Harvesting rainwater

flooding.Bkara

At the time of writing the average rainfall in Malta from 1st September 2014 to date is recorded at 442.4 mm. The actual rainfall varies from a high of 529.6mm recorded at Selmun to a low of 373.7mm noted at Valletta. With still some months to go, it seems that precipitation in the Maltese islands during the current year will shortly exceed the average annual precipitation of 553.12mm, computed by Charles Galdies in his National Statistics Office publication entitled The Climate of Malta: statistics, trends and analysis 1951-2010. It will however be far short of 955.62mm, the maximum recorded precipitation in Malta which was recorded at Luqa Airport in 1951.

Since 1880, legislation in Malta has specifically provided for the construction of water cisterns in buildings, primarily residential ones. The dimensions of these water cisterns varied over time. Originally they were related to the floor area of the residential building. Recently, the required volume was reduced to be related to the footprint of the building.

These regulatory provisions are however more honoured in the breach, even when reduced. This is not a recent phenomenon. Regulatory control in Malta has been in decline since the 1960s building boom.

Instead of being collected in rainwater cisterns, in an ever increasing number of cases, rainwater is discharged directly onto our roads, or else into the public sewers. As a result, navigating some of our roads during or immediately after heavy rainfall is a dangerous exercise.

This is a case of water literally going down the drain. Large volumes of storm water, which can be utilised for various purposes, are being wasted. Much has been written about the potential use of harvested rainwater. Its use domestically can substantially reduce water bills.

It is also an issue of civil protection. Large quantities of rainwater in our streets, at times moving at an excessive velocity, are a danger to life and limb. Fortunately, it is very rare for people to lose their life in storms in Malta, but damage to property is a more frequent occurrence.

When rainwater is discharged into our overburdened public sewers, not only does the water overflow onto our streets, but it also increases the costs of sewage purification unnecessarily. These costs are recovered through our water bills. Hence, in the end, we all pay the costs of this abuse, irrespective of whether we are participants or not.

The major culprits are a substantial portion of the developers of blocks of flats and maisonettes. The government, directly, as well as through its agencies, has also been responsible for the development of housing estates without providing for rainwater harvesting.

In particular, it is common knowledge that in cases where basement or semi-basement garages are constructed, the duty to provide for rainwater harvesting is very rarely complied with. Since 1992, MEPA has been responsible for determining and ensuring the observance of the conditions of development permits, which in most cases, specify the required capacity of a rainwater cistern.

The Water Services Corporation (WSC) has during the last years, taken over the responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising owners of newly- constructed properties to connect the drains with the public sewer.

Is the WSC verifying that it is only the drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The obvious answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. No one is bothering to check what is connected to the public sewer . This leads to the conclusion that, while the culprit for the present state of affairs is the building industry as, more often than not, it does not provide for rainwater storage in new developments, it is not the only one to blame. The authorities and government departments must take a substantial share of the blame for not shouldering their regulatory responsibilities. They could have stopped the abuse, but they did not.

A number of areas are practically out of bounds whenever heavy or continuous rainfall hits the Maltese islands. This is a source of danger and, in fact, the Civil Protection Department is heavily involved in assisting residents or motorists who are trapped as a result of flooding. The Birkirkara local council had, some years back installed a storm warning system to alert residents and passers-by that, “danger was on the way”! Public authorities in Malta, unfortunately, have developed the habit of dealing with the effects but continuously ignore the cause of flooding!

Monies made available by the EU have been used to fund a project for the construction of underground tunnels through which it is planned to collect rainwater from our streets and roads and to discharge most of the collected storm water into the sea.

The EU funds utilised in the construction of these tunnels have been utilised to squander a very precious resource. European taxpayers’ monies too have been flushed down the drain. They could have been put to a much better use if they had been applied to address the lack of adequate rainwater harvesting in our towns and villages.

We have been inundated with political speeches lauding sustainability and sustainable development. However, when push comes to shove, it is more than amply clear that this is just a case of some Members of Parliament showing off a newly-acquired vocabulary they have not yet understood. In 2015, Malta still lacks a sustainable water policy.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 February 2015

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Il-Gvern jiftaħar li ser jarmi l-ilma tax-xita fil-baħar

Malta storm

 

Spikkat l-aħbar il-bieraħ li x-xogħol fuq il-mina ta’ tnax-il kilometru li ser tiżbokka f’Ta’ Xbiex biex ittaffi l-impatt tal-għargħar wasal fl-aħħar.

Din il-mina ser isservi biex fiha jinġabar l-ilma tax-xita li jkun għaddej mit-toroq. Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-ilma ser jintefa l-baħar. Il-Gvern qiegħed jiftaħar li dan l-ilma tax-xita ser jintefa’ fil-baħar.

Tajjeb dan? Dan hu ħela ta’ riżorsi u ma nistax nifhem min kien dak l-għaref li approva li juża’ l-miljuni ta’ euros f’fondi Ewropej biex narmu dan l-ilma tax-xita l-baħar.

Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-ilma tax-xita ikun fit-toroq minħabba li ħafna bini li inbena matul dawn l-aħħar 50 sena huwa mingħajr bir. Għal din ir-raġuni l-ilma tax-xita mill-bjut ta’ dan il-bini jispiċċa fit-toroq jew jintefa’ fid-drenaġġ li għax ma jlaħħaqx ifur fit-toroq ta’ diversi lokalitajiet.

Mela meta l-Gvern (ta’ Gonzi) ta’ bidu għal dan il-proġett kien qed jagħmel tajjeb għall-abbużi li saru mill-industrija tal-bini tul dawn l-aħħar 50 sena. Il-Gvern sikwit jipprietka li min iħammeġ għandu jnaddaf (the polluter pays). Allura għax ma darx fuq min kien responsabbli u ġiegħlu jerfa’ l-konsegwenzi ta’ egħmilu?

Flok ma mexa b’responsabbilta, l-Gvern daħħal idejh fil-but tagħna u mill-kaxxa ta’ Malta kif ukoll mill-fondi Ewropej qed jagħmel tajjeb għall-ħsara kbira li l-industrija tal-bini għamlet tul is-snin.

Din ir-realta’ ma jgħidulkomx biha meta jkunu qed jippużaw għar-ritratti.

Ta' Xbiex storm water

 

 

Wara l-maltemp ………….

flooding B'Kara.301113

Wara l-maltemp ta’  dawn l-aħħar ġranet ix-xena li bosta minna jiftakru hi dik ta’ kwantita’ kbira ta’ ilma fit-toroq tagħna. Riħa ta’ drenaġġ f’uħud mit-toroq u tappieri tad-drenaġg ifuru f’ xi toroq oħra.

Sitwazzjoni li bla dubju ddejjaq lil bosta. Toħloq inkonvenjent lil kulħadd u ma tagħmel ġid lil ħadd.

Filwaqt li nkun l-ewwel wieħed li naċċetta li l-intensita’ tal-maltempati  hi effett tat-tibdil tal-klima ma naħsibx li jiena waħdi li osservajt li m’hemmx il-ħtieġa  ta’ xi maltempata qawwija biex f’Malta jfur id-drenaġġ jew biex ikollna kwantita’ kbira ta’ ilma fit-toroq.

Il-proġett iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja li permezz tiegħu dawn l-ilmijiet ser jinġabru u l-parti l-kbira minnhom jintefgħu l-baħar qatt ma kienet is-soluzzjoni ġusta.

L-ilmijiet fit-toroq u d-drenaġġ ifur huma riżultat ta’ dawk li filwaqt li bnew, uħud għalihom u oħrajn għan-negozju, ma ħaffrux (jew bnew) bjar fil-propjetajiet tagħhom. L-ilma tax-xita li suppost inġabar fil-bjar spiċċaw tefgħuh fit-toroq jew fid-drenaġġ.

F’dan iż-żmien tas-sena, meta ftit li xejn għadha għamlet xita f’Malta, l-parti l-kbira tal-bjar li huma mibnija sewwa u tal-qies addattat kienu għadhom vojta qabel ma għamel il-maltemp ta’ dan l-aħħar. Kien faċli li bjar kważi vojta jimtlew bix-xita li għamlet. Dan kien ikollu l-konsegwenza li kien jonqos ħafna ilma tax-xita mit-toroq kif ukoll li kien jonqos ħafna ilma tax-xita mis-sistema tad-drenaġġ. B’hekk inqas kien ikun hemm ċans li tfur is-sistema tad-drenaġġ.

Dawk responsabbli għal dan kollu  huma dawk li bnew flats u maisonettes tul is-snin f’kull rokna ta’ Malta. Flok ma lestew bjar biex fihom jiġbru l-ilma tax-xita għażlu li jarmu l-ilma tax-xita fit-toroq jew fid-drenaġġ!

L-anqas li kellna ilma kemm irridu ma kien ikun ġustifikat li wieħed jaġixxi b’dan il-mod. Aħseb u ara meta wieħed iqis li aħna wieħed mill-iktar pajjiżi nieqsin mill-ilma fid-dinja!

ippubblikat f’iNews tat-Tnejn 2 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Environmental Governance

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Having over 70,000 vacant residential properties is a very serious matter which both the Nationalist and the Labour parties have ignored in their electoral manifestos. Rather than being ignored this fact ought to serve as the launching pad for a different way of looking at land use planning issues.

The Housing Authority in the past months has opted not to build new social housing units but instead decided to tap the stock of vacant dwellings held by the private sector. It was a very positive decision pushed forward by Minister Chris Said on taking up his Ministerial responsibilities early in 2012.

In its electoral manifesto Alternattiva Demokratika has listed a number of specific proposals which would go a long way to address the land use planning chaos which will be inherited by the government that takes office after the 9 March general elections.

As a first step Malta requires a moratorium on large scale residential development. The building industry cannot keep constructing flats and maisonettes in hundreds, adding to the stock of vacant dwellings. The number of vacant residential properties is equivalent to 9 times the size of the residential parts of B’Kara.

While the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has issued development permits, the State has, through our taxes, been paying up for the development of the infrastructure (roads, public sewer, water and electricity distribution networks………) which is underutilised. These funds could have been put to better use than to service vacant dwellings.

The boundaries of the development zone have to be rolled back. Those lands which, in August 2006, were included as land suitable for development as part of the so-called rationalisation exercise and have not yet been committed to development should return forthwith outside the development zone where they belong.

The construction industry, aided by a myopic MEPA, has made a havoc of our towns and villages through encouraging overdevelopment. In 2006, when the final decisions on most of the Local Plans were being considered,  the Government had access to the 2005 census results which determined the existence of 53,136 vacant dwellings. This was a substantial increase over the 17,413 vacant dwellings identified 10 years earlier as part of the 1995 census.

Publication of the 2011 census results on property is long overdue, but it is expected that the numbers this time will exceed the 70,000 mark substantially.

Faced with these numbers, a responsible government would never have proposed extending the development zones. The 2005 census result provided the evidence for their curtailment not for their extension. In addition to extending the development zones, the PN-led government increased the permissible building heights practically all over Malta, the end result being a further substantial increase in the number of vacant dwellings.

In addition, the height relaxation policy put in place in 2006 had another serious impact. It placed a number of dwellings in the shade of new buildings surrounding them, these being built in line with the new permissible heights. As a result, the residents in these dwellings cannot make use of solar energy. Not only the use of photovoltaic panels is out of the question but also their solar water heaters are in most cases no longer of any use!

Faced with this situation, it is political madness to propose considering the construction industry as an important and fundamental component of the economy, as the PL is proposing. The construction industry must shrink rather than expand. It must be assisted to manage its essential and unavoidable restructuring.

The construction industry can be directed towards three specific areas of activity: rehabilitation of old properties, road construction/maintenance and marine construction works. Each of these three areas of activity requires training in construction skills. Rehabilitation works require old building trades on the verge of disappearance. Roadworks, though improving in quality, still require a more skilled labourforce. We also need to take stock of our marine infrastructure which requires substantial improvement as well as regular maintenance.

The Government can assist the construction industry to change through providing training facilties for its labour force, thereby reducing the social impacts of change. Funds from the European Social Fund are available to assist in this exercise.

Land use planning should be subject to environmental governance rules. It is for this reason that AD considers it essential that rather then splitting up MEPA, the Government should go for a defragmentation, consolidating all environmental functions in one authority through the amalgamation of MEPA with the Resources Authority.

In such a consolidated authority, environmental considerations should be overriding and, in particular, land use planning should be put in its proper place: under the continuous supervision of a properly staffed Environment Directorate.

This is the basic change required in environmental governance. Placing the land use planning and the construction industry in their proper place and ensuring that environmental governance is defragmented.

published in The Times, Saturday 23rd February 2013

The risk of being ill-prepared

Hurricane Sandy swept through the states of New York and New Jersey making it clear to all that the forces of nature, amplified and stronger as a result of climate change, will spare no one.

The impacts of climate change are here for all to see. The destructive power of nature is being made incrementally worse by a warming climate. In 2012, it was Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc on New York and New Jersey. In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.

The havoc left behind in New York and New Jersey has been documented by the visual media. Less evident was the damage and misery in Haiti and neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Nature does not discriminate; it does not distinguish between rich and poor. Nor does it distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries. It sweeps away all that lies in its path.

Large areas of New York were without electricity. Over 40,000 New Yorkers were homeless as a result of Hurricane Sandy. This made the news.

However, disaster-stricken Haiti has been hit much harder. More than 200,000 Haitians already in makeshift homes as a result of the 2010 earthquake are now homeless.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti could be made worse by floods. Haiti, which is an agricultural economy, has also suffered a large loss of crops. This will lead to food shortages compounding the misery of an already impoverished nation.

Meteorologists have commented that more hurricanes are occurring late in the season, even after their “normal” season has ended. A 2008 study had pointed out that the Atlantic hurricane season seems to be starting earlier and lasting longer.

Normally, there are 11 named Atlantic storms. The past two years have seen 19 and 18 named storms. This year, with one month to go, there are already 19 named storms.

It is not only in the Atlantic that the climate is changing. Earlier this month, the Meteorological Office informed us that, in Malta, October 2012 was the sixth hottest month on record since 1922. With an increased frequency we too are witnessing more intense storms, which are playing havoc with an ill-prepared infrastructure.

The civil protection issues resulting from flooding will be hopefully addressed through storm-water relief projects substantially funded by the EU. While this will go a long way towards reducing damage to life and limb, it addresses the effects while leaving the causes of flooding largely unaddressed.

Malta’s climate change adaptation strategy, adopted some time ago, had pointed towards the issue of rainwater harvesting, which has not and still is not given due importance in new developments both those on a large scale as well as those on a much smaller scale.

The lack of application of rainwater harvesting measures through the construction of appropriately-sized water cisterns is an important contributor to the flooding of Malta’s roads and the overflowing public sewers whenever a storm comes our way. This occurs irrespective of the severity of the storm. Addressing this cause would go a long way towards reducing the volume of storm water that has to be contained to prevent it from causing damage.

By now it should be clear that there is no political will to address the issue as such a measure would entail taking action against developers (large and small) who did not provide rainwater harvesting facilities in their quest to increase profits (or reduce costs) in their land development projects. This has been the unfortunate practice for the past 50 years. Old habits die hard.

The expenses required to tackle a principal cause of the problem has been shifted from the developers onto the public purse, this including the EU funds being utilised. This expense has to make good for the accumulated (and accumulating) incompetence in rainwater management by focusing on the effects but simultaneously ignoring the causes.

Therefore, when one speaks on the devastating impacts of nature and climate change it should be realised that some of these impacts are being amplified as a result of the way in which successive governments have mismanaged this country’s resources.

The impacts of flooding are the ones which leave a lasting impression due to their detailed documentation by the media. There are, however, other impacts that are as important and in respect of which a public debate is conspicuously absent. I refer in particular to the impact of rising temperatures on agriculture and health.

Higher temperatures will slowly change our agriculture as the type of crops that can withstand higher temperatures are generally different from those which are currently prevalent. In addition, higher temperatures means that we will have some alien insects flying around, some of which are disease carriers.

Not discussing these issues does not mean that they will disappear. It only means that we are ill-prepared for the inevitable impacts and the necessary changes.

There is much to be done. So far, we have barely scratched the surface.

Published in The Times of Malta Saturday November 10, 2012

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 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.

San Ġwann

 

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It-tagħlima dwar il-każ San Ġwann hi waħda ta’ natura fondamentali : li l-opinjoni pubblika għandna nagħtu każ tagħha dejjem.

 

L-opinjoni pubblika tifforma fuq dak li tisma’, taqra u tgħarbel. Inkluż fuq dak li tifhem li qed jinħeba lilha. L-esperti ukoll għandhom rwol fil-formazzjoni tal-opinjoni pubblika. Imma dak li jgħidu l-esperti għandu jkun magħruf dejjem u mhux meta jaqbel biss.

 

Fil-każ San Ġwann il-Gvern ta’ Gonzi naqas prinċipalment għax kien inkonsistenti. Jekk vera emmen illi kienu meħtieġa iktar studji u opinjonijiet qabel ma tittieħed deċiżjoni dwar il-proġett mill-MEPA, għaliex il-Gvern ta’ l-go-ahead biex jiġu allokati l-fondi tal-EU għall-proġett? Il-messaġġ li ngħata b’dik id-deċiżjoni dwar il-fondi kien illi l-proċeduri jew kienu finta inkella li ma kien hemm l-ebda dubju dwar kif dawn ser ikunu konklużi. Min iddikjara li l-opinjonijiet kollha għandhom jinstemgħu (inkluż li jsiru l-istudji) qabel ma jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet messu hu stess ma ħax id-deċiżjoni dwar il-fondi qabel ma saru l-istudji.

 

Ovvjament jista’ jkun li l-moħħ wara din l-idea kien dak li jispeċjalizza fil-ħidma bil-moħbi, bil-kwiet, wara l-bibien magħluqin. Dak li imdorri jiddetta u jmexxi mingħajr ma qatt issottometta ruħu għal elezzjoni. Din hi l-filosofija li teħtieġ tingħata l-ġemb : it-tmexxija bil-ħabi, minn wara l-kwinti.

 

Il-lezzjoni hi waħda kbira : in-nies jidhrilha li m’għandhiex tintalab l-opinjoni tagħħa f’elezzjoni ġenerali biss. Il-fehma tan-nies hi relevanti dejjem.

The Cost of Incompetence

times_of_malta196x703by Carmel Cacopardo

published Saturday, January 17, 2009

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Walking or driving through some of our roads during or immediately after heavy rainfall is no easy task. If you are lucky you will “just” encounter large quantities of ankle-deep rainwater. It may, however, be worse if the rainwater is mixed with sewage.

This is happening so often that it is hardly news any more!

Three issues should be underlined. The first is rainwater literally going down the drain!

Secondly, it is an issue of civil protection: life and property are endangered.

Thirdly, it’s a case of an overloaded public sewer and, consequently, an unnecessary increase in the costs of sewage purification.

Local building regulations applicable since 1880 established the capacity of rainwater cisterns that are to be provided as an integral part of a dwelling. Unfortunately, a number of residential properties constructed over the last 45 years have not been provided with cisterns for rainwater storage.

The major culprits are a substantial portion of the developers of blocks of flats and maisonettes. In particular, in cases where basement or semi-basement garages are constructed, the duty to provide for rainwater storage is very rarely complied with. In those instances where a rainwater cistern has not been provided, rainwater is being disposed of either directly onto the street or else straight into the public sewer.

When disposed of onto the streets, rainwater is a contributor to flooding whereas when discharged down the drain it overloads the public sewer which, subsequently, overflows onto our streets.

As a result, this adds a health hazard to an already alarming situation.

Mepa has since 1992 been responsible for determining and ensuring the observance of the conditions of development permits, which, in most cases, specify the required capacity of a rainwater cistern. Mepa shares this responsibility with the public health authorities.

The Water Services Corporation (WSC) has, during the last years, taken over the responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising owners of dwellings to connect their house drains with the public sewer.

Is the WSC verifying that it is only the house drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. No one is bothering to check.

This leads to the conclusion that, while the culprit for the present state of affairs is the building industry as, more often than not, it does not provide for rainwater storage in new development, it is not the only one to blame. The authorities and government departments have a substantial share of the blame for not shouldering their responsibilities.

A number of areas are out of bounds whenever heavy or continuous rainfall hits the Maltese islands. This is a source of danger and, in fact, the Civil Protection Department is heavily involved in assisting residents or motorists who are trapped as a result of flooding. The Birkirkara local council had some years ago installed a storm warning system to alert residents and passers by that “danger was on the way”!

Public authorities, unfortunately, have developed the habit of dealing with the effects but continuously ignore the cause of flooding!

Austin Gatt, as the minister responsible for the WSC, recently announced that the government will introduce a drainage tariff as of next year. He stressed that, in terms of the EU Water Framework Directive, the government has to recover costs related to the treatment of urban wastewater. Leaving aside for the time being the discharge of the treated wastewater into the sea (I have dealt with this elsewhere) it is clear that the cost of treating urban wastewater includes an expense which can easily be avoided if the public sewer is not overloaded with rainwater during the rainy season. All of us will thus be forced to pay the cost for the gross incompetence of the government through its authorities.

We have also been informed that part of the €855 million made available by the EU will be used to fund a project for the construction of underground tunnels through which it is planned to collect rainwater from our streets and roads. It is planned not only to store the rainwater underground but, possibly, also to make use of it in order recharge the depleted water table!

No one has yet explained how it is intended to deal with the contamination of rainwater by sewage prior to it being collected in the projected tunnels. But even if this is remedied, the EU funds will be effectively subsidising a number of developers who, once more, will shift their responsibilities and expenses onto the taxpayer. EU monies are taxpayers’ funds too!

This is the accumulated cost of incompetence!