L-ilma tax-xita: l-inkompetenza tal-awtoritajiet

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna, fl-aħħar diskors tal-Baġit qalilna : “Il-Gvern huwa wkoll kommess li jkompli jaħdem biex jitnaqqas ir-riskju tal-għargħar f’pajjiżna. Għaldaqstant, se jsiru studji dettaljati sabiex jiġu żviluppati aktar miżuri li jistgħu jnaqqsu dan ir-riskju filwaqt li jimmassimizzaw l-użu tal-ilma tax-xita.”

Edward Scicluna bla dubju jaf li bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima l-maltempati kif ukoll ix-xita qed ikunu ta’ natura iktar intensivi. Meta tinżel ix-xita, b’mod partikolari meta tkun qawwija, l-infrastruttura tagħna ma tistax tlaħħaq. Imma minbarra l-impatti kkawżati mill-klima għandna fuqna ukoll il-piz u r-riskji kkawżati minn regolaturi nkompetenti.

F’Malta għal dawn l-aħħar 138 sena, il-liġi pprovdiet biex ikun hemm l-obbligu li jkollna l-bjar għall-ilma tax-xita fid-djar. Il-qisien tal-bjar varja tul is-snin. Originalment il-qies kien dipendenti fuq il-qies total tas-sulari kollha mibnija. Illum il-ġurnata dan tnaqqas biex ikun relatat mal-qies tal-art mibnija.

Sfortunatament dawn ir-regoli ftit huma osservati. Din mhiex storja li bdiet illum, ilha għaddejja snin twal possibilment sa mis-snin 60, żmien meta l-industrija tal-bini kienet għaddejja b’rankatura kbira. Jiena niftakar, meta kont għadni student, ftit snin ilu mhux ħażin, kont rajt rapport li kien tħejja għall-Gvern Malti minn esperti mibgħuta mill-Ġnus Magħquda. Dakinnhar diġa kien ċar li waqt u wara maltempati qawwija l-ilma għaddej mis-sistema tad-drenaġġ kien jiżdied b’mod astronomiku u dan billi ħafna ilma tax-xita flok ma jinġabar fil-bjar kien qed jintrema fid-drenaġġ. Is-sitwazzjoni, minn dakinnhar, marret ħafna għall-agħar!

Flok mal-ilma tax-xita jinġabar fil-bjar, f’ħafna każi qed jintrema fit-toroq, inkella direttament fis-sistema tad-drenaġġ pubbliku. Ammont enormi ta’ ilma tax-xita li nistgħu nutilizzaw qed jintrema. Ħafna, jekk jużaw l-ilma tax-xita jistgħu jnaqqsu b’mod drastiku l-kontijiet tal-ilma!

Meta l-ilma tax-xita jintrema fid-drenaġġ, dan mhux biss ifur fit-toroq tagħna imma minħabba li jgħabbi l-impjant tal-purifikazzjoni tad-drenaġġ b’ammont zejjed ta’ ilma iżid b’mod konsiderevoli l-ispejjes għat tmexxija tal-impjant.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ħtija għal dan trid tinġarr minn dawk li jiżviluppaw il-propjetá. Anke l-Gvern, direttament, kif ukoll permezz tal-aġenziji tiegħu, fil-passat riċenti kien responsabbli għall-iżvilupp ta’ housing estates li fihom ma tinġabarx qatra ilma tax-xita!
Hu fatt magħruf li fejn żvilupp residenzjali jkun fih garaxxijiet parzjalment jew kompletament taħt il-livell tat-triq ftit għandna bjar għall-ilma tax-xita. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi responsabbli biex tassigura li l-kundizzjonijiet tal-permessi tal-iżvilupp ikunu osservati: dawn kważi dejjem jinkludu l-obbligu li jinbena bir biex fih jinġabar l-ilma tax-xita. Imma ħafna drabi, għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, qiesu ma ġara xejn jekk il-bir ippjanat jibqa’ fuq il-karta.

Min-naħa l-oħra, l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma (WSC) matul dawn l-aħħar snin assumiet ir-responsabbiltá għas-sistema kollha tad-drenaġġ, liema responsabbiltá qabel kienet f’idejn id-Dipartiment tad-Drenaġġ. Din ir-responsabbiltá tinkludi l-għoti tal-permess biex bini ġdid jiġi imqabbad mas-sistema tad-drenaġġ.

Il-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma x’verifiki qed tagħmel li l-katusi tad-drenaġġ biss qed jitqabbdu mas-sistema pubblika tad-drenaġġ? Qed isiru verifiki li m’hemmx katusi tal-ilma tax-xita ukoll? It-tweġiba teħduha waħedkom fit-toroq tagħna f’ġurnata ta’ xita qliel. Ħadd mhu jagħmel verifika dwar dak li qed jiġri.

Dan kollu jwassal għall-konklużjoni li waqt li l-ħtija ewlenija għall-qagħda preżenti hi tal-industrija tal-bini, għax, iktar le milli iva ma tipprovdix bjar għall-ilma tax-xita fi żvilupp ġdid, il-ħtija mhiex tagħha biss. L-awtoritajiet u d-dipartimenti tal-Gvern għandhom ukoll iġorru s-sehem tagħhom tar-responsabbiltá minħabba li ma onorawx l-obbligi regolatorji tagħhom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma (u dawk li ġew qabilhom) setgħu waqqfu dan l-abbuz, imma ma għamlu xejn.

Meta jkollna xita qliel, jew xita għal ħin twil, diffiċli tgħaddi minn ċertu toroq f’Malta u Għawdex. Dan hu sors ta’ periklu u fil-fatt id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili ikun okkupat ħafna f’dawn iż-żminijiet jgħin lil min ikun f’diffikulta minħabba l-għargħar.
Fondi tal-Unjoni Ewropea ntużaw biex jiġu ffinanzjati mini taħt l-art biex l-ilma tax-xita fit-toroq jinġabar u jintrema l-baħar. Fondi pubbliċi intużaw biex jinħbew irregolaritajiet li sar mis-settur privat. Mhux biss, imma ntużaw ukoll biex riżors prezzjuż jintrema. Dawn il-fondi setgħu intużaw ferm aħjar kieku intużaw biex l-ilma inġabar u nħażen fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, flok ma ntrema.

Il-parir tiegħi lil Edward Scicluna hu li, flok ma jinħlew iktar fondi pubbliċi, għandu jassigura ruħu li l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma jwettqu l-obbligi regolatorji tagħhom. Meta jagħmlu dan, parti mdaqqsa mill-problema tal-ilmijiet fit-toroq tagħna tisparixxi.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Novembru 2018

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Rainwater: the cost of incompetence

In his latest Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna informed us that more studies will be carried out to identify flooding risks, simultaneously seeking to maximise the use of rainwater.

Edward Scicluna is aware that, as a result of climate change, storms are more intense than ever. When it rains, it pours, and our infrastructure is not capable of handling the resulting rainwater. To add to the impact of climate change, we also have to deal with the risks created as a direct result of incompetent regulators.

For the past 138 years,legislation in Malta has specifically provided for the construction of water cisterns in buildings, primarily residential ones. The dimensions of these water cisterns varied over time. Originally, they were related to the floor area of the residence but in the recent past, the required volume was reduced to be related to the footprint of the building.

These regulatory provisions are, however, more honoured in the breach, even when reduced. This is not a recent phenomenon. Regulatory control in Malta has been in steep decline since the building boom of the 1960s. I remember, while I was still a student – many moons ago- leafing through a UN expert-financed report penned in the late 1960s which, even then, had measured the significant increase in foul water in our sewers during intense rainfall, clearly indicating that too much rainwater was going to waste notwithstanding the collection obligations. The situation has not improved since!

Instead of being collected in rainwater cisterns, in an ever-increasing number of cases rainwater is discharged directly onto our roads or into the public sewers. Large volumes of rainwater, which can be utilised for various purposes, are being wasted. Its use domestically could substantially reduce water bills.

When rainwater is discharged into our public sewers, not only does the water overflow onto our streets, but it also increases the costs of sewage purification unnecessarily.
The major culprits are a substantial portion of the developers of blocks of flats and maisonettes. The government, both directly, as well as through its agencies, has also (in the recent past) been responsible for the development of housing estates without providing for the collection of rainwater.

In particular, it is common knowledge that in cases where basement or semi-basement garages are constructed, the duty to provide for the collection of rainwater is very rarely complied with. The Planning Authority (PA) is responsible for determining and ensuring the observance of the conditions of development permits which, in most cases, specify the required capacity of a rainwater cistern.

Over the years, the Water Services Corporation (WSC) has taken over responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising the owners of newly- constructed properties to connect the drains with the public sewer. Is the WSC verifying that it is only the drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The obvious answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. Clearly, no one is bothering to check what is connected to the public sewer.

This leads to the conclusion that, while the culprit for the present state of affairs is the building industry because, more often than not, it does not provide for rainwater storage in new developments, it is not the only one to blame. The authorities and government departments must take a substantial share of the blame for not complying with their regulatory responsibilities. The PA and the WSC could have stopped the abuse, but they did not.

A number of areas are practically out of bounds whenever heavy or continuous rain hits the Maltese islands. This is a source of danger and, in fact, the Civil Protection Department is heavily involved in assisting residents or motorists who are trapped as a result of flooding.

Money made available by the EU has been used to fund a project for the construction of underground tunnels, as a result of which rainwater from our streets and roads is being collected and discharged into the sea. Public funds have been used to cover up private irregularities.

The EU funds utilised in the construction of these tunnels have been used to squander a very precious resource. European taxpayers’ money has also have been flushed down the drain. This could have been put to a much better use had it been applied to address the lack of adequate rainwater harvesting in our towns and villages.

My advice to Edward Scicluna is that before wasting any more public funds he should ensure that the Planning Authority and the Water Services Corporation carry out their regulatory responsibilities. When they do, a considerable part of the problem of the flooding of our streets will disappear.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 November 2018

Water Sustainability ………… Sostenibilta tal-Ilma

World Environment Day: Water Sustainability a most pressing issue in Malta

In a press conference held in front of the Malta Resources Authority, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party said that water sustainability is a most pressing issue in Malta.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, said: “There are various important environmental issues in Malta, including air pollution, noise pollution, rampant construction and waste management. Like such issues, water sustainability deserves top prioritization in Malta’s environmental, economic and social policies”.

“Malta is one of the driest countries in the world, yet sustainable use of water does not yet seem to be a national priority.  We are in a situation where the majority pay their utility bills, whilst others steal water from boreholes. The water issue is ultimately an issue of environmental justice, social justice and economic good-sense. How could it be that we are treating such a scarce resource as if we have unlimited supply of it?”

Malta has mismanaged its water resources for far too long. Focusing on the potential use of recycled Treated Sewage Effluent Carmel Cacopardo AD Deputy Chairman and Spokesman on Sustainable Development and Home Affairs said that the infrastructure for sewage treatment was designed on the basis of the misconception that treated sewage had no economic value. As a result the 24 million cubic metres of treated sewage (estimated data for  2011 : 21,858,000 cm for Malta and 1,982,000 cm for Gozo, excluding rainwater in sewers during the rainy season) so far are being discharged into the sea. Simultaneously 29 million cubic metres of water are produced annually (56% by RO and 44% extracted from the water table).

The recently announced change of policy as a result of which it is envisaged that Treated Sewage Effluent is utilised for various purposes is a positive step.  However it is imperative that TSE of the right quality is available the soonest in order that boreholes all over the country are sealed up after sufficient water of the appropriate quality is available for both agriculture and industry. This said Carmel Cacopardo could lead to a much needed resting time for  the water table.

Last month the Prime Minister announced that a pilot project was in hand in order to examine the impacts of recharging the aquifer with Treated Sewage Effluent.  AD, said Carmel Cacopardo notes that a successful pilot project could lead to a long term sustainable solution to the management of water resources in Malta. This however, he added is not without its pitfalls as it is dependent on a tough enforcement policy ensuring that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewer.

AD has earlier this week met with Malta Resources Authority officials who confirmed that this is still a major sticking point.

Finally Carmel Cacopardo pointed out that Water Services Corporation has produced a “ (Master) Plan for the Use of Treated Sewage Effluent for the maltese Islands. A National  Reclamation project.” Dated May 2009 this Masterplan has been made public earlier this year in Parliament.  AD, stated Cacopardo, queries why this Masterplan has not been subject to a public consultation and being examined in terms of the Strategic Environment Assessement Directive of the EU.

Jum Dinji tal-Ambjent: Sostenibbilta tal-Ilma l-aktar kwistjoni urgenti f’Malta – AD

F’konferenza stampa li saret quddiem l-ufficini tal-Awtorita’ Maltija tar-Rizorsi, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party qalet li s-sostenibbilita’ tal-ilma hija l-aktar kwistjoni urgenti f’Malta.

Michael Briguglio, ic-Chairperson tal-AD, qal: “Hemm diversi kwistjonijiet ambjentali importanti f’Malta, inkluz it-tniggiz ta’ l-arja, tniggiz akustiku, il-kostruzzjoni rampanti u l-gestjoni tal-iskart. Bhal dawn il-kwistjonijiet, is-sostenibbilta’ tal-ilma jisthoqqa prijorita’ gholja fil-politika ambjentali, ekonomika u socjali ta’ Malta.”

“Malta hi wahda mill-iktar pajjizi niexfa fid-dinja, izda il-politika sostenibbli dwar l-ilma mhux qed tinghata. Qeghdin f’sitwazzjoni fejn il-maġġoranza tal-poplu jħallsu l-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma, waqt li ohrajn jisirqu l-ilma li jiġi mill-boreholes. Il-kwistjoni ta’ l-ilma hi wahda ta’ gustizzja ambjentali, gustizzja socjali u sens tajjeb ekonomiku. Kif jista’ jkun li rizorsa hekk skarsa qed tigi trattata qisha xi wahda bi provvista bla limitu?”

Malta ma haditx hsieb ir-rizorsi taghha tal-ilma ghal zmien twil. Huwa u jiffoka fuq il-potenzjal ghall-uzu tad-drenagg ippurifikat,  Carmel Cacopardo, Vici Chairman u Kelliemi ta’ AD ghall-Izvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern qal: “l-infrastruttura ghat-trattament tad-drenagg kienet iddisinjata fuq l-impressjoni zbaljata li dan l-ilma hekk prodott ma kellux valur ekonomiku. Bhala rizultat ta’ dan 24 miljunmetru kubu ta’ drenagg ippurifikat (stima ghall-2011: 21,858,000 mk ghal Malta u 1,982,000 ghal Ghawdex, apparti l-ilma tax-xita fid-drenagg meta taghmel ix-xita) s’issa qed jintefa l-bahar. Fl-istess hin 29 miljun metru kubu ta’ ilma qed ikunu prodotti kull sena (56% bl-RO u  44% estratt mill-pjan).”

“It-tibdil recenti fil-politika tal-Gvern li bhala rizultat taghha nistennew li d-drenagg riciklat ikun utilizzat ghal skopijiet diversi huwa pass pozittiv. Imma huwa essenzjali li ilma riciklat ta’ kwalita tajba ikun prodott mill-iktar fis biex ikun possibli li jinghalqu l-boreholes kollha wara li jkun hemm bizzejjed ilma ta’ kwalita’ ghall-agrikultura u l-industrija.  Dan, qal Carmel Cacopardo jista’ jwassal ghas-serhan tant mehtieg tal-ilma tal-pjan.”

“Ix-xahar li ghadda l-Prim Ministru habbar li progett pilot kien qed jezamina l-impatti li jirrizultaw jekk l-ilma tal-pjan ikun rikarikat b’ilma riciklat mid-drenagg. Alternattiva Demokratika tinnota li jekk dan il-progett pilota jirnexxi dan ikun jista’ jwassal ghal soluzzjoni sostenibbli u fit-tul tal-immanigjar tar-rizorsi tal-ilma f’Malta.  Dan imma, zied jghid, irid jiffaccja diffikultajiet kbar, principalment il-htiega ta’ id tal-hadid biex jigi assigurat li fid-drenagg  jinxtehet biss skart likwidu permissibli. “

“Alternattiva Demokratika iktar kmieni din il-gimgha iltaqghet ma ufficjali tal-Awtorita’ Maltija tar-Rizorsi li ikkonfermaw li din id-diffikulta ghadha ma gietx meghluba.”

Fl-ahhar nett  Carmel Cacopardo gibed l-attenzjoni li l-Korporazzjoni tas-Servizzi tal-Ilma ipproduciet  ‘(Master) Plan for the Use of Treated Sewage Effluent for the Maltese Islands. A National  Reclamation project’. Datat Mejju 2009 dan il-pjan kien ippubblikat fil-Parlament iktar kmieni din is-sena. Alternattiva Demokratika, qal Cacopardo, tistaqsi l-ghaliex dan il-pjan ma kienx soggett ghal konsultazzjoni pubblika kif ukoll ghaliex ma giex ezaminat ai termini tal-iStrategic Environment Assessement Directive tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

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.