Nature calls the shots

COVID-19 has brought the country to a standstill. We are not isolated from nature and its forces at work around us. We are not immune, not just from viruses, but from the forces of nature.

Today it’s the pandemic COVID-19 that’s ploughing through. Tomorrow it will be climate change.

Nature acts in a non-discriminatory manner.

The coronavirus pandemic is thought to have had its origins at the Wuhan wild animal market in China through the sale of meat derived from various wild animals, primarily bats.

This is not the first time for such an occurrence. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), is another respiratory disease which was detected some 20 years ago, when it had a limited spread. It was traced to a virus belonging to the same family of viruses as the Coronavirus, also traced to viruses originating in wild animals. Incidentally, bats seem to be the point of origin in both cases.

At other times HIV (Human immune-deficiency Virus) which destroys the human immune defences, was traced to the eating of meat of infected chimpanzees. Likewise, the Ebola virus, causing outbreaks of fatal infections, is transmitted from infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, and monkeys, to humans, generally through the consumption of infected meat.

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.

The quality of our air is poor. The European Environment Agency in fact, at times, describes it as very poor.

Yet after the Coronavirus mitigation measures came into force there was a substantial decrease in air pollution registered at the air-monitoring station in Msida operated by the Environment and Resources Authority. Data available indicates a significant decrease in pollutants associated with a decrease in car use during the past weeks as more work from home and the educational institutions closed their doors. Car use has decreased substantially, as a result leading to an all-round decrease in traffic generated pollutants.

It had to be the Coronavirus to commence seriously “implementing” Malta’s National Transport Master Plan which identified car-dependency as a major issue ignored continuously by our transport planners. A basic statistic which stares at us in the face is that 50 per cent of car trips in Malta have a duration shorter than 15 minutes. It follows that mobility is primarily local and regional in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are the available alternative means of transport not sufficient for this need in a country where practically everywhere is a stone’s throw away?

The impact of COVID-19 on the generation of traffic and consequently on air quality should be an eye opener indicating that we do not need to waste public funds on unnecessary infrastructural road works. We need to understand that it is possible to substantially reduce our impacts on air quality if we address car-dependency head-on. The traffic impacts of Coronavirus could be of help to transport planners to do their job properly.

The impact of traffic on air quality is a significant contribution from Malta towards climate change.

Climate change is nature’s reaction to man-made pollution of the atmosphere. This is already manifesting itself through changes in temperatures, extended periods of drought and changes to rainfall patterns. The seasons at times seem to be inversed. It could get worse, much worse in fact.

The Coronavirus impact has introduced some much-needed breathing space for nature and natural forces, not only in Malta. There are significant lessons to be learnt in order to adjust our behaviour. When the full force of nature releases additional impacts of climate change, the coronavirus impacts would pale to insignificance. Is it not about time that we start listening to nature and act accordingly?

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 March 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi materja li għandha tkun f’idejn il-Prim Ministru minħabba li tmiss ma’ kull qasam tal-politika. Hu interessanti li għal darba oħra r-responsabbiltà politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli reġgħet ġiet lura Kastilja, f’ħoġor il-Ministru Karmenu Abela, li nħatar Ministru fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Sal-lum dan rari seħħ ħlief għall-perjodu qasir li fih Mario Demarco kien Segretarju Parlamentari għat-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

Robert Abela mhuwiex l-ewwel Prim Ministru li emfasizza l-ħtieġa li jingħata iktar importanza lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ħadd minnhom, imma, ma rnexxielu!

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” huwa l-iktar wieħed mit-termini fid-dizzjunarju politiku li huma użati ħazin. Il-lingwaġġ politiku użat kważi qatt ma jasal biex ifisser u jispjega li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi politika li tħares fit-tul: li kontinwament, huma u jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, tagħti każ il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Il-gvernijiet ma jagħtux importanza biżżejjed lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli għax din m’hiex biss dwar illum imma hi ukoll dwar għada. Hi dwar kif il-ħidma tal-lum teħtieġ li issir b’mod li ma jkunx ippreġudikat għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Għada min rah? L-interess ta’ bosta minnhom iwassal sa ħames snin, jiġifieri sal-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Dan hu punt li saħqet dwaru Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norveġiża u soċjalista demokratika li kienet Prim Ministru ta’ pajjiżha. Fir-rapport li hi ħejjiet għall-Ġnus Magħquda snin ilu dwar l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp, intitolat Our Common Future, emfasizzat li “Naġixxu b’dan il-mod għax nafu li mhu ser jiġri xejn: il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri ma jivvutawx; m’għandhomx poter politiku jew finanzjarju; ma jistgħux jeħduha kontra d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna.”

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhix biss dwar l-ambjent: hi dwar kif inħarsu b’mod integrat lejn il-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali. Tfisser li l-ħidma tagħna jeħtieġ li tħares fit-tul u li simultanjament trid tkun kompatibbli man-natura, l-ekonomija, l-iżvilupp uman u l-kultura tagħna.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu dwar kif nistgħu f’kull ħin inkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li aħna mdawrin bih. Il-ħin kollu, u mhux biss meta jaqbel. Tirrikjedi s-sinkronizzazzjoni tal-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-wirt kulturali u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

Fil-qafas globali, kif ukoll Ewropew, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tfisser ukoll l-implimentazzjoni tal-miri dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli approvati mill-Ġnus Magħquda: 17-il mira imfissra f’169 oġġettiv. Din hi l-Aġenda Globali 2030 li dwarha l-Unjoni Ewropea ħadmet ħafna biex tkun maqbula mill-komunità internazzjonali. Filwaqt li l-Aġenda 2030 hi importanti kollha kemm hi, partijiet minnha għandhom importanza ikbar għalina f’Malta.

Ħu, per eżempju, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma. Hu essenzjali li nifhmu li huwa meħtieġ li r-riżorsa tal-ilma nieħdu ħsiebha sewwa u li l-użu li nagħmlu minnha jkun wieħed sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, sal-lum, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma f’Malta huwa kkaratterizzat minn doża mhux żgħira ta’ inkompetenza. Hemm aċċess kważi bla kontroll għall-ilma tal-pjan filwaqt li kwantità kbira ta’ ilma tax-xita jintrema l-baħar: kemm direttament permezz tal-mini li tħaffru għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll permezz tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Ir-regoli dwar il-ġbir u l-ħażna tal-ilma tax-xita applikati mill-awtoritajiet għal bini u żvilupp ġdid ħafna drabi mhumiex osservati. L-awtoritajiet ftit li xejn jagħtu kas.

Il-politika dwar it-transport hi qasam ieħor fejn l-ippjanar li ma jħarisx fit-tul jeħtieġ li jkun sostitwit billi tkun applikata l-politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport, li jibqa’ fis-seħħ sal-2025, jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta. Dan jindika li inizjattivi biex ikun imrażżan it-traffiku fuq livell lokali u reġjonali jista’ jindirizza b’mod effettiv il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-vantaġġ doppju ta’ titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja fejn din hi l-iktar meħtieġa.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport jgħidilna li f’dan il-qasam, tul is-snin, ftit li xejn ħarisna fit-tul. Dan wassal, jgħidilna l-pjan, għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u bħala riżultat ta’ dan żviluppajna l-inkapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħalma hi dik li tikkonċerna t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati. Min-naħa l-waħda għandna dan il-ħsieb sostenibbli dwar l-ippjanar tat-trasport, imma imbagħad min-naħa l-oħra l-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum u għaddej bi programm ta’ nfieq sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq bl-iskop li tiżdied il-kapaċità tagħhom u bil-konsegwenza li d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi tibqa’ tiżdied.

Dan kollu żejt fil-bażwa għax ġie ippruvat tul is-snin, bi studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi, illi l-iżvilupp tas-sistema tat-toroq ma tnaqqasx il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, imma isservi biss biex il-problema tkun posposta inkella tiċċaqlaq minn żona għall-oħra.

L-affarijiet huma agħar fil-qasam tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Gvernijiet suċċessivi wrew li ma kienux kapaċi jrażżnu l-iżvilupp esaġerat. B’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali t-tmexxija politika tiddeskrivi lilha nnifisha bħal ħbieb tan-negozji (business friendly) inkella, kif smajna din il-ġimgħa ħbieb tas-suq (market friendly) u dan biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata. Qalulna li l-industrija tal-bini tant ħolqot impjiegi li qed tikkontribwixxi b’mod effettiv għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Imma, kif bla dubju nafu lkoll, l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kienet fuq quddiem nett tkattar il-ħsara lill-pajjiż permezz ta’ żvilupp esaġerat bil-pretensjoni li l-ħsara ambjentali ikkawżata minnhom nagħmlu tajjeb għaliha aħna, l-bqija. Sfortunatament, ġew mgħejjuna minn gvernijiet suċċessivi li kontinwament fittxew kif jagħmluhielhom iktar faċli biex igawdu l-frott ta’ ħidmiethom. L-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art kif ipprattikat f’pajjiżna mhux sostenibbli u iktar ma jkun imrażżan malajr, ikun aħjar għal kulħadd.

In-nuqqas tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinħass prattikament fl-oqsma kollha. Jeħtieġ li llum qabel għada nħarsu fit-tul f’kull deċiżjoni li tittieħed. Kien pass tajjeb, pass ‘l-quddiem li r-responsabbilta politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli marret lura f’Kastilja, fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Imma dan għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass. Il-bidu, segwit minn hafna iktar passi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Jannar 2020

The politics of sustainable development

The politics of sustainable development is a matter for the Prime Minister’s direct consideration as it is wide-ranging and concerns all areas of policy.

It is quite interesting that once more sustainable development has taken up residence at Castille, being the responsibility of Minister Carmelo Abela, who has been appointed as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister. This was very rarely the case to date except in the short period during which Mario de Marco was Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and the Environment.

Robert Abela is not the first Prime Minister who has emphasised the need to give much more importance to sustainable development. To date, however, none of them has delivered.

Sustainable development is one of the most abused and mis-used terms in the political lexicon. Political discourse continuously fails to project the politics of sustainable development as having a long-term view and continuously factoring future generations in the decision-taking process.

Governments do not give sufficient importance to sustainable development as this is not just about today. It is rather about how today’s activity should not prejudice tomorrow and future generations. This is not sufficiently on the radar of today’s politicians. Their interest, generally, does not span more than five years: that is until the next general election.

This is a point underlined by former Norwegian social democrat Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her seminal UN Report Our Common Future who emphasised that “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.

The politics of sustainable development is not just a matter of environmental concern: it involves a holistic consideration of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It signifies that our actions must have a long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and our culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times, not just when it suits us. It requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Within a global and EU framework the politics of sustainable development also involves following and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals and the associated 169 targets. This is the global 2030 Agenda to which the European Union contributed substantially. While the whole 2030 Agenda is important, some aspects of it are relatively more important on a local level.

Consider water management, for example. It is imperative that we realise that we need to manage our water resources in a sustainable manner. To date gross incompetence has characterised water management in Malta. Access to the water table is still substantially a free for all, while storm water is mostly dumped into the sea, either directly or through the public sewer system. Rules for rainwater harvesting within the framework of land use planning are more honoured in the breach, without the authorities taking the minimum of enforcement action.

Transport policy is another area where short-term planning needs to give way to the politics of sustainable development. The National Transport Master Plan which runs until 2025 draws our attention that 50 per cent of private car journeys involve trips that are shorter than 15 minutes. This indicates that taking initiatives to reduce vehicular traffic at a local and regional level would be of considerable help in addressing road congestion and improving air quality where it matters most.

The National Transport Master Plan emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.” On the one hand we have this “written” sustainable approach to transport policy, yet on the other hand government has embarked on an unsustainable spending spree of infrastructural development to increase the capacity of our roads, as a result ensuring that car-dependency continues unabated.

Addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network only results in shifting the problem: either physically to another area, or else moving it in time.

The cherry on the cake is land use planning. Successive governments have been unable to restrain overdevelopment.

Sanctimoniously they describe themselves as being business friendly or market friendly to try and justify their lack of adequate action. The building industry, we are repeatedly told, creates so much jobs that it “contributes to the quality of life”.

As we are all well aware the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills. Unfortunately, they have been aided by successive governments who continuously seek ways to make it easier for the industry to plunder their way through. Land use planning is clearly unsustainable and the sooner it is restrained the better for all.

Sustainable development is conspicuous by its absence in practically all areas of policy. The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. Assigning political responsibility for sustainable development to a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister could be a good first step forward. However, there is still a long way to go.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 January 2020

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna

Il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Biex din tagħmel sens ekonomiku ser ikollha tiddependi minn żieda fit-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer u għaldaqstant tikkontradixxi l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport sas-sena 2025.

Tajjeb li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport imfassal fl-2016 mill-Gvern Laburista jenfasizza li l-linja politika dwar it-transport u l-ippjanar tiegħu f’Malta baqgħet qatt ma ħares fit-tul. Dan ikkaġuna “nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli, bħar-restrizzjonijiet dwar karozzi privati.”

Minflok ma jippresenta politika maħsuba biex tindirizza t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna, l-Gvern u l-aġenziji tiegħu baqgħu għaddejin b’ħidma li tkompli ssaħħaħ id-dipendenza mill-karozzi privati. Dan qed isir permezz ta’ investiment eċċessiv fl-infrastruttura tat-trasport lokali. Dan l-investiment qed isir bil-għan li jżid iżjed karozzi minn kemm filfatt jesgħu t-toroq tal-pajjiż, u dan biex jissodisfa lin-negozjanti tal-karozzi. Importanti ukoll li nirrealizzaw li ladarba l-emmissjonijiet mit-trasport jirrappreżentaw l-ikbar kontribut tagħna għaż-żieda tal-karbonju fl-arja, dawn qegħdin ixekklu l-politika dwar it-tibdil fil-klima li kull Gvern sensibbli jenħtieg isegwi. Dan minkejja li l-Gvern jiftaħar li kien minn tal-ewwel li segwa u beda jimplimenta l-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima.

Fil-konferenza stampa il-Ministri Ian Borg u Justyne Caruana saħqu li l-investituri li ser jinvestu fil-mina għandhom jimmiraw lejn mina li tkun kapaċi tiffaċilita l-moviment ta’ 9,000 karozza kuljum bejn il-gżejjer. Dan ifisser illi jiġi ġġenerat livell ta’ traffiku li jlaħħaq it-tripplu ta’ dak li għandna illum, b’mod konsistenti mal-projezzjonijiet tal-istudju li għamlet id-ditta E-cubed rigward il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien ġie kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra Għawdxija tal-Kummerċ.

Il-ħlas li jkun meħtieġ li jsir għall-użu tal-mina, jiġifieri t-toll, jiddetermina kif jinġabru lura l-ispejjes biex tiġi żviluppata l-mina u biex din tibqa’ topera tul is-snin. Dan kollu jiddependi minn kemm il-mina tintuża mill-karozzi. L-esiġenza li mill-mina jgħaddi l-ikbar traffiku possibli hija l-bażi li ssejjes l-esistenza tal-mina, għax mingħajr dan it-traffiku ma jinġabrux il-flejjes li għandhom jagħmlu tajjeb għall-ispejjes u l-profitti ta’ min ser jidħol għal dan “l-investiment”. Imma dan min-naħa l-oħra jmur kontra objettiv bażiku tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport li bi kliem ċar jispjega li t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq hu essenzjali jekk tassew irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna.

L-ammont ta’ ħlas li ser jinġabar mill-utenti tal-mina ser jiddependi mill-ispiża meħtieġa biex din tiġi żviluppata u mill-ħtieġijiet tal-operat tagħha. Ir-rapporti tal-konferenza stampa li saret iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ma taw l-ebda indikazzjoni dwar l-istima ta’ din l-ispiża. F’dan l-istadju dan jinftiehem għax għadu ma ġie iffinalizzat l-ebda diżinn. Hemm ukoll raġuni partikolari oħra. L-informazzjoni dwar il-ġejoloġija tal-Fliegu inġabret biss dan l-aħħar u mhemm l-ebda dubju li ser ikun meħtieġ iżjed iżjed tagħrif speċifiku rigward iż-żoni problematiċi. L-istudji mistennija li jkollhom impatt kemm fuq id-disinn finali u kemm fuq l-ispiża li tirriżulta u allura fuq il-ħlas li jkun meħtieg li jintalab mill-utenti tal-mina.

Rari ħafna li proġetti bħal dawn isegwu l-istima tal-ispejjes. Pereżempju, rigward il-każ tal-mina bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u dik ta’ Delimara nafu li l-ispiża finali kienet viċin id-doppju tal-istima iniżjali u dan minħabba in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġeoloġika. Minħabba dan sfrondaw partijiet mill-mina waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol u kellhom isiru ħafna iżjed xogħolijiet, fosthom ċerti bidliet f’partijiet mir-rotta tal-mina nifsha!

Min-naħa l-oħra l-ispiża fuq iċ-Channel Tunnel bejn Folkestone f’Kent u Coquelles ħdejn Calais qabżet l-istima b’madwar 80 fil-mija u dan minkejja li kienu saru studji ġeoloġiċi dettaljati.

Fl-aħħar l-ispiża reali ser tkun bejn is-600 miljun u biljun euro, u din ser tiddependi mid-disinn finali u mid-diffikultajiet ġeoloġiċi li ser jaffaċċja t-tħaffir tal-mina taħt il-Fliegu.

Dejjem jekk isir, dan il-proġett ser iħalli impatti ambjentali sinifikanti, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex, fosthom li qerda tal-villaġġ trogloditiku fl-Għerien, fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li jistgħu jindirizzaw b’mod adegwat il-mobilità bejn il-gżejjer Maltin. Irridu nkunu kapaċi naħsbu b’mod kreattiv sabiex insibu soluzzjoni għall-problema reali tal-mobilità tan-nies, iżjed minn dik tal-karozzi. Dan jista’ jseħħ biss jekk nieħdu inizjattivi li bihom naslu ninfatmu mid-dipendenza tagħna mill-karozzi. Dment li ma naslux sa dan il-punt m’aħniex ser inkunu nistgħu nsibu soluzzjoni sostenibbli.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Jannar 2020

 

Gozo tunnel depends on maximising car movements

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is a tunnel for cars, not for people. It is, in fact, the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan for 2025.

It is pertinent to remember that the Transport Master Plan, drawn up in 2016 by the present government, emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.”

Instead of presenting a rigorous policy addressing private vehicle restraint, the government and its agencies are continuously seeking to reinforce car-dependency through the encouragement of excessive investments in the local transport infrastructure. This investment aims at increasing the capacity of our roads and consequently dances to the tune of the car lobby. Also, knowing that emissions originating from transport are currently the major contributor to carbon emissions in Malta, encouraging car-dependency is directly opposite to the climate change policy which any sensible government should follow at this point in time.

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is no exception. This week’s press conference by Ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana emphasised the fact that the brief for would-be investors is a tunnel that should have a capacity of 9,000 vehicle movements on a daily basis. This is three times the current movement of vehicles between the islands and is in line with the projections of the 2015 E-cubed study commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber dealing with an economic cost benefit analysis of the available strategic options.

The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Maximising traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which – in crystal clear language – spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The toll which will eventually have to be paid is also dependent on the costs to be incurred in the development and the operation of the tunnel. Reports on this week’s press conference do not indicate any estimated cost which is, at this stage,  understandable in view of the fact that the design of the tunnel is not yet cast in stone. There is, however, a specific reason for this: geological information of relevance has been compiled very recently and it will undoubtedly require additional studies focusing on problem areas, which studies will have a significant bearing on both the actual design as well as the eventual cost and consequently the toll expected.

This type of projects very rarely follow estimated costs; the tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100 per cent due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the tunnel caved its construction, necessitating a substantial amount of additional work, including redirecting parts of it.

On the other hand, expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80 per cent, notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

At the end of the day, the actual costs of the tunnel will be anything between 600 million and one billion euros, depending on the actual design as well as the geological issues encountered below the Gozo Channel.

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo, including the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: people mobility. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be achieved.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 January 2020

Il-parkeġġ fl-Isptar Mater Dei

Matul il-kampanja elettorali għall-elezzjoni ta’ mexxej tal-Partit Laburista, wieħed mill-kandidati, il-Ministru għas-Saħħa Chris Fearne,  ħabbar li dalwaqt ser jitneħħa kull ħlas għall-parkeġġ tal-isptar Mater Dei.

Mal-ewwel d-daqqa t’għajn din tidher proposta tajba u raġjonevoli. Imma meta tibda taħseb ftit fuq l-implikazzjonijiet tagħha malajr tirrealizza li l-għan aħħari ta’ din il-proposta mhux faċli li jintlaħaq. Il-problema tan-nuqqas ta’ spazju għall-parkeġġ hi ferm iktar ikkumplikata u mhux ser tissolva billi jinqata’ l-ħlas.

Dawk li jużaw il-parkeġġ fl-Isptar Mater Dei huma pazjenti li jżuru l-isptar għall-visti (out-patients), persuni li jkunu qed iżuru lill-morda f’kull ħin tal-jum, impjegati tal-isptar u ħaddiema ingaġġati fuq xogħol kuntrattwali fil-konfini tal-isptar. Ilkoll kemm huma ta’ kuljum jiffaċċjaw in-nuqqas ta’ parkeġġ, ħlief dawk li għandhom spazju riżervat għalihom tul il-ġimgħa kollha, irrispettivament minn kemm jużawh.

Dawk il-pazjenti li jżuru l-isptar Mater Dei għal vista mal-ispeċjalisti diversi huma ġeneralment fost l-iktar persuni vulnerabbli, l-iżjed minħabba l-istat ta’ saħħithom. Għaldaqstant jagħmel ħafna sens  li jkun iffaċilitat għas-servizzi tal-isptar. Iżda għalihom it-tneħħija tal-ħlas għal parkeġġ mhi ser issolvi xejn. Anzi, aktarx l-affarijiet imorru għall-agħar.

Il-problema tal-parkeġġ fl-Isptar Mater Dei ġejja minn żewġ fatturi separati u distinti minn xulxin għalkollox. L-ewwel nett hi r-riżultat tal-użu mhux daqstant effiċjenti tal-ispazju tal-parkeġġ fil-konfini tal-isptar. Il-problema, qed tiġi kkaġunata wkoll mill-fatt li fit-toroq għandna għadd esaġerat ta’ karozzi, ħafna iktar milli jifilħu t-toroq tagħna. Dan, kif jirrimarka l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport, jaħti għalih il-fatt li fil-qasam tat-transport ma ppjanajna qatt fit-tul.

Kieku l-ispazju tal-parkeġġ fil-konfini tal-isptar Mater Dei kellu jintuża b’mod iktar effiċjenti, bla dubju l-problema kontinwa ta’ nuqqas ta’ spazju tittaffa, avolja aktarx xorta ma tissolviex għalkollox.

Mhux biex nikkunslaw, imma tajjeb niftakru li l-problema tan-nuqqas ta’ spazju għall-parkeġġ mhix limitata biss għall-isptar Mater Dei, iżda hija mifruxa mal-gżejjer Maltin kollha.

Din hi riżultat tad-dipendenza esaġerata mill-karozzi li qed ikomplu jiżdiedu jum wara l-ieħor u li allura jikkompetu għal spazji dejjem iżjed limitati.

Dwar in-numru mhux żgħir ta’ pazjenti li jżuru Mater Dei għal xi vista huwa ovvju li wieħed ma nistgħux nistennew li dawn jużaw transport alternattiv. Dan minkejja li għadd minnhom diġa jinqdew bit-transport pubbliku b’mod regolari. Bosta minnhom ikunu jeħtieġu l-għajnuna biex ikollhom aċċess adegwat. Din l-għajnuna jsibuha mingħand il-qraba u l-ħbieb bl-użu ta’ karozzi privati.

L-awtoritajiet tal-Isptar Mater Dei għandhom ifasslu pjan li jindirizza l-ħtiġijiet tat-trasport ta’ dawk kollha dipendenti mill-isptar (pjan li jissejjaħ Green Transport Plan) biex ikun identifikat l-aħjar mod kif jistgħu jintużaw il-faċilitajiet tal-parkeġġ tal-isptar. Dan għandu jindirizza mhux biss il-ħtiġijiet tal-pazjenti fis-sodod tal-isptar u tal-impjegati imma ukoll ta’ dawk kollha li jżur l-isptar f’kull ħin tal-ġurnata.

Dan il-pjan mhux biss jista’ jidentifika soluzzjonijiet prattiċi għat-titjib fl-infrastruttura tal-isptar iżda wkoll jindika l-aħjar mod kif din tista’ tintuża. F’dan ix-xenarju mbagħad it-tneħħija tal-ħlas għall-parkeġġ tkun dettall pjuttost insinifikanti.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Jannar 2020

Parking at Mater Dei Hospital

Within the context of the electoral campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party, Minister for Health Chris Fearne announced that, shortly, parking at the Mater Dei Hospital grounds will be free of charge.

At face value this is a reasonable proposal. However, when one tries to understand the implications of such a proposal it is obvious that this is easier said than done. The problem of lack of parking space is much more complex and it will not be unravelled by abolishing parking charges.

Users of Mater Dei Hospital parking are out-patients, those visiting bed-ridden patients, hospital staff and contractual workers carrying out duties within hospital grounds. All of them face a daily acute shortage of parking space, except, possibly, a small section of staff who have access to reserved parking on a 24/7 basis irrespective of the time they actually make use of it.

Mater Dei Hospital out-patients are among the most vulnerable of the Maltese population. So, it stands to reason that any measure aiming at facilitating their reasonable access to the services at Mater Dei Hospital would be most welcome. However, the availability of free-parking will not solve their parking problems. Rather, it will possibly make matters even worse than it is at present.

The parking problem at Mater Dei Hospital is the result of two separate and distinct factors. Firstly, it is the result of what is possibly an inefficient use of the available parking space within Mater Dei Hospital grounds. Secondly it is in itself a reflection of the large number of cars on our roads, which, as everyone knows, are bursting at the seams. This, as our Transport master plan points out is the result of an absence of long-term transport planning in the Maltese islands.

A more efficient use of the available parking space within the grounds of Mater Dei Hospital would undoubtedly contribute to reducing the parking problems faced by all users of the hospital, but it will most probably not solve it. At the end of the day the lack of parking space is a problem common to all sectors of Maltese society: it is an issue of over-dependence on the use of private cars with an ever-increasing number of cars competing for limited parking space.

It stands to reason that one cannot expect a number of out-patients to use alternative transport. Some already make use of public transport on a regular basis. Most would however need some form of help with their transport requirements which help is generally forthcoming from family and friends through the use of private cars.

The Hospital authorities need to draw up a Green Transport Plan covering the needs of the hospital’s stakeholders and the optimal use of the hospital facilities for this purpose. Green Transport Planning would analyse the requirements not just of the hospital’s patients and its staff: it would also project the requirements of those visiting patients.

At the end of the day the Green Transport Plan for Mater Dei Hospital would propose practical solutions in improving the hospital’s infrastructure as well as in optimising the use of its facilities. In this respect payment or non-payment for parking would be just a minor detail.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 January 2020

Business friendly: il-flus qabel in-nies!

Art pubblika qed tittieħed minn stabilimenti tal-ikel u x-xorb biex tkun estiża l-attività kummerċjali tagħhom fit-triq u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ diversi problemi għar-residenti u l-komunitajiet tagħna madwar Malta.

L-aħħar każ fl-aħbarijiet hu dak ta’ Triq il-Kbira San Ġiljan li seħħ wara li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ħarġet permess biex f’żona li sal-lum kienet riżervata għall-parkeġġ jibdew jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet. Sid l-istabbiliment aġixxa hekk kif irċieva l-permess tal-ippjanar mingħajr ma qagħad jistenna għal deċiżjoni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet dwar jekk jistax ikun aċċettabbli li art pubblika tintuża bil-mod propost.

Il-qarrejja probabbilment jiftakru li xi żmien ilu l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet kienet irrifjutat applikazzjoni simili fix-Xatt il-Gżira. F’dak il-każ partikolari appell ta’ lukanda minn deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex flok spazji għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi fi triq ewlenija jitqiegħed platform u fuqu imwejjed u siġġiet kien irrifjutat. It-talba biex jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet kienet irrifjutata minħabba li kienu ser jonqsu żewġ spazji għal parkeġġ kif ukoll minħabba tħassib dwar sigurtà tan-nies.

Minkejja din id-deċiżjoni li ttieħdet iżjed minn sena ilu mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għadha marbuta mal-interessi tan-negożji.

Ikun floku li niftakru li d-dokument bil-politika tal-ippjanar dwar it-tqegħid ta’ imwejjed u siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi kien imfassal minn kumitat inter-MinisterjalI li speċifikament kien eskluda l-parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-lokalitajiet tagħna. L-interessi tal-lokalitajiet, kemm dawk tar-residenti kif ukoll dawk tal-Kunsilli Lokali kienu kompletament injorati. Iktar minn hekk, meta l-materja kienet ikkunsidrata mill-Kabinett, mid-dehra l-Ministru tal-Kunsilli Lokali Owen Bonnici kien rieqed għax kieku bla ebda dubju kien jiġbed l-attenzjoni ta’ sħabu li l-Liġi dwar il-Kunsilli Lokali, fl-artiklu 33 tistabilixxi li hi funzjoni ta’ kull Kunsilli Lokali li “ jagħti pariri lil u, li jkun ikkonsultat minn kull awtorità li tieħu xi deċiżjonijiet li direttament jew indirettament jolqtu l-Kunsilli u lir-residenti li jkunu responsabbli għalihom.”

F’kull parti tal-pajjiż, il-Kunsilli Lokali huma rrabjati dwar kif dawn ir-regoli speċifiċi tal-ippjanar ġew imfassla, approvati u implimentati b’mod li jpoġġu n-negożju u l-flus qabel in-nies.

F’dan il-każ speċifiku ta’ San Ġiljan l-ispażju pubbliku li hu propost li jittieħed hu presentment utilizzat għall-parkeġġ.

Ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-xatt bejn il-Gżira u tas-Sliema u ibqa’ għaddej max-Xatt ta’ Tigne. Tkun mixja diffiċli minħabba li n-negozji għamlu l-bankina tagħhom (bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet) u dak li hu tal-pubbliku ikkapparrawh: mhux biss il-bankina imma ukoll kważi kull spazju għall-parkeġġ.

Li tipprova timxi fuq il-ftit spazju li ħallew hi diffiċli ħafna għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għar-residenti li joqgħodu fl-appartamenti fis-sulari ta’ fuq dawn in-negozji. Jiffaċċjaw kull xorta ta’ diffikulta mill-ħruġ tal-iskart, li bilkemm ħallewlhom fejn dan jitpoġġa kif ukoll anke diffikulta biex idaħħlu fi djarhom għamara ta’ kull xorta. Dan hu r-riżultat tal-politika tal-Gvern tal-lum li tpoġġi l-interessi tan-negożju qabel l-interessi tan-nies: politika business-friendly. Infrastruttura sigura u aċċessibli għan-nies hi kontinwament mogħtija l-ġenb kemm mill-Gvern kif ukoll mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Jiena dejjem kont tal-fehma li l-Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu għan-nies. Sfortunatment dan ġie ttrasformat f’magna li tiffaċilita l-qliegħ tal-flus.

Għamel sew Albert Buttigieg, is-Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan, li sabbat saqajh u rreżista l-aħħar attentat tan-negozju biex bl-għajnuna tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jibqa’ jħarbat il-ħajja tan-nies. Kien ukoll f’waqtu l-intervent tal-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali Mario Fava waqt il-konferenza stampa li fiha dan l-abbuż inġieb għall-attenzjoni tal-istampa fejn saret enfasi ukoll li dawn ir-regoli li jippermettu dawn l-abbużi jitwarrbu illum qabel għada.

Ilna ngħidu li wasal iż-żmien li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar teħtieġ li tiġi f’sensiha.

Kull żvilupp konness mal-ispazji pubbliċi fil-lokalitajiet tagħna għandu jsir biss kemm-il darba jkun hemm il-kunsens tal-Kunsilli Lokali tagħna. L-art pubblika għandha isservi l-ħtiġijiet tan-nies qabel dawk tan-negozji.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Public Land: private profits

The taking up of public land by catering establishments to extend their commercial activity beyond the limits of their property has been creating problems for residential communities all over the island.

The latest case, in Main Street St Julian’s, has developed after the Planning Authority issued a planning permit for the placing of chairs and tables in an area so far reserved for parking. The owner of the catering outlet acted on the approved planning permit without waiting for a decision from the Lands Authority as to whether it is permissible to use public land in the manner proposed.

Readers may remember that, some time back, the Lands Authority refused a similar application on The Strand in Gzira. In that specific case, a hotel had – on appeal from a Lands Authority decision – been refused permission to place chairs and tables on a platform to be constructed in lieu of parking spaces along a main road. The request for placing tables and chairs had been rejected as it was then proposed to take up two parking spaces and, in addition, due to safety concerns.

Notwithstanding this decision, taken more than 12 months ago by the Administrative Tribunal, it seems that the Planning Authority is still chained to business interests.

It is pertinent to point out that the planning policy document on outside catering areas in public spaces was drafted by an inter-Ministerial committee which specifically excluded representatives from out local communities. The interests of our local communities – residents as well as local councils – were completely ignored. Moreover, it is most probable that, when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils, Owen Bonnici, was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn to the attention of his colleagues that article 33 of the Local Councils Act deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

All over the country, Local Councils are up in arms against the manner in which this specific planning policy was drafted, approved and is being implemented because instead of being people-friendly it is simply business-friendly.

It this specific case at St Julian’s the issue is with parking spaces. Try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tignè seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in residential units above ground floors that are occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

I have always been of the opinion that Planning is for People. Unfortunately it has been transformed into an easy money-making machine.

Albert Buttigieg, the Mayor of St Julian’s, was quite right in putting his foot down. It was likewise appropriate for Mario Fava, the President of the Local Councils Association, to participate in the press conference which drew attention of the press to this abusive action and to the need to scrap the offending policy forthwith.

It is about time that the Planning Authority is brought to its senses. Public open spaces in our localities should not be touched without the consent of local authorities: public land is for public use not for private profits.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 December 2019

Patt Ġdid Aħdar

Patt Ġdid Aħdar (Green New Deal) hi tweġiba għall-kriżijiet li qed tiffaċċja s-soċjetà tagħna. Għandu jkollu l-mira li jirrikonċila l-istil ta’ ħajjitna – kif ngħixu, kif nipproduċu u x’nikkunsmaw – mal-limiti prattiċi u fiżiċi tad-dinja madwarna.

Hu vjaġġ li jista’ jittrasforma l-ħajja f’kull settur b’riformi radikali li jorbtu katina flimkien. Bħala riżultat nistgħu ngħixu f’iktar armonija man-natura.

Matul is-sena d-dieħla għandna nisimgħu dwar in-nisġa ta’ strateġija għal Patt Ġdid Aħdar fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Ursula von der Leyen, għandha mira ambizzjuża: trid li jkollha pjan dwar dan il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar lest għad-diskussjoni fi żmien mitt jum minn meta l-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida tibda tiffunzjona. Dan bla dubju jkollu effett fuq kull pajjiż membru tal-Unjoni. Nistennew għaldaqstant li matul is-sena jkollna l-proposti tal-Gvern Malti ukoll f’dan is-sens.

Din hi triq li l-Ħodor Ewropej ilhom imexxu l-quddiem għal bosta snin u mhix koinċidenza li din il-viżjoni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida qed tieħu sura hekk kif il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kiber sostanzjalment fid-daqs.

Il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar hu dwar ferm iktar mit-tibdil fil-klima. Huwa ukoll dwar il-mudell ekonomiku li hu l-kawża tad-degradazzjoni ambjentali madwarna.

Fil-kummenti tiegħu huwa u jagħlaq id-diskussjoni dwar il-Baġit, il-Prim Ministru, pereżempju, spjega li l-qalba għal karozzi tal-elettriku tfisser ferm iktar milli sempliċiment nimpurtaw il-karozzi u li niżviluppaw l-infrastruttura meħtieġa għalihom.

Tfisser ukoll t-tmiem tat-taxxi tar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll it-taxxi li jinġabru mill-bejgħ tal-petrol u d-diżil li dwarhom l-istima għas-sena 2020 hi ta’ €157 miljun, skont l-estimi tal-Baġit li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi ppreżenta reċentement fil-Parlament. Ma’ din is-somma wieħed irid jikkunsidra ukoll it-taxxa li tinġabar mar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi li għas-sena 2020 hi stmata li tlaħħaq €55 miljun kif ukoll il-liċenzji tat-triq li jitħallsu kull sena, huma stmati li jlaħħqu €85 miljun oħra fis-sena finanzjarja 2020. Dan ifisser li fis-sena 2020 €297 miljun mid-dħul tal-Gvern ser ikunu dipendenti fuq il-karozzi, prinċipalment fuq karozzi privati. Sa mill-2018 bħala inċentiv favur l-introduzzjoni ta’ karozzi bl-elettriku kienet introdotta eżenzjoni mit-taxxa tar-registrazzjoni. Dakinnhar ukoll kienet tħabbret esenzjoni ta’ ħames snin fuq il-liċenzja tat-triq għal dawn il-karozzi. L-impatt tal-elettrifikazzjoni, għaldaqstant imur lil hinn mill-klima. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-finanzi pubbliċi għax ikun meħtieġ identifikazzjoni ta’ sostitut għal dan in-nuqqas ta’ dħul.

Hu ċar li l-inkarigu li Frans Timmermans ingħata dwar il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar prinċipalment ser ikun iffukat dwar il-politika tal-klima u kif l-Unjoni Ewropea għandha tilħaq il-mira ta’ status carbon neutral sal-2050.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk ukoll. Ursula von der Leyen fl-ittra tagħha tal-10 Settembru 2019 fejn tfisser l-oġġettivi li jridu jintlaħqu minn Timmermans tgħid li “għandna nħarsu b’mod iktar wiesa’, mill-enerġija li nipproduċu u nużaw, b’inkoraġġiment għal investiment mis-settur privat u appoġġ għat-teknoloġija nadifa, inkluż għat-trasport li nużaw, l-ikel li nikkunsmaw u l-ippakkeġġar li narmu.” Dan ser jinkudi ukoll responsabbiltà kemm għall-ekonomija ċirkulari kif ukoll għal dik assoċjat mal-qasam marittimu, magħrufa ukoll bħala l-ekonomija l-blu.

Ursula von der Leyen temfasizza ukoll il-mira dwar it-tnaqqis tal-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li tinsisti illi għandhom jiżdiedu ta’ l-inqas sa’ tnaqqis ta’ 50% sas-sena 2030.

Tagħmel emfasi partikolari wkoll fuq l-impatti soċjali ta’ din il-bidla billi tiffoka fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ transizzjoni ġusta prinċipalment f’dawk ir-reġjuni li huma dipendenti fuq l-industrija, fuq il-faħam, inkella fuq l-industrija tal-enerġija. Ma’ dan huwa ppjanat kemm attenzjoni dwar il-ħarsien tal-bijodiversità kif ukoll il-mira li jitrazzan kull xorta ta’ tniġġis.

Punt interessanti fl-inkarigu ta’ von der Leyen lil Timmermans huwa emfasi li l-politika ta’ tassazzjoni hi meqjusa bħala għodda essenzjali li għandha tintuża biex jintlaħqu l-miri tal-politika dwar il-klima. Dan ifisser li ser ikun hemm pressjoni sostanzjali fuq il-Gvern Malti biex jikkura l-allerġija li għandu għat-tassazzjoni, b’mod partikolari t-tassazzjoni ambjentali, għodda effettiva u importanti ħafna fl-implimentazzjoni tal-politika ambjentali.

Bla dubju ser nistennew il-proposti ta’ Timmermans u d-dibattitu imqanqal li ser isegwi!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ottubru 2019