Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

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Our waste has good value

organic waste

 

Our waste can be put to good use, which is why we are encouraged to separate and recycle what we would otherwise throw away. Our waste contains plenty of useful resources which can be recovered and re-circulated in our economy and we separate paper, glass, metals and plastic, all of which can be reused.

We also recycle electric and electronic equipment such as televisions, radios, refrigerators,  PCs and laptops. Instead of being thrown away, disintegrating into a chemical soup in a landfill, this equipment will be dismantled into its component parts, most of which can be reused. Most  electronic equipment  nowadays makes use of some rare metal and it is in everybody’s interest that such resources are recycled.

Next Friday, 30 October, state waste management operator WasteServe, in conjunction with the five local councils of Mdina, Ħal-Għaxaq, Ta’ Xbiex, Bormla and Birkirkara will commence the separate collection of organic waste in Malta. This pilot project will run for a number of weeks during which separated organic waste will be collected twice weekly (on Mondays and Fridays) after which it will be extended to the rest of our localities.

The organic fraction of our waste may be as high as 52 per cent of the waste discarded by each household in the black garbage bags. This, apparently, is the most accurate estimate to date resulting from a National Statistics Office study carried out in 2012 entitled Household Waste Composition Survey. A more recent waste characterisation exercise, carried out by WasteServe itself in the localities participating in the pilot project, indicates that the size of the organic waste percentage varies in the different localities. This may be the result of different lifestyles, as a result of which we tend to have different patterns of behaviour that are even evident in our waste.

WasteServe has already organised a door-to-door information exercise explaining their role to residents of the five localities, who have also been supplied with white bags in which they are to collect organic waste, as well as suitably aerated bins in which to place these bags.

Organic waste, sometimes referred to as “green waste”, is organic material such as food and garden waste. It can also include animal and plant-based material and degradable carbon such as paper and cardboard.

The organic waste collected from our doorsteps will be delivered to the Sant Antnin Waste Treatment Plant at Marsascala where it is verified that the white bags contain only organic waste. It is then placed in a waste digester where, as a result of its decomposing in the absence of oxygen, it will produce the gas methane, which is collected and used to produce electricity.

In addition, the heat produced will be used to heat the therapeutic swimming pool at the neighbouring Inspire Foundation, a considerable help to the foundation’s clients. The remainder is then used as compost.

The organic waste pilot project thus has the potential to substantially reduce the  waste that currently ends up at the Magħtab landfill. In addition, when the methane resulting from its decomposition is used to produce electricity, we will also be reducing the emission of a greenhouse gas which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This will be an additional step in reducing Malta’s contribution to climate change.

These are the practical reasons why it is imperative that we recycle. We reduce our negative environmental impact and, as a result, create the conditions for a better quality of life for everyone.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 25 October 2015

St John’s Beheaded ?

25 October 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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The ongoing debate of where to house exhibits related to St John’s Co-Cathedral at times appeared to be getting out of hand. Contrary to what some would have us believe, it is an issue which should not be left exclusively to the experts! St John’s belongs to the nation.

The fact that it is the subject of a public debate is healthy and we should thank the NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Friends of the Earth for having had the foresight to understand that bringing up the matter in the public domain would encourage the search for and the analysis of alternative solutions.

St John’s Co-Cathedral is not just a place of worship. It is also a museum and, indirectly, a money spinner. The monies generated from those visiting pay for its upkeep. Placing more exhibits on view would make St John’s Museum more attractive to tourists. It will also, however, make the provision of a decent space for the exhibits a necessity. So runs the thinking of the foundation in charge of St John’s.

So the proposal is to consider the manner in which additional exhibition space is to be provided. One such idea was to roof over the knights’ graveyard, bordering Merchants’ Street and reconstructed as part of War Damage. Since St John’s Co-Cathedral complex is a scheduled Grade 1 monument in its entirety this proposal is clearly out of the question: Grade 1 monuments are untouchable!

A second proposal is to excavate below St John’s Square and below parts of St John’s Street and Merchants’ Street, Valletta.

Even if one were to (temporarily) set aside the issue of dust and quantities of excavated rock resulting from such works, a matter which merits consideration is that the proposal to excavate would possibly damage the underground tunnels housing Valletta’s sewers, which tunnels meander below Valletta’s streets. Having, as a civil engineer in the then Drainage Section of the Works Department in the early 1980s, walked through most of these tunnels I clearly recollect that they have a varying width and do not run in straight lines but approximately in diagonals below most of Valletta streets. This would not necessarily show up in the available drawings and would require verification through a detailed survey. The proposed excavation would thus mean that these tunnels, a 450-year old civil engineering feat, could be damaged.

This would consequently exclude from consideration most of the areas earmarked for excavation leaving available just two options: the utilisation of existing vacant properties in the vicinity or else limiting access in the same manner as is being done in the case of the Ħal-Saflieni Temples.

I am pointing this out of concern as there seems to be an underlying interest to create an artificial barrier between those in favour and those against the foundation’s proposals. In reality, it should not be an issue of being in favour or against but in seeking the best way forward in the interests of a better protection and appreciation of our heritage.

The matter will be subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA) whose terms of reference are being drafted.

It may be worth pointing out that in the short time that EIAs have been carried out in Malta (as far as I am aware) there has not been one instance where the assessors have been critical of a project such that it was abandoned or subjected to substantial modification. This, in my view, is the result of the manner in which members of the EIA team are appointed.

The responsibility of Mepa in vetting the appointment of the EIA team by the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation is enormous. The public needs to be assured that the EIA exercise will not be one of trying to justify the foundation’s proposal. There have been too many instances where an EIA in Malta was effectively used or perceived to have been used for this purpose – the flawed site selection exercise relative to the Sant’Antnin waste management plant at Marsascala being one of the most notable examples. In that instance, serious deficiencies in the site selection exercise were ignored, thereby fuelling opposition to a project which, if properly assessed, could have led to different conclusions as well as universal acceptance.

I am purposely limiting myself to the above issues. There are others related to the running costs of providing an adequate internal environment for the exhibits.

It is obvious that this could be much more costly if an underground space is excavated then if a built-up space above ground level is utilised.

Protecting our heritage includes speaking up whenever necessary. Let the discussion continue until all the difficulties raised have been examined. Only then can a reasonable solution be considered but not a beheading!

Il-Messaġġ dwar l-Impjant tal-Iskart f’Sant Antnin Marsaskala

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Il-Messaġġ dwar l-impjant ta’ riċiklaġġ tal-iskart f’Sant Antnin Marsaskala wasal ċar għand kulħadd. Allura dawk li ma għoġobhomx minflok ma jiddiskutu l-messaġġ qed jattakkaw lili ! Xejn ġdid f’dan.

 

Huwa utli għaldaqstant li nwieġeb uħud mill-attakki li saru :

 

1)      qalu li r-rapport huwa tiegħi u allura ma jiswiex : filwaqt li l-investigazzjoni għamiltha jiena (kif għamilt ħafna oħrajn) dan ir-rapport kien approvat mill-Perit Joe Falzon u mibgħut lill-MEPA iffirmat minnu; huwa rapport preliminari li jispjega x’investigazzjoni saret u l-konklużjonijiet relevanti;

2)      qalu li qed nipprova nieħu xi vantaġġ personali : ir-rapport ippubblikajtu issa minħabba li l-Gvern injora l-fatt illi hemm numru ta’ appelli kif ukoll kawżi pendenti; biex jiġi ippubblikat ir-rapport il-MEPA tippretendi li jispiċċaw il-kawżi, imma biex jibda jaħdem l-impjant ħadd ma stenna li l-kawżi jispiċċaw;

3)      qalu li l-Alternattiva Demokratika ma tridx li jkun hemm impjant tar-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart : din ħrafa oħra; l-AD hi konxja dwar l-obbligi li Malta għandha biex tnaqqas l-ammont ta’ skart ġġenerat u mitfuħ fil-miżbliet; l-AD kienet u għadha kontra l-impjant kif propost; hi kontra l-mod kif l-awtoritajiet irromblaw minn fuq ir-residenti;

4)      qalu li r-rapport jgħid li d-deċiżjoni dwar l-għażla tas-sit hi tajba : ir-rapport jgħid affarijiet differenti minn hekk; jgħid li ma sarx sforż biżżejjed biex jinstab sit alternattv kif ukoll li l-uniku sit li seta kien tajjeb dak f’Ħal-Far ġie skartat mingħajr ma ngħataw raġunijiet tajba għal dan; jekk il-MEPA kienet konxja li kien hemm diffikulta biex tinstab art ta’ daqs tajjeb ħalli fiha jsir l-impjant kellha toqgħod ħafna iktar attenta biex tispjega sewwa dak li għamlet;

5)      intqal li l-Ministru kellu l-obbligu li jieħu sehem fil-laqgħat : dan m’huwiex veru; il-MEPA twaqqfet (fost affarijiet oħra) biex il-politiku ma jieħux sehem fil-ħruġ tal-permessi; l-anqas dawk li jikkonċernaw lill-Gvern; kien l-obbligu tal-Bord tal-MEPA li jara li l-affarijiet jimxu sewwa u l-Ministru ma kienx hemm bżonn li jindaħal;

  Fid-dawl ta’ dak kollu li ntqal huwa tajjeb li ngħid mill-ġdid li l-AD trid li jsiru malajr kemm jista’ jkun l-istudji li għadhom ma sarux, jiġifieri dawk dwar is-saħħa, dwar l-impatt fuq il-kwalita’ tal-arja u l-irwejjah. Huwa meta jkunu saru dawn l-istudji li jkunu jistgħu jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir iktar fl-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin Marsaskala.  Imma fuq kollox huwa meħtieġ illi  l-iżbalji li saru f’Marsaskala ma jsirux fiż-żewġ impjanti l-oħra li ghad iridu jsiru.

Mill-blog ta’ George Pullicino

gonzigeorge.jpg    

 

 

Fil-blog tiegħu George Pullicno (http://georgepullicino.blogspot.com/) nhar il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Frar 2008 kiteb hekk :

 “Illum wara nofsinhar kien hawn min ħaseb li billi jippubblika rapport mhux finali ta’ l-uffiċċju ta’ l-awditur tal-MEPA, kien ser iħammarli wiċċi. Jien mhux talli ma ħammarlix wiċċi, talli jien kburi li qdejt ir-responsabilitajiet tiegħi bħala Ministru responsabbli mill-imaniġġjar ta’ l-iskart biex nevitaw li pajjiżna jgħaddi minn dak li għaddejjin minnu pajjiżi ġirien tagħna.” 

Xejn ma niskanta li wiċċu m’għadux jiħmar. Kollox jindara!

 

Fis-snin 70 il-Ministru Soċjalista inkarigat mill-Ippjanar kien jabbuża u jindaħal fejn ma jesgħux kif ġie ippruvat fil-Qrati Maltin. Imma dakinnhar ma kienx hemm istituzzjonijiet.

 

Illum hemm l-istituzzjonijiet. Pullicino hu responabbli biex illum fl-2008 dawn l-istituzzjonijiet huma bla snien. B’hekk meta jindaħal min  ma jesgħux, bħalu, ħadd m’hu kapaċi jiddefendi l-interessi tal-pajjiż.

 

Il-problema hi li hu kburi b’dak li għamel. X’aktarx li għadu ma fehem xejn dwar il-ħsara li għamel !