Fort Campbell f’Selmun: abbandunata, vvandalizzata u fi stat ta’ periklu

Dal-għodu kont Fort Campbell, limiti ta’ Selmun flimkien ma Luke Caruana kandidat ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-Kunsill Lokali tal-Mellieħa u ma Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Ġenerali tal-partit.

Fort Campbell mhux biss ġiet traskurata u żviluppat ħsara kbira, kkawżata miż-żmien u mill-elementi, imma hu ċar li ġiet vandalizzata ukoll.

Ir-ritratt juri parti minn Fort Campbell li saret gorboġ! Sfrondaw is-soqfa u ġibdu kollox magħhom.

Din il-forti nbniet mill-Inġliżi fis-snin tletin, ftit qabel ma faqqgħet it-tieni gwerra, bħala parti mit-tħejjija għad-difiża tat-tramuntana ta’ Malta minn attakki mill-ajru jew mill-baħar.

Għalkemm relattivament inbniet fi żmien riċenti, din il-fortizza xorta tifforma parti mill-wirt storiku tagħna. Minflok ma nħalluha tibqa’ tiġi vvandalizzat, sakemm possibilment tinqered għal kollox, huwa obbligu tagħna bħala pajjiż li nirranġaw il-ħsara u li din l-opra tal-gwerra nikkonvertuha fi strument għall-paċi. Strument għall-ħarsien u l-istudju tal-ambjent rurali kif ukoll ċentru biex immexxu l-quddiem l-eko-turiżmu.

X’ħin kont Fort Campbell dal-għodu kien hemm ħafna nies, bil-familji. Tkellimt ma uħud minnhom. Mhux kollha huma konxji mill-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni. Bil-ħafna tfal li kien hemm jiġru min-naħa għall-oħra, l-obbligu tal-Gvern li jieħu passi immedjati, biex min qiegħed jirrikreja ruħu hemm ma jkunx espost għall-periklu, hu ta’ prijorità immedjata.

Imma f’dan il-pajjiż dejjem l-istess. Forsi, min jaf, niċċaqalqu meta tiġri disgrazzja kbira. Imma dakinnhar, għal min ilaqqata jkun tard wisq.

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Għawdex presepju?

circular economy

L-aċċess liberu u immedjat bejn Malta u Għawdex mhux xi ħaġa li bdejna nargumentaw dwarha issa. L-argument ilu għaddej is-snin. Niftakar, meta kont għadni żgħir nisma’ l-argumenti sħan dwar il-possibilita’ ta’ pont bejn Malta u Għawdex fis-snin 60. Riċentement l-argument issoffistika ftit ruħu u hemm min hu mħajjar mill-ħolqien ta’ mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Qabel iżda ma wieħed iqies jekk proġett bħal dan jistax isir, kif ukoll kemm jiswa’ u minn fejn ser jitħallas, ikun għaqli li nifhmu ftit xi skop irridu li jintlaħaq bi proġett bħal dan, u dan qabel ma nibdew biss nidħlu fid-dettall biex nikkunsidraw l-impatti ambjentali.

Bla dubju l-iskop ta’ min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ għaqda fiżika permezz ta’ pont jew mina  hu li din l-għaqda fiżika tnaqqas il-ħin biex persuna residenti Għawdex tasal għax-xogħol jew għal-istudju l-Universita’ f’Malta. Tiffaċilita’ ukoll il-ħidma tal-industrija li jonqsulha d-diffikultajiet biex twassal il-prodotti tagħha lejn is-swieq, kemm dawk lokali kif ukoll dawk barranin. Fi ftit kliem min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ pont jew mina jara dawn l-aspetti posittivi li jirriżultaw mill-fatt li Għawdex ikun parti integrali minn Malta. Pero’ sfortunatament jinsa’ l-bqija. Ma tistax u m’għandex, biex tmexxi l-quddiem l-idea tiegħek tarmi l-ideat ta’ ħaddieħor.

Ma nafx jekk qatt ġiex ikkunsidrat l-impatt fuq it-turiżmu tal-proposta ta’ mina jew pont. Għax b’mina jew pont, lit-turist ftit jibqa’ xi jħajjru biex jibbaża ruħu f’Għawdex waqt il-mawra tiegħu f’dawn il-gżejjer. B’pont jew mina, l-attrazzjoni ta’ Għawdex għat-turist tkun kważi identika bħal dik ta’ reġjuni oħra fil-gżejjer Maltin. Filwaqt li dan għalija hu ovvju, tajjeb li jsir eżerċizzju biex dan ikun ikkwantifikat biex meta jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet kulħadd ikun jaf x’inhu jagħmel, fejn qiegħed u x’inhuma l-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li nippjanaw u nagħmlu.

Għax fl-aħħar irridu bħala pajjiż niddeċiedu mhux jekk Għawdex ikunx magħqud ma’ Malta b’pont jew mina, imma dwar x’direzzjoni ekonomika għandha tieħu l-gżira Għawdxija. It-turiżmu f’Għawdex żgur li għandu potenzjal li jikber . Mhux qed nirreferi għat-turiżmu tradizzjonali iżda dak magħruf bħala eko-turiżmu.

L-eko-turiżmu għandu potenzjal kbir f’Għawdex. Jista’ faċilment jaħdem id f’id ma l-agrikultura u mal-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Inħarsu l-ambjent u nkattru x-xogħol permezz ta’ turiżmu li jirrispetta n-natura.

Bħalissa qed nitkellmu ħafna dwar l-agri-turiżmu fil-kuntest ta’ tibdil tal-politika tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art f’żoni agrikoli. Ma ġewx ippubblikati studji li jiġġustifikaw dak li ġie propost. Hemm ħafna potenzjal.

Per eżempju minn studji diversi li saru nafu li n-natura għandha effett terrapewtiku. Meta l-bniedem jirristabilixxi l-kuntatt dirett tiegħu man-natura iserraħ il-menti tiegħu u jikkalma. Il-kuntatt dirett man-natura tnaqqas l-istress.  Hemm branka ta’ xjenza magħrufa bħala eko-terapija li tistudja kif in-natura tista’ tkun utilizzata iktar fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali. NGO Ingliża fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali meta xi snin ilu ippubblikat ir-rapport tagħha intitolat Eco-therapy : A Green Agenda for Mental Health emfasizzat li n-natura għandha l-potenzjal li tkun għodda utli ħafna għall-futur tas-saħħa mentali tagħna lkoll. Dan jista’ jsir b’diversi modi: b’mixjiet fil-kampanja, tours ċiklistiċi, żjarat fir-rżiezet inkluż li ngħixu għall-perjodu ta’ żmien fost komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa jew sajjieda ………… u bosta ħidmiet oħra. Din hi ħidma li tfittex li tistabilixxi mill-ġdid ir-rabta bejn il-bniedem u n-natura. Din hi attivita’ li tnaqqas l-istress, ir-rabja, l-ansjeta’, l-għejja mentali u problemi diversi oħra ta’ saħħa mentali. (ara ukoll fuq l-istess suġġett il-blogpost tiegħi  Reconnecting to Our Roots)

Dan kollu hu fost il-potenzjal li għandu Għawdex. Potenzjal li joħloq ix-xogħol imma fil-ħolqien tiegħu jirrispetta l-ambjent. It-turiżmu flimkien mal-ambjent joffri futur interessanti għal Għawdex, ferm iktar milli jkun presepju.

Ibbazat fuq il-kummenti ippubblikati f’Illum : il- Ħadd 29 ta’ Dicembru 2013

Green acres for the tourists

festa frawli 2013

The planning authority has commenced the process of consolidating policies applicable to land use outside the development zones (ODZs) into one policy document. This includes policies applicable to agriculture.

This review exercise has various declared objectives and, possibly, some undeclared ones too. One particular declared objective deals with  agritourism and announces that it aims “to provide new opportunities for agricultural diversification by farm gate sales, visitor attractions and agro-tourism accommodation.”

Encouraging agritourism is good policy, which is long overdue. It has, however, to be developed on the correct lines from day one. In particular, it should be driven by the requirements of agriculture. Certainly it should neither  be tourism driven nor driven by the building construction industry.

Given that the first shot has been fired through a proposed review of land use planning policies it is clear that the initiatives being  considered (declared and undeclared) have more to do with the building industry.  This is more than just an impression.

Agritourism driven by agriculture can be an instrument for developing a sustainable rural development strategy. If properly planned, it can energise the agricultural community. In addition it may  incentivise some part-time farmers to switch back to full-time mode.

Agritourism can be developed on the basis of agricultural activity. It immerses the tourist into an agricultural community.  In view of the fact that most agritourism ventures are generally run by the farmers themselves assisted by their immediate families the tourist will never be just another number.

For his stay, a tourist will be part of the farmer’s family.  This is just a small part of the unique experience of agritourism, irrespective of the length of stay: be it one day, one week or longer.

Most seek agritourism  for their holidays in order to be  away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Agritourism can be linked with various other countryside and agricultural activities:  grape collection, olive picking, grape/olive pressing,  wine tasting,  bird watching, country walks or horse riding all fit in with agritourism.

It is a niche neglected for quite a long time.

Agriculture-themed activities such as the Strawberry Festival held annually in Mġarr are also part of the wider appeal of agritourism. They lay the foundations for a much wider eco-tourism policy.

In Italy, agritourism was recognised in 1985. Almost 30 years down the line it is developed and appreciated as a contributor to rural development as well as to tourism. Statistics for the year 2010 reveal that just under 20,000 agritourism operators in Italy have placed 200,000 beds on the tourism market, an average of 10 beds per operator.

In Malta, developing  agritourism almost  from scratch is a unique opportunity.  It  is also a challenge because, for some, agritourism will be just another excuse which they will try to utilise to justify more building development.  This is in my view one of the undeclared objectives of the policy review.

The ODZ policy review should aim to revitalise agriculture by providing farmers with the opportunity to increase their income through activities related to agriculture, including the provision of small scale accommodation.

Farm gate sales should be encouraged as should farmer-operated small restaurants offering local and traditional cuisine, making use of fresh produce, served directly from the farm to the fork.

Existing agricultural buildings validly built throughout the years should be properly utilised. There are quite a number of them, some having been abandoned years ago. If alterations to these buildings are required they should be considered, provided that the existing footprint of the buildings is not exceeded.

Agricultural buildings constructed illegally should not be sanctioned. Rather they should be demolished immediately.

It should be underlined that the ODZ review exercise should not be one which results in the shifting of bulldozers from an urban to a rural setting  but, rather, one intended to utilise as efficiently as possible the current stock of agricultural holdings and, as a result, benefitting first  agriculture and, as a consequence, tourism too.

If properly implemented, an agritourism policy will revitalise the agricultural community ensuring that its young generation takes charge, thereby halting its movement to other employment opportunities.

The process of revitalising agriculture through agritourism must be owned by the agriculture community in order to succeed. It must be ensured, as far as is possible, that greed and speculation, which have ruined our urban areas, converting most of them into urban concrete jungles, do not shift their attention to rural areas.  The pressure to cash-in on vacant agricultural properties will be enormous but it must be overcome.

Encouraging agritourism is a unique opportunity to plan integrated rural development. The focal point of such development must be the agriculture community and the sustainable use of natural resources. Embedding environmental responsibilities in the revised and consolidated policies applicable outside the development zones would ensure that the Maltese farmer once more actively takes up his responsibilities as the custodian of the rural environment.  This will be of great benefit not only to our present agricultural communities but future generations too.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday September 21, 2013

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 

Reconnecting to Our Roots

times_of_malta196x703published on August 15, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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maltese-countryside2

Being Green entails a fundamentally different approach to politics from that of mainstream political parties. The point of departure being recognition of the fact that man does not form part of an economy but of an eco-system. Ecology establishes natural limits for our actions. However, it also provides solutions for a number of the problems we encounter.

Our society can be organised in a much better way than it is at present.

The building industry continues to produce residential units while a substantial number estimated at around 70,000 currently lie vacant.

Around 300,000 cars glut our roads. Given the small size of the Maltese islands, mobility can be more easily ensured through an efficient public transport system supplemented by other means including cycling. Yet continuously our society defies reason and without fail selects the worse option.

During the past two years in Mexico City, in the densely populated neighbourhood of Iztapalapa, a “nature roof” was created at the Belisario Dominguez Hospital. The project director Tania Müller when interviewed stated that “having direct and visual contact with a green area helps a great deal in patient recovery”. This “nature roof” in an intensely developed urban area is also proving beneficial to the medical staff who, like their colleagues around the globe, are constantly subject to stressful situations.

Nature has a therapeutic effect. Man is constantly searching for ways of re-establishing a lasting link in particular in situations where the “natural” link with nature has been eradicated. A “nature roof” may be a measure of last resort in a densely urbanised area but it is no substitute for the real thing.

A study published in May 2008 by the University of Exeter on behalf of the UK Charity LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) concluded that a two hour visit to a farm can be more beneficial than the same time spent in a gym. The study entitled Feed Your Senses: The Effects Of Visiting A LEAF Farm concludes that nature has a calming effect in that it assists in stress reduction. This is beneficial not only to those in a good state of health but more so to those whose mental health is an issue. In some cases it can also be an addition or maybe even a substitute to conventional therapy, doing away with dependence on anti-depression treatment through the use of prescription drugs. MIND, a leading mental health charity in the UK, launching its report entitled Eco-therapy: A Green Agenda For Mental Health considers eco-therapy as an important part of the future of mental health. Eco-therapy is a developing branch of psychotherapy and involves the utilisation of nature for “people’s psychological and spiritual health and well-being”. Now this can take various forms: walks in the countryside, cycling tours, visits to farms, taking up residence periodically within a farming or fishing community. All seek to re-establish our “lost links” with nature and have been found to reduce stress, anger, anxiety, mental fatigue and various problems of mental health.

Agri-tourism offers such an experience too. Unfortunately, agri-tourism and its twin eco-tourism are not given much importance in the Tourism Master Plan For The Maltese Islands, which is more of a business plan for the hotel industry than a tourism master plan. Agri-tourism is not only a sustainable alternative to the building of farmhouses for urban dwellers fleeing from the stress of work but also a welcome reinforcement of the economy of the agricultural community.

Developing a healthy agri-touristic industry is not just beneficial for tourism and agriculture; if properly managed it could in the long term reduce part of the costs of the National Health Service in the sense that the agri-touristic infrastructure can also be utilised for medical purposes, rehabilitating patients with problems of mental health. This however requires an holistic view of policy.

The National Commission for Sustainable Development, which (to put it mildly) is known not to have met in the recent past, provides the framework within which policy can be viewed in an holistic manner. It also provides for a beneficial interaction between the different areas of policy which could lead to initiatives enhancing the quality of life for all. The Commission has the potential of being a laboratory of ideas to develop sustainable development policies. Such a useful tool is not being put to use at the present time.

The closer we get to the end of the current recession the more important it is that the National Commission for Sustainable Development develops the role of a “critical friend” of the Public Administration, developing ideas and subjecting the ideas and proposals of others to a sustainability benchmark. It is the only way to re-establish the links with our roots.

Bridging the Gap

10 May 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

 

During the past week the Prime Minister stressed that sustainable development tops the government’s agenda. On May 2, in a speech inaugurating the new Rempec offices, he said that “the main thrust of the government’s action in the next years will be sustainable development”. On May 4, interviewed by The Sunday Times, he further emphasised that “I consider sustainable development to be the biggest challenge the country has right now”.

This is very encouraging.

Since the early 1970s, in the immediate aftermath of the Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment, in line with other governments all over the world the environment was promoted in Malta as a responsibility at Cabinet level. In 2001, the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCSD) was introduced in the Environment Protection Act.

Chaired by the Prime Minister it is intended to implement the provisions of Agenda 21, approved at the Rio Earth summit in 1992, the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference.

The Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands was drawn up by the NCSD primarily but not exclusively through the inputs of civil society. Concluded late in 2006, it articulates the interrelationship between all policy areas and draws up the objectives of the paths our country should take in its transition from its present state to sustainability.

Sustainability is attained as a result of sustainable development, that is, by ensuring that all activity carried out by the community is based on a long-term view that places emphasis on the need for an integrated approach: policy and its implementation must integrate environmental, social and economic considerations.

As a result, while present generations satisfy today’s needs, future generations retain their options such that they too can make their choices.

NCSD identified 10 areas of action, namely (1) air quality and climate change, (2) energy efficiency and renewable energy resources, (3) biodiversity, (4) freshwater, (5) wastes, (6) marine and coastal environment, (7) land use, (8) transport, (9) natural and technological risks, and (10) leisure and the environment. In each of these areas it is required that policy and rhetoric are aligned thereby bridging an existing green gap.

Priorities will be identified by the political programme of the government, to be announced today when Parliament convenes for its first sitting after the March 8 election. Such a programme will not be written in stone. There are already a number of areas, notably the financial sector, in respect of which there is cross-party consensus. Sustainable development should be another such area. A consensus can be developed on the basis of the National Sustainable Development Strategy.

The longer it takes for the development of such a consensus the greater the damage to our economic/social/environmental fabric and the more difficult the healing period required.

While all the 10 areas identified by the strategy have to be tackled, I consider that priority action should be focused on renewable energy, conservation of water resources, development of an efficient public transport system, containment of the building in-dustry and protection of biodiversity.

A number of existing policies would as a consequence have to be revisited. For example, rent reform has to be tackled without further delay.

The Housing Authority would do well if it were to separate issues of social accommodation from those of ownership.

The former is a social need; issues of ownership are not. Rent reform could assume a different perspective from that identified to date.

In respect of pre-1995 tenancies it could retain security of tenure but not protected rent, thereby creating a reasonable basis for reform which would be fair to both owners and tenants.

In the case of tenants who are at the lower end of the income scale the Housing Authority could subsidise the fair rent but then it should not subsidise the well-offs who have been making use of third party property at meagre rents for generations.

An equitable reform of rent legislation would over a number of years, given suitable encouragement from the Housing Authority, release into the rental market a substantial number of the 53,000 vacant properties, thereby freeing pressures on unbuilt land.

There are other areas that need to be tackled, among them tourism, which to date is primarily linked to the hotel industry and practically ignores other more sustainable forms, like ecotourism and agritourism.

All are steps which assist the sustainability trajectory.

As a first step however we need to bridge the gap by ensuring that the National Sustainable Development Strategy is owned by the community and not just by the political parties.

If this first step is assured, I have no doubt that a fruitful implementation of the strategy can be initiated.