Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

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Minn mina għal pont: ħolma ta’ 50 sena ilu

MaltaGozo Link

Mela Chris Said u Franco Mercieca kienu qed joħolmu bil-mina. Issa Refalo reġa’ ħolom bil-pont.

Fl-istess ħin li Anton Refalo qed joħlom b’dan l-imbierek pont (ħolma li ilha għaddejja ħamsin sena) jgħidilna li jrid jiftaħ uffiċċju ta’ Għawdex fi Brussels biex jiddefendi id-drittijiet ta’ Għawdex. Id-drittijiet tar-reġjun.

Mela b’id waħda jippontifikaw bl-insularita doppja li tiġġustifika għajnuna reġjonali għal Għawdex għax bħala gżira hu maqtugħ għalih waħdu. Min-naha l-oħra iridu jeliminaw din l-insularita’ b’link permanenti.

B’żieda ma issues ambjentali u spiża madornali mhux ġustifikabbli jidher li hemm problema ukoll ta’ konsistenza politika.

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

Lejn politika marittima integrata

MaltaFish1

Huwa tajjeb li f’dawn il-jiem diversi esponenti tal-Gvern tkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ politika marittima integrata. Kliem f’dan is-sens intqal fil-kuntest tal-Jum Marittimu imfakkar b’attivitajiet diversi inkluż biż-żjara tal-Kummissarju Ewropew għall-Affarijiet Marittimi w is-Sajd Maria Damanaki.

Hu floku li Malta bħala Gżira tagħti iktar importanza lill-baħar ta’ madwarna. Imma huwa daqstant importanti li nifhmu illi hu meħtieġ li jkun hemm politika marittima integrata fuq livell Mediterranu. L-istess bħalma l-Unjoni Ewropea tfittex li tintegra l-ħidma tagħha fid-Danubju, fil-Baltiku u riċentement fl-Atlantiku permezz ta’ makrostrateġija għal dawn ir-reġjuni huwa meħtieġ ukoll li l-ħidma fil-Mediterran tkun iktar integrata b’użu iktar iffukat tar-riżorsi allokati.

Huwa f’dan il-kuntest li fil-ġranet li għaddew għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika tlabt li l-MEUSAC jiddiskuti din il-materja. Għax filwaqt li Malta tagħmel sewwa li tfassal u tiddiskuti politika marittima integrata hu meħtieġ li din il-politika tirrispondi għal dak li qed jiġri madwarna.

Fost l-issues injorati tul is-snin u li dwarhom ktibt diversi drabi hemm dak tal-kriminalita’ organizzata Taljana u l-mod kif tul is-snin għerrqet fil-Mediterran mat-42 vapur bi skart tossiku u jew nukleari. L-impatt ta’ dan hu enormi.

Tajjeb li niftakru li madwar 60% tal-ilma li nixorbu jiġi mill-baħar. Il-baħar jipprovdi l-għejxien tas-sajjieda tagħna. Hu parti importanti ukoll mill-prodott turistiku ta’ Malta.

Ghalhekk hu xieraq li nagħtu iktar importanza lill-issues marittimi. Hi opportunita unika biex ikunu integrati flimkien il-politika ambjentali u l-politika ekonomika. B’dan il-mod pajjiżna jista’ jibbenefika bil-bosta minn dik li tissejjaħ il-blue economy.