biebu. Miżbla jew faċilità għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart wara l-bieb, tfisser iktar minn impatti negattivi jekk teħodlok ukoll l-għodda ewliena tal-għixien tiegħek inkella teqridlek darek. Dan hu l-każ tal–bdiewa u r-residenti tal-Magħtab.

Il-miżbla tal-Magħtab ilha topera mill-1977, meta l-miżbla f’Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) kienet qed toqrob li timtela.

Il-bdiewa tal-Magħtab ilhom jaqilgħu fuq rashom żmien. Wieħed mill-bdiewa li ltqajt miegħu l-ġimgħa l-oħra spjegali li lill-familja tiegħu, fl-1975 kienu ħadulhom 75 tomna raba’ li kienet tinħadem, ftit iktar minn 84,000 metru kwadru, biex jiffurmaw parti mill-miżbla li nħolqot dakinnhar. Illum ser jeħdulhom 25 tomna oħra biex ikabbru madwar 28,000 metru kwadru.

Kif nistgħu nevitaw li l-kumpless tal-iskart fil-Magħtab ikompli jikber billi jibla’ 254,144 metru kwadru ta’ art, primarjament raba’ li tinħadem, kif qed tipproponi l-Wasteserv?

X’ġustizzja hi li sezzjoni waħda tal-popolazzjoni tkun mistennija li ġġorr waħedha l-piż tal-impatti li lkoll kemm aħna nikkontribwixxu għalihom? Ma jkunx iktar ġust li l-piż jinqasam? Fejn ser niġbdu linja?

Jekk nillimita ruħi għall-materja presentment taħt il-lenti, dik tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart, neħtieġu ppjanar sew u dan fil-kuntest tal-għodda ta’ politika kurrenti li tikkonċerna l-iskart. Imma jeħtieġilna li nimxu mal-miri ta’ ħidma stabiliti, għax inkella ma naslu qatt.
It-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart, li dan jintagħżel (is-separazzjoni) u li jkun riċiklat huma tlett għodod bażiċi fil-ħidma li ssir biex l-iskart ikun immaniġjat. Jekk dan isir sewwa l-ammont ta’ skart li jispiċċa fil-miżbla għandu jonqos b’mod sostanzjali. B’riżultat ta’ hekk jkun hemm inqas ħtieġa ta’ art biex tkun kkonvertita f’miżbla. Dan hu l-iskop tal-leġislazzjoni ambjentali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li suppost li ilna nsegwu sa minn meta fl-2004 isseħibna fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Il-politika dwar it-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart tfisser tnaqqis ippjanat tal-iskart iġġenerat. Inizjattivi dwar amminsitrazzjoni elettronika huma passi posittivi f’din id-direzzjoni. L-amministrazzoni elettronika hi waħda bla karti, avolja xi kultant din twassal sempliċiment biex tnaqqas l-użu tal-karta minn uffiċċju u żżidu f’ieħor. Anke it-tnaqqis fl-iskart li joriġina mill-ippakkeġġjar ukoll jikkontribwixxi b’mod sostanzjali għall-iskart iġġenerat. Fi djarna hu possibli ukoll li nnaqqsu l-iskart li nipproduċu. F’dan il-kuntest kampanji ta’ informazzjoni u edukazzjoni għandhom rwol importanti.

Imma hemm kontradizzjoni fil-politika tal-Gvern f’dan ir-rigward. Id-deċiżjoni li jkollna inċineratur tirrikjedi ammont kontinwu ta’ skart biex jitma lill-inċineratur. Filwaqt li suppost li qed ninkoraġixxu t-tnaqqis tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart, l-inċineratur jirrikjedi l-oppost: il-ġenerazzjoni kontinwa ta’ ammont sostanzjali ta’ skart. Mingħajru l-inċineratur ikollu jagħmel id-dieta.

Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart tinvolvi l-għażla ta’ tipi differenti ta’ skart. Dan jiffaċilita li l-iskart li jkun intagħżel ikun użat u mhux mormi. Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku, per eżempju, jiffaċilita it-trattament ta’ dan l-iskart biex minnu jkun prodott kemm l-elettriku kif ukoll il-kompost. L-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar 50% tal-iskart iġġenerat fid-djar. Imma fl-industrija tal-catering l-iskart organiku jammonta għal porzjon ferm ikbar mill-iskart iġġenerat f’dik l-industrija.

Skond il-Wastserv, 27,000 tunellata ta’ skart organiku inġabru mid-djar matul l-2019. Dan jista’ jiżdied għal 70,000 tunellata fis-sena jekk f’kull dar nagħmlu sforz ikbar biex l-iskart organiku jkun separat. Il-Wasteserv ma tipprovdix informazzjoni dwar l-iskart miġbur mill-istabilimenti tal-ikel. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni l-Wasteserve qed tindika li ma tafx x’qed jiġri f’dan il-qasam. Lanqas ma hu ċar jekk l-iskart organiku mhux ipproċessat li dan l-aħħar deher imħallat ma skart ieħor f’ritratti u filmati dwar l-operat tal-miżbla tal-Magħtab hux inkluż fl-informazzjoni ippubblikata mill-Wasteserv.

Li niġbru l-iskart organiku b’mod separt u li nipproċessawh ma jfissirx biss li jkun hemm inqas skart li jmur fil-miżbla: ifisser tnaqqis mhux żgħir fil-gassijiet serra (greenhouse gases) attribwibbli lil Malta u allura tnaqqis tal-impatt Malti fuq it-tibdil fil-klima.

Ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart f’Malta għadu lura meta mqabbel ma dak mistenni minna. L-unika qasam li qabad huwa dak li jirrigwarda l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar. Iż-żieda meħtieġa fir-riċiklar ukoll tnaqqas l-iskart li jinġabar fil-miżbla u għaldaqstant meta naslu biex inżidu r-rata tar-riċiklar il-Wasteserv ikollha inqas ħtieġa li tuża’ art agrikola biex testendi l-miżbla tal-Magħtab.

L-għajnuna li nistgħu nagħtu lill-bdiewa tal-Magħtab biex ikunu jistgħu jibqgħu jaħdmu ir-raba’ tista’ timmaterjalizza biss jekk inkunu kapaċi innaqqsu bil-kbir l-iskart li nibgħatu fil-miżbla. Għandna niftakru li l-istrateġija kurrenti għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin għandha l-mira ta’ skart zero sas-sena 2050. Għadna lura biex naslu!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Marzu 2020

Reducing waste generation protects agricultural land

Birżebbuġa residents complain about the noise generated by the Freeport. Floriana residents complain about the impact of cruise liners on their lives through depleted air quality, as well as acoustic pollution. The residents of Gudja, Luqa, Kirkop and other villages in the area are affected by the operations of our only airport. The Sant’ Antnin Waste Treatment Plant has never been considered a good neighbour by the residents of Marsaskala.

Understandably, no one wants a landfill on his doorstep. In addition to bad neighbourliness, matters are even worse if the projected landfill (or a waste management facility) takes over your means of making a living. This is the case that the Magħtab residents and farmers are emphasising.

The Magħtab landfill has been in operation since 1977, when use of the landfill at Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) was being scaled down.

The Magħtab farmers have been at the receiving end for quite some time. One particular farmer, whom I met last week, told me – way back in 1975 – his family was dispossessed of 75 tumoli (over 84,000 square metres) of agricultural land that was taken over for the then proposed landfill. Today, another 25 tumoli (around 28,000 square metres) of agricultural land worked by the same family will also be taken up.

The point at issue is whether the proposed take-over of 254,144 square metres of additional land, mostly agricultural, to be absorbed into the Magħtab landfill complex, can be avoided, in whole or in part.

Futhermore, is it fair – or even ethical – for one section of the population to be expected to bear the brunt of impacts to which each one of us contributes? Should the burden not be spread, thereby ensuring that all communities shoulder part of it?

Where do we draw the line?

Limiting myself to the current issues of waste management, the problems to be faced have to be first resolved on the drawing board, on the basis of the policy options available. Subsequently, we need to ensure that the established targets are scrupulously observed in practice.

Waste minimisation, waste separation and waste recycling are three basic waste-management tools which should be used properly. Adequate use of such tools would reduce substantially the amount of waste going to landfill. As a result, if properly utilised, these policy tools would lead to a substantially reduced demand for land to be used as a landfill. This is the objective of the EU acquis which we ought to have followed since 2004 on EU accession.

A policy of waste minimisation involves a planned reduction of waste generation and initiatives relating to electronic government are a positive step in this direction. Paperless administrative processes reduce paper waste, for example, although sometimes they just shift the generation of the waste from one user to another. Reducing packaging waste also contributes substantially to waste minimisation. Even in our homes we can ensure that we minimise the waste that we generate: educational campaigns play a much important role in this respect.

There is, however, a contradiction in government policy in this regard: the decision to develop an incinerator requires a steady flow of waste to feed it. While we should be encouraging waste minimisation, the incinerator would require the opposite, waste maximisation – otherwise it would have to go on a diet.

Waste separation at source involves identifying and separating different streams of waste. This facilitates dealing appropriately with such waste. The separation of organic waste, for example, makes it possible to treat such waste in an appropriate digestor, thereby producing electricity and compost. Organic waste accounts for approximately 50 per cent of domestic waste. It does, however, account for a much larger portion of the waste generated by the catering industry.

Having a separate collection of organic waste has, according to Wastserv, resulted in a substantial amount of organic waste being collected from domestic households: 27,000 tonnes during 2019. This has the potential to grow to around 70,000 tonnes annually, if every household makes an effort in the separate disposal of organic waste. Wasteserv, however, does not provide data regarding organic waste collected from catering establishments, thereby indicating that this is not of any significance. Nor is it clear whether the unprocessed organic waste seen mixed with other general waste at the Magħtab landfill is included in Wasteserv’s published statistics on collected organic waste.

The separate collection of organic waste not only contributes to a substantial reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill: it also contributes to a reduction in released greenhouse gases, thereby reducing Malta’s contribution to climate change.

Waste recycling in Malta is still far behind what is expected. Malta’s recycling rates are still very low, except in the area of packaging waste. Adequate recycling would substantially reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, as a result reducing the uptake by Wasteserv of agricultural land for use for this purpose.

We can only help our farmers keep their agricultural land if we reduce – and eventually eliminate – waste going to landfills. We should remember that the current Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands has targeted the attainment of a zero-waste objective by 2050.

Our performance to date is not encouraging.

Published in the Independent on Sunday : 1 March 2020

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

The airport and its neighbours

3D aerial view of scheme.MIA 2015

 

Earlier this week, the management of Malta’s International Airport announced a €78 million investment programme, aimed at enlarging the terminal buildings, improving and upgrading existing facilities for the handling of passengers and  further developing a business hub.

The airport terminal at Gudja is Malta’s only such facility and so, to a certain extent, the further development of the existing capacity to handle the arrival and departure of passengers is essential. And yet, due to the limitations of size, the proximity of Gudja’s airport to the surrounding villages of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi has to be borne in mind. Size limitations signify that even essential works will have an impact on the surrounding communities and thus have to be thought out carefully.

Its been over five years since MEPA has received a planning application for the consideration of an updated master-plan for Malta International Airport. PA5548/10 was submitted in November 2010. A previous version of the master-plan was approved in 1997 (PA5681/96) while another version, submitted in 2003 (PA5306/03), was withdrawn.

The latest proposed master-plan currently under consideration by MEPA includes provision for the enlargement of the terminal building to include additional facilities to handle passenger traffic as well as the construction of five new buildings for a range of commercial and leisure activities.

The proposed masterplan and the environmental planning statement (EPS) published late in 2014 for public consultation focus on the proposed business hub and emphasise that the well-established trend for international airports is to expand to “include ancillary business and retail facilities.”

The masterplan was fed by two studies commissioned by the Malta International Airport. The first – carried out by Locum Consulting – studied the office market in Malta and apparently concluded that the “high quality office stock supply” is limited in comparison to the existing demand.  An audit of the proposed masterplan was also carried out by Eriksson + Partner GmbH.

The EPS contains selective quotes from these two reports, but the reports themselves have not been made public. Both MEPA and MIA have resisted requests to publish these reports as they consider that they are commercial reports and do not contain information on environmental impact.

Malta’s only airport has its requirements. In particular, it needs to cater for the increasing number of passengers it handles. This year, the number of passengers handled has recently surpassed the 4.5 million mark. It will undoubtedly continue to rise and it stands to reason that the passenger-handling facilties, currently bursting at the seams, need to be upgraded.

What number of passengers is being planned for? What are the forecasts ? This information is not available as part of the documentation which has been published to date.

The inevitable increase in the number of passengers to be handled by MIA will have an impact on the surrounding area. The traffic generated, and the  emissions associated with this, will further deteriorate the air quality in the main roads leading to Gudja. There will also be an increase in noise pollution.

The Environment Planning Statement identified the Ħal-Farruġ Road/Qormi Road roundabout at Luqa as requiring upgrading  as a result of long-term traffic projections made. It did not, however, identify any other major traffic impact on the villages surrounding the airport. In particular, the EPS did not consider it relevant to consider that already, at this point in time, the residential area of Gudja – less than 50 metres away from the boundary of the airport carpark –  is being used by airport employees and passengers as an additional carpark, thereby creating an unnecessary burden on Gudja itself.

The current burden for the airport’s core functions, and the first phase of the Skyparks project, are primarily being borne by the communities of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi.

Additional impact due to an increase in the airport’s core functions is unavoidable. But making matters worse through further development of the airport as a business hub is verging on sadistic. Gudja’s airport should not be compared to major airports when determining long-term functions, but rather to regional airports.

Given Malta’s size, practically all facilities are available within a 15-minute drive from the airport. It would hence make sense for the airport’s management to realise that the airport’s corporate social responsibility should not be limited to funding some restoration projects. It is about time that it focused on the fact that human beings reside in the surrounding villages. The airport’s contribution to Malta’s economic performance is welcome but this should not be at the expense of the quality of life of the surrounding communities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 27 December 2015

Norman Vella : x’inhu jiġri ?

Norman Vella

Jagħmlu sewwa l-Pulizija li jinvestigaw ksur tar-regoli ta’ imġieba f’żona ta’ sigurta’ bħalma hi iż-żona ristretta tal-ajruport.

Iżda x’inhu jiġri eżatt ħadd ma jaf. Għax filwaqt li Norman Vella qal li ġie investgat u interrogat dwar allegat teħid ta’ ritratt fiż-żona ristretta tal-ajruport ma jidher li ġie ippubblikat l-ebda ritratt (s’issa).

Is-sigurta’ fl-ajruport hi materja serja ħafna u għandna nieħdu pjaċir li qed tingħata attenzjoni.

Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li l-każ ikun riżolt malajr.  Jekk il-Pulizija investigaw suspett fondat u dan irriżultalhom għandhom jieħdu passi immedjatament. Jekk le, fiċ-ċirkustanzi għandhom l-obbligu li jispjegaw l-affarijiet kif ġraw.

Learning to use chopsticks

chopsticks

We have been told that it is most worrying that China could acquire a share in our energy corporation. It is worrying, we are told, due to the strategic importance of the sector.

We tend to forget that Malta has plenty of foreign investments in other strategic sectors. Another one wouldn’t change much would it?

Our only airport is run by Austrians.

Gambling has been left to  Greek Intralot.  Banking is heavily influenced by global HSBC ironically originating from Hong Kong, the tip of the Chinese mainland.

The public  transport fiasco has an Anglo-German fingerprint through Arriva.

LPG Gas is controlled by Italians through GASCO.

The Freeport is controlled by a Franco-Turkish alliance for the next 65 years. (CMA-CGM and Yildirim Group)

When its Austria, Greece, Anglo-German interests, Italian investments, Franco -Turkish controls, or global HSBC then its globalisation.

The Chinese interest is part of the same process.

Obviously the details of the memorandum of understanding signed earlier this week are not yet known. Hence a proper discussion would have to wait until such details are known. There will surely be positive and negative impacts. China stands to gain. Whether Malta’s potential gains are adequate is still to be seen as we have only been fed titbits of information.

China obviously stands to gain through establishing a stronger foothold in Malta and within the EU.  Whether it will be similarly positive for Malta is still to be seen.

Some Chinese companies are world class. They provide stiff competition to international firms such as Lahmeyer International the one time consultants to the Malta Resources Authority and to Enemalta Corporation. Some of these Chinese companies have reached the same grade in World Bank blacklists !

We have been there before.

It may turn out not to be so difficult to learn to use chopsticks after all !

Road Safety and Motor Sports project proposal

Road Safety and Motorsport Facility

I attended yesterday’s business breakfast organised by the Malta Motorsports Federation on its proposal to build a Road Safety and Motorsports Facility in Malta.  The proposal requires a land area of between 33 and 40 hectares and it appears that government has already identified the land which could serve for this purpose. Indications given so far are that it is in the vicinity of the airport, close to Safi and Kirkop.

During the Business Breakfast the Prime Minister expressed qualified support for the project. He referred to issues of noise and financial feasibility as being basic and which in his view require to be addressed in more detail before government considers the matter definitely to take a final decision.

I also heard veteran entrepeneur Maurice Mizzi air his views. He agreed with the road safety aspect of the project whilst disagreeing with the motor sports part on the basis of noise pollution.

The two aspects of the proposed project are complimentary. The Motor Sports aspect is considered to be the revenue generating part whilst the Road Safety aspect will contribute to an organised professional drive to have better trained drivers. The road safety aspect of the project was defined by one of the foreign speakers as being a CSR driven project, a means through which Motor Sports channels back into the community profits which are generated.

The issues to be examined are not only those relating to financial feasibility and noise impacts as emphasisied by the Prime Minister. Air quality and the emission of particulate matter resulting from the fuels which will be in use has to be studied in detail. One has also to consider the fact that the localities in the vicinity of the airport are already subject to excessive noise pollution resulting from the operations of Malta’s International Airport.

With this in mind whilst emphasising that the proposed project may serve as a much needed educational tool to improve driving skills much more needs to be examined before it can be given the go-ahead.

Our community may reap great benefits from this initiatve through improved road safety. As to the sports aspect one has undoubtedly to consider further. Eventually a decision will depend on the technical parameters of the project, the proposed mitigating measures and the precise location of the site. Any decision has to await such time as these issues are clear. It has to be clear that the communities close by are not shouldered with more burdens. They have shouldered more than enough to date.

published at di-ve.com on Friday 8 February 2013

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