Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

L-abort: nippruvaw niddiskutu bil-kalma

Id-dibattitu dwar l-abort hu wieħed emottiv. L-insulti u t-tgħajjir li għaddejjin huma bla limitu. Huwa f’din l-atmosfera li qed issir id-diskussjoni. Ċerti nies ma jitgħallmu qatt.

Id-dibattitu huwa ibbażat fuq l-istess punt fundamentali tad-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju: fil-pajjiż jirrenja l-pluraliżmu etiku. Jiġifieri jeżistu valuri kuntrastanti. Kuntrasti li ilhom jinbnew ftit ftit tul is-snin imma li ġew moħbija mil-lenti pubblika. Id-diskussjoni kienet waħda ipprojibita. Ma saritx minħabba l-biża’ minn soċjetà intolleranti, frott tal-fundamentaliżmu li għixna fih għal ħafna snin. Is-soċjetà tagħna illum żviluppat f’soċjetà lajka li immanifestat ruħha fir-referendum dwar id-divorzju u fl-aċċettazzjoni tad-drittijiet LGBTIQ.

Mhux kull abort hu xorta. Mhuwiex ġustifikat li taqbad l-“agħar każ ta’ abort” u tuża lilu bħala eżempju.

Il-kampanja kontra l-abort hi iffukata fuq abort bla limitu li ma jeżisti kważi mkien. Fuq l-iktar każ estrem, kontinwament jinbena argument li jappella għall-emozzjonijiet flok għar-raġuni. Argument li jbezza’ lil uħud imma li ma jikkonvinċix lill-kotra li kapaċi taħseb b’moħħa.

Il-kampanja favur id-dritt tal-għażla (pro-choice) min-naħa l-oħra tagħmlu l-argument li mara għandha dritt li tagħżel dak li trid, x’ħin trid u bla ma jindaħlilha ħadd. Dan jinkludi dritt li tagħżel jekk u meta tidħol għal abort. Argument neoliberali fejn il-libertà individwali m’għandhiex limiti.

Id-dibattitu hu kuntrast bejn dawn iż-żewġ estremi. Id-djalogu min-naħa l-oħra taf twasslek x’imkien ieħor li jkun aċċettat abort f’każijiet limitati fejn is-sens komun jgħidlek li dan hu ġustifikat. L-argumenti emottivi dan kollu jinjorawh u allura jimminaw d-diskussjoni matura li tant neħtieġu f’dan il-pajjiż. Il-pajjiż ma jeħtiegx l-abort bħala stil ta’ ħajja imma l-abort bħala rimedju f’ċirkustanzi straordinarji.

F’Malta l-abort isir. Jagħmluh n-nisa li jixtru pilloli online u jeħduhom mingħajr ma jikkonsultaw tabib, bil-kumplikazzjonijiet kollha possibli. Ma teżistix statistika dwar kemm minnhom jidħlu l-isptar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

L-abort isir ukoll fl-isptar Mater Dei f’ċirkustanzi fejn tittieħed azzjoni biex tkun imħarsa l-ħajja ta’ nisa tqal li jiffaċċjaw kumplikazzjonijiet fit-tqala. Riċentment kellna l-polemika dwar t-tqala magħrufa bħala “ectopic”, jiġifieri meta l-bajda ffertilizzata teħel f’tubu intern fil-mara. Dan it-tubu (Fallopian tube) hu żgħir u jekk ma tittieħed l-ebda ażżjoni jinfaqa’ u jipperikola l-ħajja tal-mara tqila.

Il-kura li tingħata f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hi mediċina li taqla’ l-bajda iffertilizzata minn mat-tubu u tarmiha. Jekk dan idum ma jseħħ jikber il-periklu u tkun meħtieġa operazzjoni. Fiż-żewġ każi dan hu abort li bħalu jsiru numru kull sena f’Mater Dei. Imma ħadd ma jgħid xejn, għax kulħadd jaċċetta li dan hu intervent meħtieġ, anke jekk il-liġi tqis din is-sitwazzjoni bħala illegali.

Hu ċar li l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta, fil-parti l-kbira taċċetta l-abort meta dan hu meħtieġ biex iħares il-ħajja tal-mara. Meta tiddiskuti bosta jaslu biex jaċċettaw li l-abort f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu tollerabbli.

Hemm ċirkustanzi oħra fejn l-abort hu inqas kontroversjali. Qed nirreferi għal meta jsir abort f’kaz ta’ stupru jew f’każ ta’ inċest. Fejn it-tqala hi sfurzata, bi vjolenza, hu ġustifikat li jsir abort preferibilment fil-fażi l-iktar kmieni possibli tat-tqala. Mara li għaddiet minn vjolenza ma tistax issib il-liġi bojja lesta biex tikkastigha, għax inkella tispiċċa soġġetta għal vjolenza doppja.

Xi żmien ilu ktibt artiklu fejn kont ikkumentajt dwar il-fatt li hawn min fil-fażi inizjali tat-tqala jagħmel xi testijiet u jekk minnhom jirriżulta xi difetti fil-fetu, il-mara tirrikorri għal abort. Dan mhux aċċettabbli. Imma mhux biżżejjed li ngħidu hekk. Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu lil min jagħmel din l-għażla u nistaqsu jekk parti mir-raġuni hijiex soċjetà li ma tindukrax biżżejjed familji li jgħaddu minn sitwazzjonijiet ta’ disabililtà. Minkejja li sar progress kbir xorta għad hawn nuqqas enormi kemm ta’ komprensjoni kif ukoll ta’ għajnuna iffukata lejn min għandu bżonnha.

Xi kultant naqraw b’min jirrikorri għal abort għax it-tqala u t-twelid jitqiesu xkiel għall-iżvilupp tal-karriera! Hemm soluzzjonijiet diversi għal dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi, minn edukazzjoni aħjar dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva għal sens ikbar ta’ responsabbilta’ mhux biss tal-mara imma wkoll tar-raġel.

L-aħħar eżempju huwa fejn issir għażla favur l-abort minħabba l-faqar. Jintqal li hawn każi fejn il-mezzi ta’ familja huma tant ristretti li ma jifilħux għal wild ieħor. Anke hawn hemm soluzzjonijiet li minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ dibattitu pubbliku ftit li xejn jiġu esplorati. Irridu nindirizzaw l-għerq tal-faqar u mhux il-konsegwenzi tiegħu. Inkella nibqgħu fejn konna. Anke hawn in-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva hu enormi.

Mhux in-nisa biss jeħtieġilhom jitgħallmu iktar imma anke l-irġiel għandhom ħtieġa kbira għal dan: uħud jeħtieġu doża iktar qawwija ta’ rispett u sens ta’ responsabbiltà.

Id-dekriminalizzazzjoni, almenu f’ċerta aspetti, hi parti essenzjali mit-tibdil meħtieġ. L-ebda mara m’għandha tkun soġġetta għal passi kriminali għax ħadet il-pilloli li waslulha bil-posta inkella għax irrikorriet b’xi mod għall-abort wara vjolenza li taqqlitha. Il-mara li tagħmel abort hi ukoll vittma hi stess u teħtieġ l-għajnuna u mhux is-swat tal-liġi.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-proposta ta’ Marlene Farrugia iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha ser isservi biex taċċellera d-dibattitu pubbliku. Imma jkolli ngħid li saret ftit bil-għaġġla u hija nieqsa minn preparazzjoni pubblika dwarha.

Neħtieġu dibattitu kalm għax hu b’hekk biss li nistgħu nifhmu iktar lil xulxin. Dan hu dibattitu li mhux ser jispiċċa fi ftit ġranet iżda ser idum. Jekk ma nagħmluħx bil-kalma ma nkunu wasalna mkien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’Mejju 2021

The abortion debate

The abortion debate is very emotional. Many insults are flying around. Some, unfortunately never learn.

The basic premise underlying the abortion debate is identical to that of the divorce debate: ethical pluralism reigns. Meaning that different values and attitudes co-exist. It is a clash of values that has been building up over a number of years, far away from the public eye.  Discussion has been continuously postponed due to the fear generated by an intolerant society founded on fundamentalism. A lay society has in the meantime developed and manifested itself clearly in the divorce referendum and subsequent acceptance of LGBTIQ rights.

It is incorrect to select “the worst” type of abortion and presenting it as the prototype

The “pro-life” campaign against abortion is focusing on “abortion on demand” which practically does not exist anywhere and presenting this as the prototype.  On this basis the campaign propagates an emotionally charged message instead of appealing to a reasoned approach. A message aimed at instilling extreme fear even though it is not the least convincing.

The pro-choice campaign on the other hand argues that a woman has the right to determine her choices without interference from anyone. This includes the right to determine if and when to have an abortion. This is a neo-liberal attitude which considers that there are no limits to individual liberty.

The debate is a contrast between these two extremes. Dialogue, on the other hand, leads you elsewhere, considering the exceptional circumstances in which an abortion may be justified. The emotional arguments ignore all this thereby undermining the mature discussion which this country has a right to. The country does not require abortion as a lifestyle: rather it is required as a remedy in extraordinary circumstances.

Abortion is practised in Malta. It is practised by women who purchase abortion pills online which they take without medical direction. All sorts of medical complications arise.  No statistics are available as to the number of those who require hospitalisation as a result.

Abortion is carried out at Mater Dei Hospital in circumstances to safeguard the life of women who face serious complications at some point in their pregnancy.  Recently the press highlighted the controversy on ectopic pregnancies, that is when a fertilised ovum is lodged in the female Fallopian tube. If left untreated this leads to a rupture of the said tube thereby placing the life of the pregnant woman in extreme danger.  

The medicine administered in such cases serves to dislodge the fertilised ovum which is subsequently discharged. If there is a delay in administering the medicine, or if this is ineffective, a physical intervention (surgery) would be essential.  In both circumstances this is an abortion which is carried out a number of times annually in the state hospital. However, no one ever complains as it is considered by all as a necessary and essential intervention, even if the law considers this as an illegal situation.

It is clear to all that public opinion in Malta generally accepts abortion when this is carried out to address the danger to the life of a pregnant woman.. At the end of the day in these circumstances abortion is tolerated.  

There are other circumstances when abortion is acceptable. I refer to cases of rape or incest. When a pregnancy is the result of violence, an abortion, preferably in the earliest possible stages of a pregnancy is acceptable.  A woman who has been subjected to violence should find comfort in the law otherwise she would be subject to violence for a second time.

Some time back I had written an article about tests being carried out in order to identify specific abnormalities in the foetus. In such cases depending on the results of the tests, abortions are being carried out.

This selectivity is definitely unacceptable. However, one must look beyond this and try to understand the underlying reasons for such choices. One would immediately understand that the prospective parent/s are making a forceful statement that notwithstanding existing help they feel that they are not able to shoulder the burden of the indicated disability. Notwithstanding the substantial progress registered over the years there are still substantial gaps. Parents feel this much more than anyone else. 

Occasionally we read about abortion resorted to in order not to endanger career development.  There are alternatives to such a course of action starting from education on reproductive health which ought to instil a greater sense of responsibility in both man and woman.

Poverty is another situation which may lead to opting for an abortion. It has been asserted that in circumstances of poverty a woman may opt for an abortion. Alternatives exist even in such circumstances: these have however been ignored.   It is poverty which has to be addressed and not its consequences.  Even in these circumstances the impact of a lack of education on reproductive health is glaring.  

Providing adequate reproductive health education would in the long run lead to less abortions.  This is required not just by women but also by men who generally require a greater sense of responsibility.

Decriminalisation is central to the change required. No woman should be subject to criminal action for making use of abortion pills which she receives through the post or for opting for an abortion after being violently impregnated. Women who opt for abortion are themselves victims who should find full protection of the law and not be criminalised.

In the light of the above the proposals put forward by Marlene Farrugia earlier this week will aid the development of the public debate.  Unfortunately matters were done somewhat in a hurry as the public was not prepared for these developments. But maybe shocking the public was part of the strategy!

We require a calm debate as this is the only manner in which we can clearly understand each other’s arguments. This is a debate that will not be over in a few days.  Being rational and calm is the least we can do.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 May 2021

F’pajjiż demokratiku niddiskutu, anke l-abort

Illum Marlene Farrugia fil-Parlament tat-avviż ta’mozzjoni dwar abbozz ta’ liġi biex ikun dekriminalizzat l-abort. Jiġifieri biex l-ebda mara li tmiss mal-abort ma tispiċċa l-ħabs, għax hekk jgħid il-Kodiċi Kriminali illum.

Bla dubju dan li qed tipproponi Marlene hu pass kbir il-quddiem.

Li jkollna l-kuraġġ li niddiskutu dan kollu hu essenzjali. Ilna is-snin bħala pajjiż nevitaw id-diskussjoni. Il-pass ta’ Marlene illum fil-Parlament jagħti direzzjoni ġdida lid-diskussjoni.

Għad baqa’ ħafna xi jsir. Dan hu biss l-ewwel pass. Neċessarju li inneħħu l-biża’ li niddiskutu. Hekk biss nistgħu nimxu il-quddiem.

Li niddiskutu l-abort hu pass il-quddiem.

Sfortunatament għad hawn ħafna b’rashom fir-ramel li moħħhom biex ibeżżgħu bil-babaw.

L-abort f’Malta qiegħed isir.

Qiegħed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei f’każijiet fejn il-ħajja tal-omm tqila tkun fil-periklu. Matul il-ġimgħat li għaddew segwejna l-kontroversja dwar tqala ectopic u kif inqalgħet konfużjoni għax damu xi siegħat biex jamministraw il-mediċina meħtieġa biex iwaqqfu din it-tqala.

Hawn diversi li jieħdu pinnoli abortivi li jirċievu bil-posta. Hawn bosta oħra li jmorru l-Ingilterra, Sqallija jew f’xi pajjiz ieħor fil-kontinent Ewropew u jagħmlu abort.

Hu ikkalkulat li bejn 300 u 400 mara Maltija fis-sena tagħmel abort.

Dan kollu mhux qed ngħidu illum. Ilni żmien nemfasizza kemm hu meħtieġ li jkollna diskussjoni serja u matura dwar l-abort.

L-inizjattiva ta’ Marlene hi pass tajjeb f’din id-direzzjoni.

Ma’ Reno Bugeja: lil hinn mill-bebbux

Reno ġurnalista b’esperjenza li għandi kull rispett lejh. Ikun ippreparat sewwa biex ikun jista’ jindirizza l-argument quddiemu.

L-intervista kienet iffukata fuq l-ADPD u l-futur tiegħu. X’inhi r-raġuni għall-fatt li minkejja dawn is-snin kollha għadna partit żgħir?

Tul l-intervista Reno, b’sengħa, kontinwament ipprovokani biex joħroġ l-argumenti u l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħi.

Il-ħin ma taraħx għaddej għax l-argumenti jintiżġu flimkien b’ħeffa kbira b’mod li sat-tmiem jidher quddiemek mużajk ta’ argumenti li jagħti stampa ċara.

Id-diffikultajiet li niffaċċjaw huma essenzjalment tnejn.

L-ewwel hemm sistema elettorali li tul is-snin fittxet dejjem li tikkonsolida l-ħakma ta’ żewġ partiti fuq il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet tiegħu.

It-tieni hemm il-frammentazzjoni. Dawk li jaħsbuha bħalna huma mifruxa. Tul is-snin dejjem kien hemm diffikulta biex ninġabru flimkien. L-għaqda bejn l-Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku f’dan is-sens kien pass kbir il-quddiem. Ovvjament hemm ħafna iktar xi jsir biex l-ilħna progressivi jinġabru flimkien.

L-intervista serviet biex nispjega ukoll il-kuntrast politiku tagħna ma dak tal-partiti l-oħra.

Tkellimt ftit dwar l-ambjent. Emfasizzajt li l-ambjent għalina jmur lil hinn mill-apprezzament tal-bebbux, id-dud u l-fjuri. L-apprezzament u l-ħarsien tal-ekoloġija huwa importanti ħafna f’ħidmietna. Imma l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ifisser ukoll il-ħarsien u t-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, tagħna u tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna.

Tkellimna fit-tul, madwar 40 minuta.

Issibu l-ħsibijiet dwar kif il-pajjiż qed isir dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Nafferma għal darba oħra li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza mhiex aċċettabbli għalina. Hi prostituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Hemm ukoll kummenti dwar l-abort u kif dan fil-prattika diġa qed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei.

Il-ħidma politika tagħna tkompli. Pass pass nimxu l-quddiem.

Jaqaw il-Covid attiv wara l-5pm?

Illum, f’Malta, tħabbru tnaqqis ta’ miżuri kontra l-Covid.

Fost oħrajn ir-restoranti ser ikunu jistgħu jiftħu sal-5 ta’ wara nofsinnhar.

Ħadd ma qalilna għaliex sal-5pm. Għaliex mhux sas-1pm jew sal-11pm? Kif waslu ghaliha din?

Jaqaw il-virus tal-Covid, f’Malta jibda jaħdem wara l-5pm?

Jista’ xi ħadd jispjegalna x’inhuma dawn ir-ragunijiet xjentifiċi li jiġġustifikaw li r-restoranti jiftħu sal-5pm u mhux inqas jew iktar?

Ftit iktar serjetà tagħmel il-ġid! Ikun għaqli li ma tippruvawx tinqdew bix-xjenza biex tiġġustifikaw l-arbitrarjetà

Il-Futur tagħna mhedded

It-tniġġiż jikkontamina ħajjitna. Ġeneralment naġixxu meta dak li jkun qed iniġġeż narawh jew inħossuh bis-sensi tagħna.  Ir-riċerka għaddejja kontinwament u pubblikazzjonijiet ġodda jindikaw impatt minn tniġġiż li qed jherri s-sistemi riproduttivi tagħna. Dan it-tniġġiż, imma ma jidhirx.  Hu kimika li nassobu flimkien mal-ikel u li jista’ jħarbat l-ormoni umani fl-iktar mumenti kruċjali.

Fl-1962 Rachel Carson fil-ktieb tagħha Silent Spring kienet fissret l-impatt tal-pestiċidi fuq l-annimali li jgħixu fis-selvaġġ. Minkejja l-opposizzjoni qawwija tal-kumpaniji li jimmanifatturaw dawn il-kimiċi l-kitba ta’ Carson wasslet għall-bidu ta’ regolamentazzjoni tal-pestiċidi kif ukoll għat-twaqqif tal-agenzija Amerikana li tħares l-ambjent.

Sittin sena ilu Carson, zoologa, argumentat li l-użu tal-pestiċidi kien qed ikollu konsegwenzi mhux mixtieqa u dan billi kien qed jeffettwa l-għasafar u l-frieħ tagħhom. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan bdiet tonqos il-popolazzjoni tal-għasafar minħabba li kien qed ikun avvelenat dak li jieklu.

L-avvelenament mhux bil-fors joqtol mill-ewwel. Jista’ jdum iż-żmien u dan billi jimblokka numru ta’ funzjonijiet naturali mill-jaħdmu.

Al Gore, li kien Viċi President Amerikan, fid-daħla għall-ktieb Our Stolen Future (1997) ta’ Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski u John Peterson Myers, jitkellem fuq  “xhieda xjentifika” dwar kimika sintetika li qed toħloq diversi problemi riproduttivi . Dawn (sadakinnhar li kiteb Al Gore) kienu ġew osservati fl-annimali u fuq l-ekoloġija in ġenerali, imma l-konklużjonijiet kellhom sinifikat anke għas-saħħa tal-bniedem.

Biż-żmien bdiet tkun identifikata din ir-relevanza għas-saħħa tal-bniedem. 

Nhar is 7 t’Awwissu 1978, il-President Amerikan Jimmy Carter iddikjara stat ta’ emerġenza fl-inħawi magħrufa bħala Love Canal fl-istat ta’ New York.  Fis-snin 40 u 50 f’miżbla fl-inhawi li biż-żmien kienet intesiet, kienu intremew mal-21,000 tunellata ta’ skart kimiku f’tankijiet kbar tal-metall. Biz-żmien il-metall spiċċa u l-kimika pjuttost likwida xterdet. Ikkontaminat l-inħawi fejn, kienu sadanittant ġew żviluppati żoni residenzjali, skejjel u l-ispazji pubbliċi assoċjati magħhom. Iktar min-nofs tat-twelidijiet fiż-żona bejn l-1974 u l-1978 spiċċaw f’korrimenti inkella b’xi forma ta’ difett jew kancer. Dan wassal biex fl-aħħar jiem tal-Presidenza ta’ Jimmy Carter ittieħdu inizjattivi ġodda ta’ ħarsien ambjentali biex inaqqsu l-possibiltà ta’ repetizzjoni ta’ dan kollu..

Nhar il-31 ta’ Mejju 1989 fix-xmara St Lawrence ħdejn Quebec il-Canada instabet balena mejta, beluga whale.  Mill-awtopsja li saret fuqha irriżulta  li din il-balena kellha kemm organi ġenitali maskili kif ukoll dawk feminili.  Ġie identifikat li dan kien seħħ minħabba tħarbit fl-ormoni tagħha riżultat tat-tniġġiż assorbit fl-ikel li kielet il-balena omm waqt it-tqala. Il-balena ġejja mill-istess klassi ta’ annimali bħall-bniedem, hi mammal ukoll.  

Kontinwament nisimgħu stejjer ġejjin mill-pajjiż ġar tagħna l-Italja dwar ikel ikkontaminat. Fl-2008 kienu sabu l-mozzarella tal-bufalo li kienet kkontaminata. Kien instab li din il-mozzarella kienet oriġinat minn 83 razzett qrib Napli. Il-bhejjem kienu jirgħu f’żona li żmien qabel kienet intużat mill-Mafja Taljan biex fiha intrema skart tossiku li kien fih id-dijossina.  F’lokalita oħra, Casale di Principe kien ġie ikkontaminat l-ilma tal-pjan u dan wassal għall-problemi diversi b’korrimenti u twelid ta’ trabi mejta kif ukoll b’rata għolja ta’ kanċer fil-popolazzjoni lokali.

L-iskart kimiku hu l-kawża ewlenija ta’ dan kollu.

Din il-ġimgha ġie ippubblikat ktieb ieħor dwar dan kollu bl-isem  Count Down. L-awtriċi hi Shanna Swan, speċjalista tal-istudju tal-mard fis-sistemi riproduttivi umani. F’dan il-ktieb tosserva kif difetti li qed jiġu osservati fis-sistemi riproduttivi umani jistgħu jkunu marbuta ma tniġġiż kimiku li jasal għandna permezz tal-ikel li nikkunsmaw. Is-sottotitlu tal-ktieb fil-fatt hu : How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

Shanna Swan u t-tim ta’ riċerkaturi tagħha sabu li tul dawn l-aħħar 40 sena, fil-pajjiżi żviluppati, naqset bin-nofs iż-żerriegħa li jipproduċu l-irġiel. Din hi konklużjoni wara eżami dettaljat ta’  185 studju li kien jinvolvi 45,000 raġel b’saħħtu.

Għandna bżonn li r-riċerkaturi Maltin jippubblikaw informazzjoni dwar l-istudji tagħhom dwar it-tniġġiż f’Malta u l-impatti tiegħu fuq saħħitna, speċjalment fejn dan jeffettwana fl-iktar mumenti kruċjali tal-żvilupp tagħna. Dan hu essenzjali għall-formazzjoni ta’ politika dwar is-saħħa li tkun iktar aġġornata. Għax il-politika nazzjonali dwar is-saħħa għandha tkun ibbażata  fuq viżjoni olistika, viżjoni li tagħraf ir-rabta ekoloġika bejn il-bniedem, l-annimali u l-pjanti.

Neħtieġu poliitka ambjentali sura li tkun implimentata kif imiss. Din trid fost oħrajn tfisser li l-kimika li tintuża fil-produzzjoni trid tkun waħda iktar sigura u li l-ġabra ta’ kull forma ta’ skart trid issir bir-reqqa. Huwa biss b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw din il-problema kbira.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’April 2021

The threat to our future

Pollution contaminates our lives. We tend to act and react depending on the visibility of the pollutant. Research is ongoing and new publications continuously point towards the impact of pollution in corrupting our very reproductive systems. It is chemical pollution which we absorb through the food chain and which disrupts the human hormone system in the most critical of moments. They are known as endocrine disrupters.

Way back in the 1962 it was Rachel Carson who in her seminal Silent Spring explained the impact of the pesticides then in use on wild life. Notwithstanding the fierce opposition of chemical companies Carson’s opus led to the tightening of regulation of pesticides and the setting up of the US Environment Protection Agency.

Sixty years ago, 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 their food chain.

Toxic contamination does not necessarily kill immediately. It may block or distort a number of our natural functions.

In the foreword to the book Our Stolen Future (1997) by Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, Al Gore, former US Vice President speaks of “a large and growing body of scientific evidence linking synthetic chemicals to aberrant sexual development and behavioural and reproductive problems. Although much of the evidence these scientific studies review is for animal populations and ecological effects, there are important implications for human health as well”.

It was only a question of time before the relevance of all this to human health was clear.

President Jimmy Carter on August 7, 1978 had declared a state of emergency at Love Canal in the state of New York. A landfill containing over 21,000 tons of chemical waste dumped in the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s caused the contamination of residential and educational environments in the vicinity and resulted in miscarriages, birth defects, respiratory ailments and cancer. Fifty-six per cent of children born in the Love Canal environs between 1974 and 1978 had a birth defect. This led the US to enact the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act known as the Superfund in the last days of the Carter Presidency.

On May 31, 1989 a beluga whale was found floating belly up on the South Bank of the St Lawrence river in Quebec, Canada. An autopsy carried out on the whale revealed that it had both a male and a female set of genital organs. It was a hermaphrodite. This was eventually traced to pollution-induced hormone disruption which derailed the beluga whale’s normal course of sexual development. “One cannot rule out,” noted the autopsy report “that pollutants present in the mother’s diet had interfered with hormonal processes (guiding the) normal evolution of the sexual organs of her foetus”. The beluga whale is a mammal like the human being.

In neighbouring Italy news is continuous on discoveries of tainted food chains. In 2008 it was found that buffalo mozzarella originating from some 83 dairy farms in an area near Naples was tainted with dioxin. The buffalo were grazing in an area of illegal dumps of toxic waste controlled by the Mafia. On the other hand, in the areas around Casale di Principe it was the contamination of the water table which was identified as having led to a large incidence of still births, birth defects and cancer among the local population.

Chemical waste is the primary culprit of all this.

This week, in a new book, named Count Down, reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan argues that the observed downsizing of the male organ can be linked to everyday chemicals reaching us through the food chain. The publication is sub-titled: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

Shanna Swan and her team of researchers found that over the past four decades, sperm levels among men in Western countries have dropped by more than 50 percent. They came to this conclusion after examining 185 studies involving close to 45,000 healthy men.

We could do with some information on what researchers in Malta are doing on issues of pollution and their impacts on our health, specifically on endocrine disrupters. This is essential information which is required to inform our health policy. Our national health policy should be based on a holistic vision, that is one which recognizes the ecological interconnections between people, animals and plants.

We require coherent environmental policies which are properly implemented. This should be manifested in safer chemicals in use and proper waste management practices. Then we may start addressing this serious problem.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 April 2021

A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 2021

A minimum income for a decent living

Within the European Union structures a debate has commenced on adequate minimum wages throughout the Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had stated on her appointment that she would be proposing a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in the Union has a fair minimum wage.

The consultation process within the EU was launched over one year ago. As a result, a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages has been finalised together with a number of supporting documents, including a 240 page long extensive impact assessment

In an explanatory memorandum published by the EU together with the text of the proposed Directive it is emphasised that “in the majority of EU Member States with national statutory minimum wages, minimum wages are too low vis-à-vis other wages or to provide a decent living even if they have increased in recent years.” In its impact assessment, the EU Commission calculated that an increase of national minimum wages according to the double decency threshold (60% of the median and 50% of the average wage) would improve the wages of around 25 million workers in Europe.

Malta is one such state with a low minimum wage which does not suffice, in particular, for vulnerable categories. A Caritas study published last Friday once more identifies short-comings of the minimum wage in Malta, when this is the only source of income for a number of vulnerable households.

The Caritas study entitled “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” follows previous studies published by Caritas in 2012 and 2016 as a result of which detailed research illustrates how the basic needs of vulnerable households, cannot be addressed if these households are dependent on one minimum wage as their only source of income.

The latest Caritas study concludes that a household comprising two adults and two children require €13947 annually as a minimum for a decent living, while if the household consists of a lone parent and two children this requirement drops to €11038. This is well below the 2021 statutory minimum wage which is currently €181.08 per week even if one also takes into consideration the June and December statutory bonus. On the other hand, the requirements of a household consisting of an elderly couple adds up to €8157 annually, concludes the Caritas study. This last figure, which is manageable, is however qualified in the Caritas report in that it may vary substantially due to the myriad of costs specific to the lifestyle and health status of the elderly.

The above excludes cases where the minimum wage earner needs to fork out expenses for a privately rented dwelling, in which case subsistence is practically impossible. The Caritas 2020 report emphasises that impact of the rent due “can dramatically affect the financial circumstances and quality of life of low-income households”.

The agreement signed by government with the social partners in 2017 as a result of which after one year in receipt of a minimum wage there are mandatory increases of €3 per week and an additional €3 per week after the second year, was a step forward and without doubt lessens the burdens of minimum wage earners. But this is certainly not enough. An overhaul of the method of calculation of the minimum wage is essential as this has to be reflective of real and actual needs. It has to be capable of sustaining a dignified living.

The recent news that the Maltese government is among the EU Member states which are objecting to EU legislation that would set up a framework regulating the minimum wage is worrying as the Maltese Government has been reluctant to take steps ensuring that the minimum wage is revised periodically to reflect actual needs. ADPD has long been advocating for this revision. However, the Labour government has repeatedly indicated that it was more interested in helping the wealthy get even wealthier. It was more interested in defending the crooks in its midst.

Our society needs to guarantee a basic income for all which is sufficient for a decent living. A number of countries are carrying out trials to identify the best way forward in this respect. The Universal Basic Income or UBI is being tested in a number of countries through pilot projects.

There is much to learn not just from these pilot projects. Malta’s Covid-19 wage supplement, for example, was a worthy initiative which merits further consideration. If properly applied it can form the basis of a long-term initiative to guarantee a minimum income for all. Obviously, it is easier said than done but we need to start some long-term planning which addresses the need to guarantee a minimum income for all thereby ensuring that all have access to sufficient resources to live a dignified life. This is the next step for the welfare state.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 February 2021