The professor who messed things up

Victor Axiaq

 

Professor Victor Axiaq, Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, is not at fault for being absent at a Planning Authority public meeting on the 4 August which discussed the Mrieħel and Sliema high-rise applications. By now everyone is aware that he had just been discharged from hospital and was instructed to rest for 15 days.

There were various officers of the Environment and Resources Authority present for the 4 August public meeting, yet instead of entrusting one of them with presenting the environment’s case on the Sliema high-rise, Professor Axiaq preferred to entrust Dr Timothy Gambin with a memorandum which Gambin opted to keep to himself.

There were various environmentalists, Sliema Local Councillors and civil society activists present for the public hearing. Those of us who were present for the public hearing presented the environment case and managed to convince six out of 13 Planning Authority members to vote against the proposed high-rise at TownSquare Sliema. Support for the environment case from a representative of the Environment and Resources Authority during the public hearing would have been most welcome. It could also have had a determining impact.  Yet it was not forthcoming notwithstanding the presence of a number of the Environment and Resources Authority employees at the public hearing.

The split of MEPA into two separate and distinct authorities, we were irresponsibly told by Government representatives some months ago, would ensure that the environmental issues would be more easily defended when considering land use planning applications. Yet prior to the split, an official of The Environment Protection Directorate would have addressed the public hearing. On the 4 August none were invited. The only person who was briefed to speak (Dr Timothy Gambin) opted instead to ignore his brief and instead openly supported the development proposal for a high-rise at TownSquare.

Professor Victor Axiaq, as Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, missed the opportunity to contribute to convince the majority of members of the Planning Authority due to his two basic mistakes. He entrusted his memorandum to another Planning Authority member (Dr Timothy Gambin) who had opposing views and hence had no interest in communicating Professor Axiaq’s memorandum on TownSquare to the Planning Authority. Professor Axiaq also failed to engage with his own staff at the Environment and Resources Authority as none of those present for the public hearing uttered a single word in support of the case against the high-rise proposal. The person sitting on the chair next to me, for example, preferred to communicate continuously with his laptop correcting with track changes some report he was working on. I have no idea why he even bothered to be present for the public hearing.

Unfortunately, Professor Axiaq, as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, messed up the first opportunity at which the input of the authority he leads could have made a substantial difference in the actual decision taken. It would have been much better if a proper decision was taken on the 4 August instead of subsequently considering whether to present an appeal, as this will be an uphill struggle as anyone with experience in these matters can confirm.  This could only have happened if Professor Axiaq had acted appropriately, which he unfortunately did not.

Next Wednesday, the Sliema Local Council will be convened for an extraordinary session in order to discuss the planning appeal relative to the TownSquare high-rise development permit. Environmental NGOs will also be meeting presently to plot the way forward and consider whether they too will appeal the decision.

Even the Environment and Resources Authority will be shortly considering whether to appeal. In view of the way in which Professor Axiaq handled the whole issue, the Sliema Local Council and the environmental NGOs would do well if they do not place any trust in the Authority led by Professor Victor Axiaq. They will avoid ending up in another mess.

After creating this mess, there is only one option left for Professor Victor Axiaq in my opinion. He should immediately resign from his post as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority. The sooner he resigns the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 August 2016

Oħtna n-natura tieħu ħsiebna

countryside11.mt

 

L-enċiklika Laudato Sì tal-Papa Franġisku tpoġġi quddiemna numru ta’ riflessjonijiet dwar il-ħarsien tal-ambjent liema riflessjonijiet huma apprezzati minn kulħadd, inkluż minn min ma jemminx.

Riflessjoni ewlenija hi dwar kif Franġisku l-ieħor, Franġisku ta’ Assisi, tmien mitt sena ilu, kien iqies lin-natura bħal parti mill-familja. Bla dubju ġejna mfakkra  fil-kliem immortalizzat minn Franco Zeffirelli fil-film Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna dwar ħuna x-xemx u oħtna l-qamar.

Din hi stedina biex aħna ukoll inqiesu lin-natura bħala parti integrali mill-familja tagħna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh jekk napprezzaw iktar ir-rwol importanti li n-natura għandha f’kull waqt ta’ ħajjitna.

Din mhix biss parti mill-filosofija franġiskana. Insibuha ukoll fil-kultura indiġena ta’ diversi popli. Per eżempju, fit-tribujiet Indjani fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika kif ukoll fit-tribujiet fid-diversi partijiet tal-Amerika Latina. Hi attitutdni magħġuna ukoll fil-biedja tradizzjonali li żviluppat f’rispett  u sintonija sħiħa man-natura.

Aħna parti mill-istess familja għax niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema waħda. Kull azzjoni tagħna għanda impatt fuq dak kollu li jseħħ madwarna, bl-istess mod li dak li jseħħ madwarna għandu impatt fuqna. Jekk inniġġsu l-arja qed inniġġsuha għal kulħadd. Dan iwassal mhux biss għal mard respiratorju imma ukoll għall-iżbilanċ fil-klima, tant li l-istaġuni bdew jitħawwdu. La taf iktar meta jispiċċa s-sajf u l-anqas meta tibda ix-xitwa jew ir-rebbiegħa. Dan qed  jeffettwa kemm lill-uċuħ tar-raba’ kif ukoll lis-siġar li donnhom bdew jitgħażżnu. Qed jeffettwa is-sistemi naturali kollha li fuqhom tiddependi l-ħajja.

In-natura taħdem bħall-katina : kull ħolqa marbuta ma’ u msaħħa (jew imdgħajfa) mill-ħolqa ta’ ħdejha.

Ftit iktar minn ħamsin sena ilu, ż-żooloġista Amerikana Rachel Carson ippubblikat il-ktieb tagħha bl-isem Silent Spring (Ir-Rebbiegħa Siekta). Tosserva kif l-użu bikri tal-pestiċidi ma kienx qed jeffettwa biss l-insetti li kienu qed inaqqru l-uċuħ tar-raba’. Imma kien qed ikollu effett drastiku fuq ħlejjaq oħra, bħall-għasafar, insetti u pjanti li huma ta’ għajnuna kbira għalina. Għax l-għasafar li kienu jfittxu lil dawn l-istess insetti kienu qed jiġu b’mod indirett avvelenati minn l-istess pestiċdi. B’dan il-mod kien hemm nuqqas notevoli ta’ għasafar u bħala konsegwenza n-nuqqas tagħhom kien qed jinħass f’rebbiegħa li kienet qed isir dejjem iżjed siekta. Għalhekk Silent Spring. Carson kienet qed temfasizza li l-pestiċidi kien qed ikollhom effetti li jmorru lil hinn minn dak intenzjonat: kienu qed jagħmlu ħsara konsiderevoli lill-eko-sistema.

Ħamsin sena ilu, Rachel Carson kebbset l-ewwel xrara għal attiviżmu ambjentali fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, li wara infirex mal-erbat irjieh tad-dinja. Għax bħala riżultat tal-osservazzjonijiet xjentifiċi tagħha,  iżjed nies indunaw kemm in-natura hi katina waħda : aħna l-bnedmin niddependu ukoll mid-dudu tal-art jew mill-insetti. Din hi l-katina tal-eko-sistema li torbot flimkien lill-bniedem mal-ħamrija u mal-ajru, mal-ilma tax-xita u mal-klima, mal-insetti u mal-annimali li jħokku żaqqhom mal-art.

Għandna ħafna x’nitgħallmu min-natura.

Ħarsu ħarsa madwarkom. Ħarsu lejn is-sigar meta dawn jinżgħu mill-weraq tagħhom. Osservaw kif anke dak il-weraq midbiel, li għalina jidher li ma’ għandu l-ebda użu jew valur, jitmermru w jgħinu lill-ħamrija li terġa’ titma’ lill-istess siġar. In-natura hi bieżla u ma taħlix.

Dawn il-lezzjonijiet sempliċi nsibuhom kontinwament madwarna kieku aħna kapaċi li b’umiltà nħarsu u nosservaw biżżejjed. Għax fi ħsieb Franġisku l-ieħor, in-natura hi bħal oħtna l-kbira li dejjem tieħu ħsiebna.  Anke għalhekk jixirqilha r-rispett. Għax dinja waħda għandna u hi d-dar tagħna lkoll.

kummentarju imxandar fuq RTK : it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Diċembru 2015

L-isfiduċja fil-MEPA tkompli tissaħħaħ

Howard Gardens excavation 101215

 

Barra mill-Imdina, f’Howard Gardens, dal-għodu flimkien ma’ Astrid Vella mill-FAA u l-ambjentalista Alfred Baldacchino indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar xogħol li qed isir mill-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina.

Ix-xogħol jinvolvi tħaffir u tneħħija ta’ ħamrija jidher li ġie approvat mill-MEPA bil-proċedura tad-DNO. Jiġifieri mingħajr il-ħtieġa ta’ applikazzjoni. In-notifika ġġib in-numru DN 2085/15 u jidher li ħarġet nhar l-4 ta’ Novembru li għadda.

Dan imur kontra dak li jgħidu ir-regolamenti għax dan it-tip ta’ approvazzjoni l-MEPA ma tistax taghtiha f’żoni skedati jew protetti.

Normalment dan it-tip ta’ permessi jsiru b’applikazjoni li dwarha jkun hemm perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni. Fl-aħħar, jekk u meta tapprova, l-MEPA taħtar lil xi ħadd biex jissorvejla u dan minħabba li mhux ħaga rari li meta jsir it-tħaffir fir-Rabat/Mdina li jinstabu fdalijiet storiċi.

Dan kollu ma sarx.

Biex tkompli tgħaqqadha, għal ħin twil ma kien hemm l-ebda informazzjoni elettronika fuq il-website tal-MEPA. Kien biss reċentment li din l-informazzjoni tfaċċat.

Dawn huma affarijiet li jkomplu jsaħħu l-isfiduċja fil-MEPA.

 

Sandro u l-politika tas-supermarkets

 

Sandro.big shops

 

Sandro Chetcuti jqis liż-żewġ partiti (l-kbar) bħala żewġt iħwienet (kbar) li fihom in-nies tal-business (u b’mod partikolari l-iżviluppaturi tal-MDA) jinqdew meta jkollhom bżonn. Ġieli jixtru mingħand wieħed u ġieli mingħand l-ieħor.  Skond x’ (policies) ikollhom għall-bejgħ. Min jixtri u min ibiegħ.

Forsi bla ma jrid, u mingħajr ma qagħad jomgħod il-kliem, Sandro poġġa sebgħu fuq il-ferita l-kbira fil-politika Maltija: il-politika tal-partiti l-kbar m’hiex ibbażata fuq dak li (suppost) jemmnu iżda fuq dak li jaħsbu li jista’ jġibilhom il-voti.

Allura għandna partit soċjalista li jitkellem u jaħdem kontra t-taxxa tad-dħul f’kompetizzjoni mal-konservattivi.

Il-konservattivi qatt ma kellhom ħeġġa biex jirrevedu l-paga minima. Imma li l-partit soċjalista (li jistħi jgħid li hu hekk) qiegħed attent idur u jdur biex jevita li jmiss mal-ħtieġa li jkun revedut il-basket li fuqu hi ibbażata l-paga minima, l-anqas titwemmen. Tinġieb elf skuża u tingħata elf spjegazzjoni għal dan.

Il-politika tas-supermarket li jħaddnu kemm il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Laburista twassalhom biex fil-għodu jisfnu mal-ambjentalisti u waranofsinnhar jisfnu ma Sandro u sħabu. Hija politika tal-kuntrasti li jbikkuk.

Niftakar, snin ilu, lil min jirrakkonta storja dwar Membru Parlamentari Malti li tillustra din is-sitwazzjoni.

Dan il-Membru Parlamentari kienu kellmuh il-kumitat tal-każin tal-banda ta’ lokalità ewlenija fid-distrett elettorali tiegħu. Kienu inkwetati għax kellhom diffikultà dwar il-kamra tan-nar li dwarha kienu qed isibu opposizzjoni mill-bdiewa fl-inħawi.  Il-Membru Parlamentari irranġalhom appuntament mal-Ministru u għodwa waħda mar magħhom sal-Ministeru. Lil Ministru spjegalu kemm kien meħtieġ li jgħin lill-kostitwenti tiegħu li qed jagħtu kontribut kbir għall-ħajja soċjali  u kulturali fil-lokalità. Il-Ministru ħa nota u kemmex xuftejh.

Ftit ġranet wara, l-istess Membru Parlamentari kellu appuntament ieħor mal-istess Ministru. Din id-darba kien qed jakkumpanja delegazzjoni tal-bdiewa, irrabjati minħabba l-kamra tan-nar ippjanata għal ġo nofs ir-raba’ li jaħdmu.

(Ġrajja li tnissillek tbissima u li għalkemm kienu semmewli l-ismijiet tal-persuni involuti, mhux konvint li fil-fatt ġrat.)

Din hi l-politika tal-partiti l-kbar li jsemmi Sandro. Politika mhux ibbażata fuq dak li jemmnu, iżda fuq kif jingħoġbu. Il-politika ta’ kollox għal kulħadd ……….. bħall-ixkafef tas-supermarket.

Iċ-ċavetta li tista’ tiftaħ il-bibien magħluqa ………………

Opening door with key

 

Mhux l-ewwel wieħed li ser nikkummenta li bir-riżultati elettorali ta’ tmiem il-ġimgħa kulħadd hu kuntent. Ovvjament din hi reazzjoni artifiċjali ħafna u għandha titqies biss bħala l-ewwel reazzjoni sakemm kulħadd ikollu ċ-ċans li jifli ftit ir-riżultati daqsxejn iktar fil-fond.

Iċ-ċifri uffiċjali, per eżempju jgħidu li Alternattiva Demokratika kisbet 1.10% tal-voti mitfugħa f’dan ir-rawnd ta’ elezzjonijiet lokali. Dawn iċ-ċifri huma korretti imma ma jagħtux l-istampa rejali. Dan minħabba li AD ikkontestat biss f’7 lokalitajiet minn 34. Il-lokalitajiet li fihom AD ikkontestat l-elezzjonijiet nhar il-11 t’April l-anqas ma huma għal kollox l-istess lokalitajiet li fihom AD ikkontestat fl-2012 u allura ftit li xejn tista’ tagħmel paraguni.

Fil-Qala, fin-Nadur u f’Ħal-Qormi AD kisbet numru żgħir ta’ voti li huma kumparabbli kemm ma dawk miksuba fl-elezzjoni ġenerali kif ukoll, fejn applikabbli, ma’ parteċipazzjoni f’elezzjonijiet oħra tal-Kunsilli Lokali fl-istess lokalitajiet. F’dawn il-lokalitajiet mela jkun ġust li wieħed jikkonkludi li AD baqgħet fl-istess ilma.

Imma mhux l-istess jista’ jingħad fil-lokalitajiet l-oħra. F’Ħ’Attard reġa’ ġie elett għal darba oħra s-Segretarju Ġenerali ta’ AD Ralph Cassar li fl-ewwel għadd kiseb 7.3% tal-voti mitfugħa.  Mhux biss reġa’ ġie elett imma kiseb ammont ta’ voti iktar mis-soltu, u, iktar importanti minn hekk, wiret biżżejjed voti mingħand kandidati oħra (PN, PL u Indipendenti) biex ġie elett f’lokalita fejn il-Partit Laburista naqqas il-presenza tiegħu billi tilef kunsillier. Issa dan il-fatt għandu l-importanza tiegħu prinċipalment għax ifisser li Alternattiva Demokratika qed tikkonsolida l-egħruq tagħha f’dik iż-żona ta’ Malta li hi iktar sensittiva minn żoni oħra għal materji ambjentali.

Argumenti simili jistgħu jingħadu għal-lokalita’ ta’ San Ġiljan fejn il-kandidat ġdid u żgħażugħ Gulio Caruana irdoppja l-voti (ġieb 5.4%) li kisbet il-kandidat ta’ AD fl-istess lokalita fl-2012. Żieda simili kellu Simon Galea fuq San Pawl il-Baħar fejn irid jingħad li kienu bil-voti tiegħu, meta ġie eliminat, li l-PN seta jirbaħ il-lokalità ta’ San Pawl il-Baħar. L-istess kif kien ġara fil-Mosta fl-2012 bil-voti li dakinnhar kienu inkisbu minngħand Robert Callus.

Min-naħa l-oħra kienet esperjenza ġdida l-kandidatura taż-żgħazugħa Monique Agius fuq Ħaż-Żebbuġ li kisbet 3.1% tal-voti l-ewwel darba li kkontestat.

Dan kollu jrid ukoll ikun ikkunsidrat fl-isfond tad-49.6% miksuba mill-LE fir-referendum kontra l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Dan ir-referendum kien riżultat ta’ petizzjoni li bdiet Alternattiva Demokratika flimkien ma’ 13-il għaqda ambjentali fil-pajjiż. Fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom dawk li ivvutaw LE m’humiex votanti li soltu jivvutaw Alternattva Demokratika. Huwa ovvju li fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom is-soltu jivvutaw lill-partiti oħra. Ta’ l-inqas fil-konfront ta’ uħud, dan mhux bil-fors jibqa’ l-każ u dan in vista tal-kummenti diversi minn dawk li ma qablux mal-posizzjoni li ħadu l-partiti l-kbar.

Din hi storja li għad trid tiżviluppa matul it-tlett snin li ġejjin. Jekk tiżviluppax jew le f’ċaqlieq ta’ votanti min-naħa għall-oħra tal-ispettru politiku huwa kmieni biex jingħad imma l-ingredjenti biex dan iseħħ qegħdin hemm. Għandek persentaġġ għoli ta’ votanti li ma mxewx mad-direzzjoni indikata mill-mexxejja tal-partiti l-kbar. Għal uħud mhux importanti li kellhom opinjoni differenti mill-mexxejja. Imma għal oħrajn li ivvutaw LE fuq prinċipju tal-ħarsien tal-bijodiversita fir-rebbiegħa il-mistoqsijiet mhux imwieġba huma interminabbli. Huwa l-ewwel darba li l-partiti l-kbar kellhom l-opportunità li jagħmlu għażla ċara. Għamluha u issa ħadd ma għandu l-iskuża li ma jafx fejn hu.

Għax bla ma trid bil-fors tirrifletti u tistaqsi lilek innifsek : kif tista’ tieħu posizzjoni favur l-ambjent fir-referendum u mbagħad ma tagħtix l-istess piz lill-ambjent f’elezzjonijiet oħra?  Għal uħud mill-votanti ma hemm xejn ħażin li l-ambjent jingħata prijorita sekondarja, imma għal numru dejjem ikbar jidher li dan mhux il-każ.

Kemm hu kbir dan in-numru għad irridu naraw. Kliem l-ambjentalista Alan Deidun fis-Sunday Times ta’ nhar il-Ħadd li għadda huwa ċar:

“Effectively, the spineless stance taken by both PL and PN MP’s effectively meant that over 124,000 Maltese citizens were not represented by their elected parliamentarians, bar one. This is the boldest of statements about our political class…..the aspirations of such a large minority have only been voiced by a party – AD – which is not even represented in Parliament…..yet another quirk of democracy.”

Din hi l-isfida li Alternattiva Demokratika għandha quddiema bħala riżultat tal-votazzjoni tal-11 t’April. Hi opportunità unika li mhux ser tirrepeti ruħha fil-futur qarib. Il-futur ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika jiddependi fuq kemm ser tkun kapaċi matul ix-xhur li ġejjin taddatta ruħha biex issarraf din l-opportunità.

Bħala konsegwenza tar-riżultat tal-11 t’April diversi qed jinteressaw ruħhom iktar fil-ħidma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Dan jawgura tajjeb għall-futur għax jagħti l-possibilità lill-Alternattiva Demokratika li torganizza ruħha aħjar, biex twassal b’mod iktar effettiv il-messaġġ tagħha li l-ħarsien tal-ambjent jiddetermina l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kull wieħed u waħda minna peró l-iktar ta’ dawk fil-periferija tas-soċjetà.

Ir-riżultat tal-votazzjonijiet tal-11 t’April fih iċ-ċavetta li biha jistgħu jinfetħu ħafna bibien li illum huma magħluqa.

Dejjem sakemm ma tilħaqx tinbidel is-serratura.

Malta tagħna lkoll

Malta taghna lkoll

 

Tal-Labour Party ħelwin.

Jgħidulna li Malta tagħna lkoll.

Iżda ma qalulniex għaliex lesti li jħallu lil min jisraq biċċa minn Malta li hi tagħna ilkoll iżomma għalih. Fil-fatt is-serq tal-art biex fuqu inbnew il-boathouses tal-Armier tal-Labour Party iberkuh. Għal-Labour Party l-Armier fejn insterqet l-art m’hiex tagħna ilkoll, iżda tagħhom biss!

Ma qalilniex kif tista’ tkun Malta tagħna ilkoll imbagħad il-Labour Party jivvota favur li Bertie Mizzi jieħu f’idejħ (b’tender s’intendi) Manoel Island.

Mal-ambjentalisti ħafna kliem ħelu dwar kemm taħraqhom qalbhom għall-ambjent. Imma meta jkunu ma’ dawk li jiżviluppaw l-art, jitkellmu b’mod differenti. Iktar jitkellmu dwar kemm il-MEPA qed iżżomm l-iżvilupp lura. Ħalluna naħdmu, qalilhom Sandro Chetcuti!

Malta tagħna lkoll. Bil-kliem iva. Iżda bil-fatti ħaġa oħra.

Magħna taf fejn int!

A Green Vision – 50 years on

50 years ago Rachel Carson published her seminal book “Silent Spring”.

In 1962 Carson, a zoologist, argued that the use of pesticides had unintended consequences as whilst pesticides targeted pests they ended up affecting birds and their offspring. The result being a decrease in the bird population brought  about by intoxication as a consequence of the poisoning of the food chain.

Rachel Carson was the first person to give a popular voice to ecological concerns. In so doing she laid the foundations of environmentalism. It can be safely stated that her Silent Spring was the trigger of popular ecological awareness in the United States and Europe and to the consequential setting up of environmental NGOs as well as Green Political Parties.

Today’s generation is indebted to Rachel Carson for a powerful environmental movement in the four corners of the earth. We owe to her the popular awareness and understanding of nature’s fragility.

But obviously awareness and understanding is not sufficient. It must be our motivation to act. Planet Earth, fifty years after Silent Spring was published, is in a much worse state then ever. It has a temperature, it is warming up. Sea levels are rising. The climate is changing to one of less frequent but more intense storms which leave a trail of havoc in their path.

Water resources are declining.

Waste is not sufficiently understood as an underutilised resource.

The sea has also been heavily polluted and its resources plundered.

Consider the following observation made by Callum Roberts oceanographer at York University.

“The seas are the ultimate sinks. Chemicals get washed out of the soil and into streams and rivers. They should settle on the sea bed and stay there. However, fishing has become so intense, with boats dredging up scallops and bottom-welling  fish all the time, that we are constantly ploughing up these toxins, including DDT, and stirring them back into the water.”

The environment movement was born 50 years ago to make a difference. It was born out of a love for nature but is not restricted or limited to nature.  It has set out to implement  a green revolution : bettering our quality of life and as a result bequeathing a planet earth in a better state of health to future generations.

 

published on di-ve.com on 14 September 2012

The circus has come to town

  

 

When considering the draft National En­vironment Policy some patience is required. On one hand it is a detailed document covering a substantial number of environmental issues. However, its exposition of the issues to be tackled contrasts starkly with the government’s environmental performance throughout its long term in office.

The draft policy says more about the government than about the environment. It collates together the accumulated environmental responsibilities the government should have been addressing throughout the past years. The draft policy tells us: this is what the government ought to have done. It further tells us that in the next 10 years, the government will try its best to remedy its past failures by doing what it should do.

The government’s words and action are in sharp contrast, as I have been repeatedly pointing out in these columns. In late 2007, Cabinet approved the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which, although being less detailed than today’s draft National Environment Policy, says practically the same things. It also covers a 10-year period (2007-2016), half of which has elapsed without the set targets having been addressed. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is the Cabinet member politically responsible for this failure. Having failed repeatedly, I find it difficult to think how he could be trusted to deliver on environmental or sustainability issues.

On the basis of this experience, it is reasonable to dismiss the government’s media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin where the draft National Environment Policy was launched as just another exercise in rhetoric.

It is definitely not a sudden conversion in favour of environmental issues that moved the government to act. The present exercise is the result of society’s metamorphosis, which came about as a direct consequence of years of environmental activism in Malta. Civil society has pushed a reluctant Nationalist-led government to this point.

No one in his right senses can quarrel with the proposed National Environment Policy in principle. Yet, it is a fact that the environment has always been the Cinderella of government business. All talk and little walk. A clear example is the adjudication process of the Delimara power station extension. When the submitted tenders were adjudicated, it resulted that the submissions that were technically and environmentally superior were considered less favourably than the tender that was perceived as being economically more advantageous. When push comes to shove, environmental issues are not given priority, the adjudication criteria being skewed in favour of perceived economic gain.

All this contrasts with the declarations in favour of green procurement in the draft National Environment Policy. In defending the decision on the use of heavy fuel oil in the power station extension, government spokesmen are in fact stating that while the environment is the government’s political priority it still retains the right to have second thoughts whenever it takes an important decision.

When the government plays around with its declared environmental convictions with the ease of a juggler, it sows serious doubts on its intentions. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment is doing his best to convince that, under his watch, the environment carries weight it is clear to all that he has not succeeded in wiping the slate clean. He is still conditioned by the attitudes and the decisions taken by his boss and colleagues in the recent past. Their attitudes have not changed at all. Old habits die hard.

On a positive note, I have to state that the process leading to the draft National Environment Policy submitted for public consultation was one which involved civil society. A number of proposals submitted by civil society, including those in an AD document submitted to Mario de Marco, were taken on board. I also had the opportunity to discuss the draft policy and AD’s views with Dr de Marco on more than one occasion. The discussions were, in my opinion, beneficial.

The problem the government has so far failed to overcome is that it preaches one thing and continually does the opposite. The only times when it carries out positive environment action is when it is forced on this course by EU legislation or by threats of EU infringement proceedings. Within this context, declarations that Malta aims to go beyond the requirement of the EU’s acquis are, to say the least, hilarious. It would have been much better if the basics of the EU environmental acquis are first put in place.

The environmental initiatives taken during the past seven years have been mostly funded by the EU.

They would not have been possible without such funding.

By spelling it out, the draft National Environment Policy defines the government’s past failures. Hopefully, it also lays the groundwork for the required remedial action. The environmental destruction the government has facilitated and encouraged will take a long time to remedy. In some cases, the damage done is beyond repair.

Beyond the entertainment value of the media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin, these first steps are just the beginning of a long journey. For the sake of Malta’s future generations I hope that the government does not go astray once more.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.

Small is beautiful in water policy

The press was recently briefed that the sewage treatment plant at Ta’ Barkat in Xgħajra will be commissioned shortly. Treating around 80 per cent of sewage produced in Malta it has the capacity to process 50,000 cubic metres of sewage daily. It is one of three plants, the other two being at Iċ-Ċumnija, limits of Mellieħa and at Ras il-Ħobż, in Gozo.

When the plant at Ta’ Barkat is in operation, Malta will at last be in line with the Urban Waste Water Directive of the EU. In addition, it will also be honouring another commitment entered into in terms of the protocol on pollution from land-based sources forming part of the United Nations Mediterranean Action Plan.

Without in any way belittling the efforts and expense entered into, it is to be stated that all three sewage treatment projects mentioned above ignore the potential reuse of the treated sewage effluent and discharge it directly into the sea.

The siting of the three plants is itself indicative of the fact the whole exercise has only been considered as an “end of pipe solution” to marine pollution through the discharge of untreated urban waste water. What was considered as a problem could instead have been viewed as an opportunity to redefine Malta’s approach to the management of water resources.

It was unfortunately very late in the day the government considered the possibility of redefining its approach.

Two years ago, on March 4, 2009, during the inauguration of the Mellieħa sewage treatment plant it was announced that studies would be carried out on the possible use of the treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes as an alternative to its being discharged into the sea.

Studies should have been carried out before the design of the sewage treatment plants and not when two had already been completed and financial commitments on the third had been made.

Proper studies prior to the formulation of the design brief would have led to a different strategy and, consequently, to an alternative infrastructure.

If a decision on the reuse of treated sewage effluent is now arrived at, a distribution system will have to be introduced to transport the treated water from the sewage treatment plants to the point of use.

This cost could have been avoided by introducing small treatment plants directly at the points where the treated effluent needs to be used.

The above has been countered by a statement which emphasised there is no demand for treated sewage effluent by the agricultural community. This, I submit, is due to the fact that the agricultural community (and others) are today more than amply satisfying their requirements using boreholes to tap the water table.

The recent decision of the Malta Resources Authority to meter all boreholes (even if taken very late in the day) could be a first step to introduce some sense in the management of Malta’s groundwater. The next step would undoubtedly be the decision as to the quantum of payments to be made by whosoever extracts water from the water table.

Offering the use of treated sewage effluent as an alternative water source for agriculture purposes could be an acceptable alternative to extracting groundwater if the water so produced is adequately treated to acceptable standards.

The first use of treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes in Malta was carried out in the mid-1980s as a result of the commissioning of the Sant’Antnin sewage purification plant at Wied iz-Ziju, limits of Marsascala. Although large tracts of agricultural land were as a result irrigated for the first time, there were complaints on the quality of the treated effluent produced and, subsequently, also on the quality of the agricultural products originating from the area. Technology has made substantial leaps since the 1980s and, in addition, I hope experience garnered throughout the years would be put to good use.

It is also pertinent to draw attention to research carried out by hydrologist Marco Cremona. This research project carried out at Għajn Tuffieħa in conjunction with the Island Hotels Group and the Department of Public Health developed a water recovery and reuse system for use in hotels and large scale commercial buildings.

In the early 1970s, Ralph Schumacher had advocated that “small is beautiful”. Applying Schumacher’s dictum to water policy in Malta could have led to considering a network of small sewage purification plants spread all over the islands to cater for the use of non-potable water. At the end of the day, I have no doubt the cost of such an approach would not have exceeded that of the three sewage purification plants. And we would have large quantities of second-class water available for use at no expense.

This is what the politics of sustainable development could deliver to governments which practise what they preach.

Published in The Times of Malta on March 5, 2011