Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

eu-flag

 

Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

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Extracting ground water in Malta for free!

Joseph Muscat. Coca Cola

It is essential that ground water is protected. It has been ignored for ages both due to over-extraction of water as well as a result of its being contaminated through pesticides, artificial fertilisers and farm sewage.

This morning, together with AD Chairman Arnold Cassola I addressed a press conference next to a factory which is known to utilise ground water for 40% of its requirements for free. This is not acceptable and has to cease forthwith.

The factory produces Coca Cola products and is situated in the Marsa Industrial Estate. Together with its parent company and foundation this same company invests in educational campaigns promoting the sustainable use of water. It would have been much better if it led by example.

It is essential that decisions are rolled out the earliest because further delay will leave us in a situation where we have nothing left to protect. Amongst the urgent decisions required are the need to better regulate the extracton of ground water including that industry is not permitted any more to make direct use of this resource neither against payment and much less without.

It is positive that amongst the decisions already taken is that about the reuse of treated sewage effluent (TSE). Calls for tender have already been issued and we hope that the necessary changes are carried out at the earliest. The use of TSE will nessarily lead to a reduction of use of water coming from other sources, including ground water.

It is also essential that that the conclusions of the pilot project to recharge the aquifer through using TSE are made public so that an informed public debate of the matter is carried out.

A long term agritcultural plan which considers the water requirements of this strategic activity is essential. Such an agricultural plan should also address the need to reduce the use of pestcides and artificial fertilisers. Farmers require professional assistance to address this matter which should seek not only the reduction of use of pesticdes and artificial fertilisers but also the protection of soil and ground water.

We should remember that the contamination of ground water follows a 40 year cycle. That means it will take some time for benefits of present day decisions to be felt. It is thus more important to act  the soonest.

Every little drop counts

Drop of water falling into the water

Earlier this week the Ministry for Energy and the Conservation of Water launched a public and stakeholder consultation process on the National Water Management Plan.

As emphasised by the Malta Water Association, Water is everybody’s business. It is also everybody’s responsibility.

Water extracted from illegal boreholes is a misappropriation of a publicly owned resource. Government has been very reluctant to act on this matter throughout the years. It is not just the lack of metering of ground water extraction which is of concern but the extraction itself.

The use of ground water is of concern even when this is done for purposes of agriculture. Agriculture is a major user of water, primarily (but not exclusively) water extracted from the water table.  Whilst assisting agricultural is both understandable and acceptable due to the strategic importance of the sector such assistance must be within well defined limits.  Such assistance should be part of a long term strategy aimed to wean Maltese agriculture away from the use of ground water, encouraging it to use recycled water (treated sewage effluent) instead.

It is clear that the impacts of agriculture on water has been neglected throughout the years. A  National Water Management Plan would be ineffective if it is not buttressed by a National Agricultural Policy which addresses clearly and unequivocally the impacts of agriculture on Malta’s depleted water resources.

Agriculture is not only a major user of water. It is also a major polluter of water resources. For example, the liquid waste generated by animal husbandry has not been addressed throughout the years such that in a number of instances it is a major source polluting the aquifer. In this respect it competes with the use of pesticides.

A National Water Policy must be complemented by a policy laying the foundations for a sustainable agriculture.  Such a policy should guide the agricultural sector towards those crops and activities which require the least water.  This should lead to a policy as a result of which agriculture is assisted in shifting to products which are more compatible with the lack of availability of water in Malta.  It is a must that our policies are reflection of our environmental realities. Otherwise it can never be sustainable.

Agriculture is consuming around 28 million cubic metres of water annually most of which originates from our aquifers.   Using suitable incentives attempts should be made to shift agricultural production  to one which is more in tune with our water realities. On a long term basis the actual water used should be recycled water which is adequately polished.  Over a period of time this would substantially reduce the uptake of ground water by agriculture.

Water used for human consumption as well as all water used for domestic purposes is partly sourced from ground water (44%) whilst the rest is the result of processing of sea water through Reverse Osmosis technology. This amounts to around 29 million cubic metres annually.

Increasing water harvesting measures in residential areas, in particular ensuring that all rainwater in residential areas is adequately collected and subsequently utilised would further ease the pressure on water resources. In addition it would reduce the costs of running our sewage purification plants by eliminating an unnecessary load when rainwater is dumped into the sewers!  A National Water Management Plan should thus ensure that all buildings have suitable water harvesting measures and those which do not should be given a deadline to come to order.

The Resources Authority (MRA) as well as the Water Services Corporation (WSC) have been carrying out various trials and experiments in order to establish the optimum use of treated sewage. A proposal has been made that subject to the quality of the purified water being of an acceptable quality this could be used to recharge the aquifer. To attain this objective it must be ascertained that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewer.  I am of the opinion that this objective, however laudable,  may result as being quite difficult to attain.

All ground water extraction should be halted as early as possible as it is imperative that both the quantity and quality of water stored in our aquifer is given sufficient time to recover from the mismanagement to which it has been subjected throughout the years.

Water is everybody’s business. We need it. We need to use it efficiently and responsibly. We need to ensure that others too have access to this precious resource. Hence our duty to ensure that no water goes to waste and that everyone has adequate access to it.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 15 March 2014

You know where we stand

 AD_You know where we stand_300x250px

You know where we stand. This statement distinguishes Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green party in Malta, from the other political parties. Greens in Malta are, and have always been, clear as to the political agenda which they champion. In contrast, there are a number of issues on which both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party are silent or evasive.

One important issue will be missing from AD’s 2013 electoral manifesto for the first time since the 1992 general election. I am referring to proposals for the introduction of divorce legislation. The PN and the PL always shied away from taking a stand on divorce. They were, however, faced with the inevitable when PN maverick MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, (later joined by Labour MP Evarist Bartolo) took a leaf out of AD’s 2008 electoral manifesto and presented a Private Member’s Bill on divorce. The Bill was approved after the need for divorce legislation was endorsed by popular support expressed in a referendum notwithstanding the resistance of a number of fundamentalist MPs.

Much has been written about the matter but it is necessary at this point in time to underline that on this basic issue both the PN and the PL failed to be clear with the electorate. They tried to avoid the issue to pander to fundamentalist sentiment.

AD has always been very clear on the issues it supports or opposes. It will remain so.

Today, AD will present to the public its team of candidates, which, once more, will be contesting all 13 electoral districts in the March 2013 general election. Eventual Green members of Parliament will ensure a responsible approach to the country’s challenges.

Instead of political pique and unnecessary confrontation, Green MPs will advocate a policy of consensus based on consistency, responsibility and progressive politics.

Greens in Malta will continue to be the strongest defenders of what is left of Malta’s environmental heritage and will strive towards having public spaces that are accessible to all.

Greens, in contrast to the others, have already proven themselves of not being hostage to big business, hunters, trappers, firework fanatics, Armier squatters and greedy land developers.

We insist on the need for sustainable policies. With over 70,000 vacant dwellings resulting from a land use policy that is anything but sustainable, Greens in Parliament after the March 2013 election will champion the immediate reversal of the rationalisation exercise that has extended unnecessarily the permissible development boundaries.

Water has been mismanaged over the years such that the water table is severely depleted and treated sewage effluent is discarded, being considered as a waste product rather than as an important resource. In the long term, all boreholes in private use should cease to be operational and steps have to be taken to ensure that it is clear to all that the water table is public property.

In contrast to the above, the PN and the PL have taken an ambivalent attitude towards the environment. They bend backwards making efforts to be pleasant to environmentalists, yet, simultaneously echo the demands of those who have been plundering natural resources.

Greens have always stood up for animal rights.

Greens call for socially just economic and social policies, such as the need to increase the minimum wage as well as socially just pensions, including adequate disability pensions. To counter speculation and to discourage the unsustainable use of property, Greens propose taxing vacant properties, from the third property onwards.

AD will continue to be the progressive party, championing humane social policies and equal rights for all: persons with disability, LGBT persons as well as alternative families.

AD is for gender equality, in favour of the right of access to IVF without discrimination, full equality in marriage and family rights for same-sex couples. AD is against all forms of discrimination, including that based on race.

AD will advocate the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use while insisting on the necessity that society helps drug victims to overcome their addiction rather than criminalise them.

Green MPs will be ready to work with MPs from other political parties on the basis of an agreed joint programme and will work to ensure its implementation when in Parliament.

As a minor partner, Greens will strive to develop politics by consensus, conscious that this is a prerequisite essential to the creation of a stable political environment.

Voting for AD is a vote for change in the method of governance that has been corrupted by the two-party system. If you believe in giving priority to social justice, civil rights, environmental justice, sustainable development, ecological modernisation, and, last but not least, the reform in the institutional set-up for the enhancement of democracy, you know where you stand with the Greens.

Voting for the PN and PL signifies voting for a stagnant two-party system.

AD can deliver change. The other parties cannot: they are compromised.

You know where we stand.

published originally in Times of Malta on January 12, 2013

L-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-politika tal-Ilma f’Malta

River Basin Management Plans

Nhar l-14 ta’ Novembru 2012, ftit iktar minn ħmistax ilu, l-Unjoni Ewropeja ippubblikat rapport dwar il-mixja ta’ Malta biex twettaq l-obbligi tagħha stabiliti fil-Water Framework Directive. Kellna skiet fil-pajjiż dwar dan ir-rapport. Dan ir-rapport tista’ taqrah hawn .

Il-Gvern ma tkellem xejn dwaru. L-anqas l-Awtorita dwar ir-Riżorsi ma qalet xejn. Il-media baqgħet siekta ukoll inkluż dawk li jippużaw tal-indipendenti. Il-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ma nduna b’xejn.

Il-bieraħ is-Sibt Alternattiva Demokratika organizzajna konferenza stampa li fiha irreferejna għal dan ir-rapport. Ir-rapport hu wieħed tekniku ħafna imma nistgħu niffukaw fuq tlett kummenti li jagħmel.

L-ewwel kumment hu dwar il-boreholes. Fl-2008 sar proċess ta’ reġistrazzjoni ta’ boreholes. Għaddew iktar minn 4 snin u minkejja li dan hu qasam kruċjali l-Gvern u l-Awtorita’ dwar ir-Riżorsi għadhom mexjin b’mod kajman biex jintroduċu kontrolli dwar l-użu tal-ilma tal-pjan minn dawn il-boreholes. Dan hu qasam li fih kulħadd għadu jagħmel li jrid. Mhux aħna biss qed ngħiduh. Qed qed tgħidu ukoll l-Unjoni Ewropeja.  Fir-rapport li nsemmi hawn fuq l-UE tgħid li m’hemmx monitoraġġ ta’ “private groundwater abstractions”.  Dan hu iktar gravi meta wieħed iżomm quddiem għajnejh illi 45% tal-ilma li nixorbu, imwassal fi djarna mill-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma ġej mill-ilma tal-pjan. Jiġifieri l-ilma tal-pjan hu sors strateġiku biex il-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma jkollha ilma xi tqassam fid-djar għall-konsum.

Minkejja dan kollu meters ftit li xejn ġew istallati ma dawn il-boreholes. L-anqas l-electronic tracking tal-bowsers għadu ma sar. Sadanittant l-ilma tal-pjan jibqa’ jinbiegħ fil-bowers qiesu m’hu jiġri xejn!

L-Unjoni Ewropeja fir-rapport tagħha tiġbed l-attenzjoni ukoll għall-frammentazzjoni: jiġifieri li l-politika dwar l-ilma hi maqsuma bejn diversi awtoritajiet: l-Awtorita dwar ir-Riżorsi (MRA) u l-Awtorita’ dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (MEPA). Iżżid kumment dwar kumitat Inter-Ministerjali li kellu jitwaqqaf u li ħadd ma jaf jekk dan twaqqaqfx u minn min hu kompost.

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel li fil-qasam ambjentali (mhux biss dak dwar l-ilma) hemm frammentazzjoni. Dan jista’ jkun rimedjat billi l-MRA u l-MEPA jiġu amalgamati f’Awtorita waħda taħt it-tmexxija ta’ Direttorat Ambjentali b’saħtu.  Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-użu sostenibbli tar-riżorsi naturali bħall-ilma jistgħu u ġhandhom isiru aħjar b’awtorita’ konsolidata.

Ir-rapport tal-UE jipponta subgħajh ukoll lejn l-impatt tal-agrikultura fuq ir-riżorsi tal-ilma tal-pajjiz. Dan il-fatt, jempasizza r-rapport, messu wassal għal formolazzjoni ta’ strategija ċara dwar miżuri meħtieġa. Strateġija bħal din tirrikjedi l-parteċipazzjoni tal-komunita’ agrikola fl-istadju tal-formolazzjoni tagħha.

Huwa ċar illi l-fatt li r-regolatur dwar ir-Rizorsi (MRA) u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura huma ir-responsabbilta politika tal-istess Ministeru, dan qiegħed iżomm lir-regolatur mill-jaġixxi b’mod effettiv. Għandu jkun sottolineat illi l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Istatistika żvela li matul l-2009-10 l-agrikultura użat il-fuq minn 28 miljun metru kubu ta’ ilma, li jammonta ghal hafna iktar milli qatt kien stmat. Dan hu kważi id-doppju tal-ilma li tiċċirkola l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma.

Hemm bżonn li l-ilma jittieħed b’iżjed serjeta’. Biex dan isir jeħtieġ li jintrifsu ħafna kallijiet.

Sustainable water policy required

rainwater harvesting

Malta needs a sustainable water policy that is implemented rather than just being talked about.

A sustainable water policy has a long-term view. Addressing today’s needs, it keeps in focus the requirements of future generations. It would protect all our sources of water while ensuring that this basic resource is valued as an essential prerequisite for life. Without water, life does not exist. With poor quality water or with depleted water resources we are faced with an inferior quality of life.

Measures to protect the water table are being implemented at a snail’s pace and risk being in place only when there is nothing left to protect. The number of metered boreholes is too little. The electronic tracking of water bowsers transporting ground water is stalled.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers that national institutions have been ineffective as the handling of groundwater is still a free for all.

Rainwater harvesting has been neglected for a long time. Building development, large and small, has ignored rainwater harvesting obligations. These obligations have been in place on a national level for over 130 years. However, they are more honoured in the breach.

Many residential units constructed in the past 40 years have no water cisterns. Consequently, rainwater is discharged onto our streets or directly into the public sewers. Flooding of streets and overflowing sewers are the result.

The Government has decided to tackle this by applying public funds to a problem created mostly by private developers. Through the storm water relief projects funded primarily by the European Union, the Government will, in effect, exempt the culprits. Instead of the polluter pays it will be the (European) taxpayers who will pay, thereby exempting the polluter from his responsibilities!

The developers have pocketed the profits while the taxpayer will foot the bill. This is the result of successive governments lacking the political will to penalise the culprits.

In addition, rainwater discharged into the public sewer is overloading the three sewage purification plants now in operation and, consequently, increasing their operating costs during the rainy season. These increased costs are shouldered by all of us, partly as an integral part of our water bills and the rest gobbling up state subsidies to the Water Services Corporation. This is due to the fact that water bills are a reflection of the operating costs of the WSC, which include the management of the public sewer and its contents!

Storm water plays havoc with residential areas, especially those constructed in low lying areas or valleys carved by nature for its own use and taken over by development throughout the years! Overdevelopment means that land through which the water table recharged naturally was reduced considerably throughout the past 40 years. Instead, storm water now gushes through areas with heavy concentrations of nitrates which end up charging the aquifer. A report by the British Geological Society has identified a 40-year cycle as a result of which it would take about 40 years of adherence to the EU Nitrates Directive to give back a clean bill of health to Malta’s water table.

Treated sewage effluent is being discharged into the sea. Being treated means that, for the first time in many years, our bathing waters are up to standard. But it also means that we are discharging into the sea millions of litres of treated sewage effluent that, with proper planning, could have been used as an additional water source for a multitude of uses. Instead, it is being discarded as waste.

After the sewage treatment plants were commissioned as an end-of-pipe solution at the far ends of the public sewer, the authorities started having second thoughts on the possible uses of treated sewage effluent. At this late stage, however, this signifies that means of transporting the treated sewage to the point of use have to be identified (at a substantial cost) when the issue could have been solved at the drawing board by siting a number of small treatment plants at points of use.

This could obviously not be done as the Government has no idea of what sustainable development is about. The Government led by Lawrence Gonzi excels in speaking on sustainable development, yet, he has failed miserably in embedding it in his Government’s method of operation.

I have not forgotten the speech from the throne read on May 10, 2008, by President Eddie Fenech Adami, on behalf of the Government, outlining the objectives of the legislature that is fast approaching its last days. The President had then stated: “The Government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In water policy, the Nationalist-led Government has failed miserably. The mess that it leaves behind is clear proof that during the past 25 years it has taken decisions that have completely ignored tomorrow’s generations.

published in The Times of Malta, December 1, 2012

A five drop policy

We need a five drop policy: a sustainable water policy which would treat with care our five sources of water.

Drop No. 1 is a drop of rainwater. We need to handle rainwater with care. If we harvest it appropriately we will be able to make use of it when it is required. If we harvest it we will also reduce its flow in streets and diminish substantially the overloading of our sewers whenever it rains.

Drop No. 2 is a drop of storm water. Storm water flowing through our streets can be substantially reduced if rainwater harvesting is done appropriately. The remaining storm water would then be less of a danger to life and limb. It would be less of a civil protection issue and much more an exercise of collecting rainwater from streets to be utilised for non-potable purposes.

Drop No. 3 is a drop of ground water. Ground water has been mishandled for years on end. It is time that we realise that this resource which has been collected and stored by nature is finite. Through the years it has been over-extracted such that the quality of what’s left is compromised. It has also been contaminated by human activity, primarily agriculture, such that it would take a minimum of 40 years to reverse the process.

Drop No. 4 is a drop of treated sewage effluent. Treated sewage effluent is being discarded as a waste when it should be valued as a very precious resource. Treating sewage before discharging it into the sea honours Malta’s obligations under the Urban Wastewater Directive of the European Union. However throwing it away into the sea is an unsustainable practice which should be discontinued. We should appreciate its value and put it to good use. At the moment we are discharging treated sewage effluent into the sea at three points along our coast and then taking it up again at other points to produce potable water through our reverse osmosis plants!

Drop No. 5 is a drop of sea water.  Sea water is much cleaner nowadays due to sewage being treated before discharging into the sea. This has improved substantially our bathing waters. But sea water is also the source of over 55% of our potable water which we process through our reverse osmosis plants.

These five drops of water make up our water resources.

Water is of strategic importance to ensure a healthy eco-system, for our quality of life as well as for our economy.  Government can and should do much more to protect this precious resource. But we should also consider how we could improve our input by using this resource properly.

A sustainable water policy is a five drop policy through which each and every one of us values each and every source of water.

This post was originally published in di-ve.com on Friday 9th November 2012

World Water Week 2012

 

The Stockholm International Water Institute during the current week is organising the World Water Week. Focusing on the theme of water and food security this is the sixth consecutive year for the Swedish Institute.

In Malta water has been mismanaged for a large number of years. The ground water table is generally depleted. Where ground water is still available this is of poor quality.

Agriculture is one of the major users of water. It has also however contributed substantially to the contamination of the water table as is evidenced  in the various studies undertaken locally, amongst which that prepared for the Malta Resources Authority by the British Geological Society. This report is  entitled “A preliminary study on the identification of the sources of nitrate contamination in groundwater in Malta” and was concluded in 2009.

The existing large number of illegal boreholes are drying up what’s left of the water table transforming what ought to be a public commodity into a private asset as is evidenced by the bowsers transporting and selling water to hotels and swimming pool owners all over the island at a rate which is much cheaper that that charged by the Water Services Corporation (WSC). This is daylight robbery which has been made easy by the inaction or delayed action of the maltese authorities throughout the years.

The result is that ground water cannot satisfy the reqirements for human consumption in Malta. It is in fact supplemented by reverse osmois produced water: around 60% of the water supplied by the Water Services Corporation is reverse osmosis water derived from the sea!

 

Whilst WSC sources part of our water from purified sea water it simultaneously dumps into the sea treated sewage effluent. WSC designed all three sewage purification plants as an end of pipe solution intending specifically, on the drawing board to deal with sewage as waste instead of considering it as a precious resource. After all three plants have been commissioned WSC is considering potential uses of the treated water effluent. Such consideration should have been made at the planning stage years ago!

Later this year the European Union will publish a “Blueprint  to safeguard Europe’s water resources”. This was announced by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik in a statement which he issued on the World Water Week earlier this week.

It is about time that this Blueprint is produced. Even though in Malta at this point it seems that there is little left to safeguard!

 

originally published in di-ve.com on 31 August 2012

L-ambjent tagħna, is-saħħa tagħna

Ftit riflessjonijiet tiegħi wara s-seminar tal-Fondazzjoni Ideat li fih ħadt sehem nhar is-Sibt f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika.

L-ewwel nett jiena diżappuntat bin-nuqqas ta’ parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-PN. Kienet opportunita unika ta’ diskussjoni mhux biss bejn rapprezentanti tat-tlett partiti politiċi iżda ukoll ma esperti u attivisti ambjentali. Dan ipoġġi f’perspettiva reali l-eżerċizzju li qiegħed jikkordina d-delegat speċjali ta’ Lawrence Gonzi. Simon Busuttil qiegħed jitħabat biex jorganizza l-laqgħat mas-soċjeta’ ċivili, imbagħad meta jiġu l-inviti għal diskussjoni jiġu injorati. Prova oħra tas-superfiċjalita’ tal-politika ta’ Lawrence Gonzi. Li iżjed milli jisma’ l-karba tal-miġugħ huwa interessat f’pontijiet elettorali. Mhuwiex interessat kif ser jissolvew il-problemi (li ma ħoloqhomx kollha hu!) imma hu interessat biss fil-voti.

Issa niġi għas-sustanza.

L-ilma huwa element mill-iktar essenzjali aħna u nħarsu lejn l-interazzjoni bejn l-ambjent u s-saħħa. Huwa neċessarju li nifhmu l-ħtieġa illi nieħdu ħsieb iktar tal-ilma bħala riżors essenzjali għall-ħajja. Għal kull ħajja. Mhux biss għal ħajja umana iżda ukoll biex tisseddaq l-ekosistema li minna l-bniedem jifforma biss parti żgħira. L-ilma tal-pjan hu fi stat disastruż u għaldaqstant huwa iktar essenzjali li noqgħodu attenti bl-esperimenti li jsiru minn żmien għal żmien. Il-proġett pilota li tħabbar reċentement biex isir artifical aquifer recharge bl-użu ta’ ilma riċiklat mid-drenaġġ huwa wieħed riskjuż. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ attenzjoni kbira f’dawn it-tip ta’ esperimenti li ma nispiċċawx nagħmlu iktar ħsara milli ġid.

L-impatti ambjentali ma jiddependux biss minn dak li nagħmlu aħna f’ Malta. Jiddependi ukoll minn dak li jagħmel ħaddieħor. Per eżempju it-42 vapur mgħobbi bi skart tossiku u nukleari li l-Mafja Taljan għerrqet fil-Mediterran għandhom ikunu  ta’ tħassib għalina. L-ilma tagħna 60% ġej mill-baħar. Il-ħut ma josservax fruntieri u t-tniġġiż fil-baħar għaldaqstant għandu impatt ħafna ikbar milli naħsbu.

Waqt id-diskussjoni issemmew ħafna aspetti ambjentali li huma ta’ preokkupazzjoni.

Naħseb li l-iktar materja inkwetanti hi n-nuqqas ta’ kredibilita’ tal-istituzzjonijiet. Waħda wara l-oħra dawn l-istituzzjonijiet huma kompromessi għax m’għandhomx is-snien li jippermettulhom jaġixxu. Dan in-nuqqas joħroġ mill-fatt li l-Gvern jappunta l-membri waħdu. Mhux biss mingħajr ma jqis x’taħseb is-soċjeta ċivili dwarhom imma fuq kollox prinċipalment a bażi tal-lealta’ politika tagħhom.

Għal dan l-iskop Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien tinsisti illi huwa meħtieg li l-ħatra ta’ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritajiet tkun soġġetta għal public hearing fil-Parliament. Dan il-proċess jassigura li min ikun ser jinħatar ikollu l-opportunita li jispjega x’inhuma l-kompetenzi tiegħu/tagħha kif ukoll iwieġeb għal mistoqsijiet dwar kif l-imġieba pubblika tiegħu tista’ teffettwa l-ħidma tiegħu/tagħha fil-ħatra maħsuba.

Din hi proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fil-Programm Elettorali tal-2008 li l-Partit Laburista fl-Opposizzjoni uża fil-Parlament huwa u jikkritika ir-riforma tal-MEPA. Għamel tajjeb, biex ma ninftiehemx ħazin.

Huwa importanti li l-Parlament jieħu lura mingħand il-Gvern il-poter tal-ħatra tal-awtoritajiet kif ukoll huwa neċessarju li l-Parlament ikun kapaċi jissorvelja hu l-ħidma ta’ dawn l-awtoritajiet. B’hekk ikun assigurat iktar koordinazzjoni effettiva kif ukoll iktar kontabilita’.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.