Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

The publication by Transport Malta, last week, of a pre-qualification questionnaire relative to the “award of a concession contract for the design, build, finance, operate, maintain and transfer of a marina” at Marsaskala requires further explanation. What has been going on behind the scenes? Specifically, on whose initiative has the ball been set rolling? Is this part of the ongoing development spree, intended to bolster existing or planned development elsewhere in Marsaskala?

At some point the truth will come out. It would be hence much better if Transport Malta, and whosoever may be pulling the strings, to put all the cards on the table now.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is tainted, even at this stage, with the general local plan defects: a lack of adequate environmental assessment. The assessment of the cumulative impacts of the various local plan proposals has never been carried out. These impacts add up and seen together they should have been cause for concern, even at the drawing board stage. Unfortunately, nothing was done at that stage to mitigate the anticipated cumulative impacts of the local plan proposals.

Those of us who have been subjecting land use planning to a continuous scrutiny, have, since way back in 2006, emphasised that the local plans were then not subjected to the emerging Strategic Environment Assessment procedures. In fact, the local plans, those still pending approval, after having been retained in draft form for some time, were rushed through all the approval stages during the summer months of 2006 specifically to avoid being subjected to the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU which entered into force during August of 2006 or thereabouts!

The specific impacts of the proposed yacht marina will undoubtedly be eventually analysed by an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be triggered if a planning application for the yacht marina is eventually submitted.  Legislation in force provides ample room for involvement of all, when this commences, starting off from the basic EIA terms of reference right up to the consideration of the detailed studies, and more. We have been through that many times in respect of various development proposals.

However, the cumulative impacts on the Marsaskala community, both residential and commercial, will not be carried out as that was avoided at the outset when the local plan for Marsaskala (part of the Local Plan for the South) was approved. This is the basic underlying worry expressed in not so many words by all those who have stood up to object to the sudden unexplained intrusion of Transport Malta into Marsaskala affairs. Kudos to John Baptist Camilleri, Marsaskala local councillor, for prodding the Marsaskala Local Council to stand up and be counted. The Marsaskala local council ought to have been consulted even in terms of the Local Council Act which makes it incumbent on central government and its agencies to consult with local councils whenever any initiative having local impacts is being considered.

Transport Malta is acting as an agent of central government. Government, led by the Labour Party, has conveniently distanced itself from the political responsibilities which result from the local plans , coupled with the rationalisation exercise, which have been shouldered by its predecessor in government, the Nationalist Party.  It has been very convenient for Labour to politically lump all the local plan fallout on the PN. However, sixteen years down the line, it is pretty evident that the Labour Party, in government for over eight years, has been very reluctant to handle the long overdue revision of the local plans and factoring in considerations resulting from a study of the cumulative impacts abovementioned. This is not only applicable to the local plan relative to Marsaskala, but to all local plans! It has obviously been too hot to handle.

Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for both land use planning and the environment, has been reported in the media, in the past few days, as stating that the local plan revision will start immediately after the general election, expected shortly. He has stated that the process will take around three years.  His predecessor as Minister responsible for land use planning, Ian Borg, had made some statements in the distant past about this, indicating the then parameters for a revision of the local plans. But nothing has materialised yet except his extreme reluctance to act!

I would, at this stage, remind the Hon Minister of the proposals from the Maltese Greens on the need to reverse the rationalisation exercise as well as on the urgent need to implement a moratorium on large scale development throughout the islands. These proposals have been part of our electoral manifesto repeatedly since 2006. Over-development and the building industry have to be brought under control the soonest.

It is not just about Marsaskala and its proposed yacht marina.  It is time to take stock of the ruin inflicted on these islands by a mismanaged land use planning process, by an irresponsible rationalisation exercise and by local plans which do not consider cumulative environmental impacts.

The proposed yacht marina at Marsaskala is just the latest example of this mismanagement.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 August 2021

Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

Malta: b’politika diżonesta dwar il-klima

Stimi dwar kemm jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-baħar, b’mod globali kif ukoll fl-Ewropa, ivarjaw skond kif wieħed iqis ir-rata tad-dewbien tas-silġ akkumulat fil-poli kif ukoll fi Greenland. Il-mod kif nilqgħu għall-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ukoll għandu impatt fuq dawn l-istimi. Dawn l-istimi fil-fatt ivarjaw minn żieda ta’ 34 ċentimetru sa żieda ta’ 172 ċentimetru sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Imma jekk l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju jkunu indirizzati b’politika iffukata u effettiva, din iż-żieda tista’ tkun waħda iżgħar.

Minkejja dan, ħadd ma qiegħed f’posizzjoni li jantiċpa jekk din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tkunx waħda gradwali inkella jekk din isseħħx f’daqqa. Hemm iżda l-biża’ li l-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni tista’ taċċellera avolja il-jekk u l-meta ħadd ma jaf. Din hi xi ħaga ġdida għal kulħadd!

Kull żieda fil-livell tal-baħar, kemm jekk isseħħ b’mod gradwali kif ukoll jekk isseħħ f’daqqa, ikollha impatt fuq il-kosta u b’mod partikolari fuq l-infrastruttura żviluppata tul iż-żmien. Din l-infrastruttura hi primarjament waħda turistika imma tinkludi ukoll żvilupp residenzjali li xi drabi jasal sax-xifer, sal-baħar: kemm bl-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritajiet u anke xi minndaqqiet mingħajrha!

Il-ħsara potenzjali għall-infrastruttura kostali hi kwistjoni li għandha tħassibna. Din diġà sofriet ħsarat diversi minħabba il-maltemp qalil li żied fil-frekwenza u l-intensità tul dawn l-aħħar snin. L-impatt ta’ żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bla dubju ser joħloq tibdil kbir tul il-kosta kollha tal-gżejjer Maltin. L-istorja tgħallimna. Nhar it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Diċembru 1908 fil-5.20 ta’ fil-għodu Messina fi Sqallija ġarrbet wieħed mill-iktar terrimoti qliel li qatt kien hawn fl-Ewropa, b’qawwa mkejla ta’ 7.5 fuq l-iskala Richter. Immedjatament, inħoloq tsunami b’mewġ għoli sa 9 metri. Madwar sagħtejn wara, fit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu dan it-tsunami, ftit immansat, wasal fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Diversi gazzetti Maltin ta’ dak iż-żmien irrappurtaw li l-lokalitajiet mal-kosta viċin il-livell tal-baħar kienu mgħarrqa fl-ilma mit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu għax b’effett taz-tsunami l-baħar tela’ l-art. Dan baqa’ sal-4.00 ta’ waranofsinnhar meta l-baħar reġa’ ikkalma u rritorna lejn il-livelli normali tiegħu! Herbert Ganado, f’l-ewwel volum ta’ Rajt Malta Tinbidel jgħid li residenzi u ħwienet tul il-kosta ta’ tas-Sliema, l-iMsida u tal-Pietà kienu mgħarrqa f’tebqa’ t’għajn għax daħlilhom kwantità ta’ ilma fis-sular terran. Bħala medja l-baħar għola madwar erba’ piedi : 1.20 metri. Fil-Port il-Kbir, imma, ma ġara xejn għax kien imħares mill-breakwater, li l-bini tiegħu kien ġie ffinalizzat madwar sentejn qabel, fis-sena 1906.

Żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima tkun tfisser repetizzjoni tal-impatti taz-tsunami tal-1908 mifruxa iktar u fuq bażi permanenti. Il-lokalitajiet Maltin tul il-kosta li qegħdin viċin tal-livell tal-baħar jispiċċaw b’mod permanenti fl-ilma baħar. Dan ikun jinkludi r-ramliet kollha u żoni kummerċjali u residenzjali fl-Għadira, ix-Xemxija, is-Salini, l-Gzira, l-iMsida, tas-Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Tal-Pietà, il-Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuġa, ix-Xlendi, u Marsalforn. L-impatti jistgħu jinħassu iktar il-ġewwa mill-kosta ukoll, f’lokalitajiet li huma f’livell tal-baħar bħal Ħal-Qormi u allura jeffettwa l-inħawi kollha mix-xatt tal-Marsa sa Ħal-Qormi b’dik li hi magħrufa bħala l-Marsa tal-Inġliżi b’kollox. Dan jeffettwa ukoll l-investiment fl-infrastruttura sportiva.

Li jogħla l-livell tal-baħar issa hu inevitabbli. Imma b’ħidma bil-għaqal għad hemm ċans li nnaqqsu kemm dan jogħla. Dan jista’ jseħħ kemm-il darba nieħdu passi biex innaqqsu l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju u allura inkunu qed nagħtu kontribut biex iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali tkun l-inqas possibli.

Fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, Malta, flimkien mal-bqija tal-pajjiżi, wegħdet li tieħu azzjoni konkreta biex ikun possibli li jonqsu l-impatti fuq il-klima. Però anke jekk il-wegħdiet kollha li saru f’Pariġi jkunu onorati, hu ċar li għadna l-bogħod ħafna milli nilħqu l-mira miftehma li ma naqbżux iż-żieda ta’ żewġ gradi Celsius fit-temperatura. Hu meħtieġ ħafna iktar mingħand kulħadd. Hemm bżonn mhux biss iktar azzjoni konkreta imma ukoll politika koerenti u konsistenti.

Il-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima, imma, hi waħda diżonesta. Nuru wiċċ b’ieħor kontinwament. Min-naħa l-waħda l-Gvern Malti jwiegħed li jaġixxi biex ikun possibli li nindirizzaw il-klima. Imma fl-istess ħin jibqa’ għaddej bi proġetti infrastrutturali li jinkoraġixxu iktar karozzi fit-toroq u allura iktar emissjonijiet. L-emissjonijiet tal-karozzi jikkompetu ma dawk li joriġinaw mill-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku.

Hemm bżonn li ndaħħlu ftit sens u konsistenza fil-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima. Għax sakemm nibqgħu inkonsitenti kullma qed nagħmlu hu li qed ngħinu biex ikompli jitħaffar il-qabar tagħna.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Mejju 2020

Malta: a double-faced climate change policy

Estimates for sea-level rise, both globally as well as in Europe, vary depending on the assumptions made as to the rate at which ice at the polar caps and Greenland is melting.

The carbon emission-mitigation policy scenario also has a direct bearing on these estimates. These estimates range between a 34- and 172-centimetres potential sea-level rise by the end of the current century. Lower emissions together with a focused mitigation policy may restrict sea-level rise towards the lower end of the range.

However, notwithstanding, no one is in a position to predict as to whether such a sea-level rise will be gradual or sudden. It is however feared that once a tipping point is reached changes may occur at a much faster pace than anticipated. We all are on a learning curve on this!

Any sea-level rise, gradual or sudden, will have an impact on our coastline and in particular on the infrastructure developed over the years along the coast. This infrastructure is primarily of a touristic nature but it also includes residential development at times built along the water’s edge with or without the acquiescence of the planning authorities.

There is nothing to worry about if the sea-level rise wipes out abusive development. When one considers the potential impact on coastal infrastructure that is, however, a different kettle of fish.

The coastal infrastructure is already battered by the ever-frequent storms. The impact of a sea-level rise will without any doubt redraw the coastal map of the Maltese islands.

Let us have a look at our history books. At 5.20am of Monday 28 December 1908, Messina in neighbouring Sicily experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes to ever hit Europe, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. Immediately, a tsunami generating waves as high as 9 metres was unleashed. Just over two hours later, at 7.45am, the tsunami, slightly tamed, reached the Maltese Islands.

Various local newspapers of the time reported that low-lying areas were flooded from 7.45am until around 4.00pm when the sea receded back to its “normal level”. Herbert Ganado, in his Rajt Malta Tinbidel (Volume 1, page 37) states that residences and shops along the coast in Sliema, Msida, and Pietà were suddenly flooded. The average sea-level rise was 1.20 metres. The Grand Harbour was spared as it was protected by the breakwater, whose construction had been finalised a couple of years earlier.

A sea-level rise as a result of climate change would repeat the Malta impacts of the 1908 tsunami on a permanent basis. The low-lying parts of the Maltese coastline would then be permanently underwater. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards the inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

Sea-level rise is inevitable. It is only its extent which can be reduced. This can happen if we take appropriate action which reduces carbon emissions and hence contributes to nudging the temperature increase towards the least possible.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously it proceeds with road infrastructural projects which encourage cars on our roads. Car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change. Is it not about time that we bring our own house in order? We are digging our own grave with a double-faced climate policy.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 May 2020

L-ekoterapja: in-natura tista’ tfejjaq

Il-bniedem hu parti integrali mill-eko-sistema. Li jkun f’kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali hi parti intrinsika mill-imġieba normali tiegħu. Hu għaldaqstant meħtieġ li nagħtu iktar attenzjoni lil kuntatti tagħna man-natura u dan, fost affarijiet oħra, biex nieħdu ħsieb saħħitna stess.

In-natura hi bosta drabi nieqsa minn ħajjitna. Richard Louv, awtur u ġurnalista Amerikan, fil-ktieb tiegħu The Last Child in the Woods jitkellem dwar diżordni kkawżat min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura (Nature-Deficit Disorder) li fil-fehma tiegħu iwassal għal problema fl-imġieba ta’ tfal li tilfu jew qatt ma żviluppaw il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. Sfortunatament, mhux biss it-tfal qegħdin f’din is-sitwazzjoni. Hemm riskju kbir li aħna lkoll xi ftit jew wisq inkunu effettwati.

Riċentement bosta qed jitkellmu dwar l-importanza li niżviluppaw ġonna fuq il-bjut tagħna b’mod li noħolqu spazji żgħar naturali fiż-żoni urbani. Din hi idea tajba u tagħmel il-ġid, imma għandu jkun ċar li mhiex sostitut għal kuntatt dirett u reali man-natura.

Xi kultant din il-ħeġġa għal ġonna fuq il-bjut hi mod kif uħud jaħsbu li jistgħu jissodisfaw it-tniggiż tal-kuxjenza li żviluppat fil-konfront tal-ħerba fl-ambjent naturali u li qed tkompli tiżviluppa madwarna ħtija ta’ l-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp bla rażan. Hi ukoll reazzjoni ta’ dawk li qed iħossu l-effett ta’ nuqqas ta’ kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-kuntatt kontinwu tagħna man-natura hi ta’ għajnuna kbira biex inħarsu saħħitna. Dan ifisser ukoll li min hu marid, b’mod partikolari jekk soġġett għal mard mentali, jista’ jkun mgħejjun jikseb saħħtu lura permezz ta’ kuntatt dirett man-natura: f’numru ta’ każi jista’ jikseb fejqan b’mod naturali. Din hi l-ekoterapija.

Birdlife Malta u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond, flimkien, daħlu f’dan il-qasam madwar sentejn ilu. B’għotja ta’ €17,000 mingħand il-Malta Social Impact Awards fasslu programm ta’ ekoterapija li sejħulu Blooming Minds, intenzjonat biex itejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ persuni bi problema ta’ saħħa mentali. Żviluppaw programm impenjattiv li kien imsejjes fuq taħriġ fl-apert b’mod li jkun hemm użu tan-natura bħala għodda terrapewtika, kif ukoll bl-apprezzament tal-istess natura u tal-ġonna. Il-professjonisti inkarigati mill-programm identifikaw li dan wassal biex assista lil dawk li ipparteċipaw fi żvilupp ta’ fiduċja ikbar fihom infushom kif ukoll sensazzjoni ta’ kalma meta jkunu fil-kumpanija ta’ natura li ssaħħrek.

Waħda mill-professjonisti nkarigati mill-programm ikkummentat li dawk li ipparteċipaw fis-sessjonijiet ta’ ekoterapija ħadu pjaċir bil-parteċipazzjoni tagħhom. Irrilassaw permezz ta’ dan il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. L-ambjent naturali irnexxielu jħalli impatt pożittiv fuqhom.

Imma l-fondi spiċċaw u dan il-programm ta’ ekoterapija waqaf, għalissa.

Qabel din l-inizjattiva ta’ Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond kien hemm inizjattivi simili kemm mill-għaqda ambjentali Friends of the Earth Malta f’Villa Chelsea kif ukoll minn oħrajn.

L-ekoterapija hi ta’ benefiċċju għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għal dawk bi problema ta’ mard mentali inkella li qegħdin f’riskju ta’ dan il-mard. L-ekoterapija toffri attenzjoni personalizzata, m’għandhiex impatti negattivi u tgħin lil dawk li jirċievuha jrabbu iktar fiduċja fihom infushom.

Mhux biss it-tfal jeħtieġu li jkunu mħarsa milli jiżviluppaw sintomi kkawżati min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura. Ilkoll kemm aħna qed inqattgħu iktar ħin ġewwa! Għandna l-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu mill-ġdid il-kuntatti tagħna mal-egħruq tagħna: egħruq tagħna fin-natura, u mhux fuq il-bejt.

L-ekoterapija hi għodda li tagħtina n-natura biex nieħdu ħsieb is-saħħa mentali tagħna. In-natura tagħtina s-soluzzjonijiet għall-benefiċċju tagħna.

Il-Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond ħadu inizjattiva tajba u li tagħmel il-ġid. Imma sfortunatament din l-inizjattiva waqfgħet għax spiċċaw il-fondi. Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li nassiguraw li din l-inizjattiva terġa’ tibda mill-ġdid malajr kemm jista’ jkun u li din ma tibqax temporanja iżda issir inizjattiva permanenti. Dan ikun għall-benefiċċju ta’ kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Mejju 2020

Ecotherapy: nature can cure

Human beings are part of the eco-system. Being in direct contact with the natural world is an integral part of our normal basic behaviour. We need to pay more attention to our natural ties in order to maintain and reinvigorate our health.

Nature is many times absent in our daily lives. Richard Louv, an American journalist and author, in his publication The Last Child in the Woods coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder through which he points at the consequences of alienating children from the natural world causing a wide range of behavioural problems. Unfortunately, it is not only children that are developing a Nature-Deficit Disorder. There is a serious risk that this can, and most probably is, infecting most of us.

Recently there is much talk going on relative to the importance of roof gardens, transforming our roofs into small gardens as a result creating small natural spots within our urban areas. This is an idea worth pursuing, but it is no substitute for the real thing: an interaction with an unspoilt countryside.

At times the clamouring for roof gardens is more the result of pangs of conscience seeking to somehow make good for the large-scale havoc on the natural environment resulting from unbridled development. It is also a call of those who feel the impact of being deprived of contacts with nature over a long time.

Our continuous contact with nature in its authentic unspoilt form helps us stay healthy. Conversely nature can help those of us who are sick, in particular the mentally sick, to regain their health, in a natural way. This is ecotherapy, a developing area of practice and study.

Birdlife Malta and the Richmond Foundation have together ventured into this area some two years ago. With a grant of €17,000 from the Malta Social Impact Awards they designed an ecotherapy programme called Blooming Minds aimed at improving the lives of persons with mental health problems. They developed an engaging and inclusive programme of outdoor sessions making use of nature as a therapeutic tool through nature art, gardening and a general appreciation of nature. This, as evidenced by the professionals guiding the programme, assisted confidence building, and the enjoyment of the calming effect of being in green spaces in the exclusive company of nature.

One of the programme managers commented thus: “Our clients have thoroughly enjoyed the ecotherapy sessions they have attended so far. They were relaxing and a really efficient way for them to get in touch with nature and wind down at the same time. It is clear that they were impacted by the environment in a positive way.”

The funds dried up and this particular ecotherapy programme was discontinued, for the time being.

Prior to this initiative by Birdlife and Richmond Foundation similar initiatives were taken by Friends of the Earth Malta at Villa Chelsea as well as by other environmental NGOs.

Ecotherapy is beneficial for everyone – but especially for those with a mental health problem or those at risk of developing one, offering focus and care that is person-centred, non-intrusive and empowering.

It is not only children that need to be saved from a nature-deficit disorder. All of us are spending less time outdoors. We need to re-establish contact with our roots, in the countryside not on our roofs!

Ecotherapy is a green tool to improve mental health. Nature offers solutions which we should tap and use for our benefit.

NGOs Birdlife and Richmond Foundation have taken a worthwhile initiative and have shown us the way forward. Due to a lack of funds this initiative is unfortunately not active anymore. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that this initiative is reactivated the soonest and to lay the foundations to transform it into a permanent activity. Everyone stands to gain.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2020