L-ambjent u l-ġustizzja soċjali

e-waste-africa

Il-ħsara ambjentali teffettwa lil kulħadd, imma b’mod speċjali tolqot iktar lil dawk li huma vulnerabbli. L-esperjenza tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum, imsaħħa bir-riċerka turi li l-agħar effetti tal-ħsara ambjentali jġarrbuhom l-aktar nies foqra. Per eżempju, n-nuqqas jew it-tniġġis tal-ilma jolqot l-iżjed lil dawk li huma l-aktar foqra, li għalihom ix-xiri ta’ flixkun ilma ħafna drabi hi spiża żejda. U meta f’diversi pajjiżi għola l-livell tal-baħar dan laqat l-ewwel lill-foqra li kienu qed jgħixu fi griebeġ mal-kosta, u li ma kellhomx iktar fejn imorru.

M’aħniex konxji biżżejjed tal-problemi li jolqtu lil dawk li huma mwarrba mis-soċjetà. Illum ma nistgħux ma nagħrfux li l-impenn ambjentali irid jieħu ukoll dimensjoni soċjali. Dan għandu jdaħħal diskors dwar il-ġustizzja fid-diskussjonijiet dwar l-ambjent, biex nifhmu dejjem iktar li l-karba tal-art hi ukoll il-karba tal-fqir. Il-ħsara ambjentali hi l-kawża ta’ inġustizzja soċjali.

Flok jindirzzaw il-problemi tal-foqra uħud iwaħħlu fiż-żieda fil-popolazzjoni u jippruvaw ma jagħtux importanza lill-konsumiżmu estrem u selettiv tas-soċjetà moderna. B’hekk jippretendu li jilleġittimizzaw il-mudell ta’ distribuzzjoni tar-riżorsi li għandna llum, fejn hemm minoranza li temmen li għandha dritt tikkonsma fi proporzjon li qatt ma jista’ jiġi applikat fuq livell universali, għax il-pjaneta bilkemm l-iskart ta’ konsum bħal dan ma tkun kapaċi żżomm.

Iktar minn hekk, terz tal-ikel li nipproduċu qed jinħela: l-ikel li jintrema qed jinsteraq minn fuq il-mejda tal-fqir. Iż-żieda fil-konsum taf twassal għat-tlaqqigħ flimkien ta’ problemi marbuta mat-tinġis ambjentali, il-mezzi ta’ trasport, it-trattament tal-iskart, il-qerda ta’ riżorsi, u l-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Jeżisti “dejn ekoloġiku” bejn il-pajjiżi żviluppati u dawk inqas żviluppati. Dan id-“dejn ekoloġiku” hu marbut ma’ żbilanċ fil-kummerċ b’konsegwenzi fil-qasam ekoloġiku, kif ukoll mal-użu sproporzjonat tar-riżorsi naturali storikament imwettaq minn xi pajjiżi. L-esportazzjoni ta’ xi materja prima biex tissodisfa s-swieq tal-pajjiżi industrijalizzati ħalliet warajha ħafna ħsara ambjentali, bħal, per eżempju t-tinġis bil-merkurju fil-minjieri tad-deheb jew bid-dijossidu tal-kubrit fil-minjieri tar-ram.

It-tisħin ikkawżat mill-konsum enormi ta’ xi pajjiżi għonja għandu riperkussjonijiet fl-ifqar postijiet ta’ din l-art, speċjalment fl-Afrika, fejn iż-żieda fit-temperatura flimkien man-nixfa għandha effetti diżastrużi fuq l-agrikultura.

Ma’ dan inżidu r-rimi ta’ skart tossiku f’pajjiżi li qed jiżviluppaw minn intrapriżi ibbażati f’pajjiżi żviluppati. Dawn jagħmlu fil-pajjiżi mhux żviluppati dak li m’huwiex permess li jsir f’pajjiżhom.

Ġeneralment, meta jwaqqfu l-attività tagħhom u jitilqu, iħallu warajhom ħsarat kbar umani u ambjentali, bħal qgħad, irħula bla ħajja, il-qerda ta’ ħażniet naturali, deforestazzjoni, tifqir fil-biedja u fil-merħliet tal-post, ħofor kbar, għoljiet imħarbta, xmajjar imniġġsa u xi opra soċjali li ma tiflaħx tieqaf iktar fuq riġlejha”.

Din hi s-sejħa li tagħmlilna l-art. Hi s-sejħa tal-fqir li hu ukoll misruq mill-ġid li tagħtu n-natura biex biex bih jistagħna ħaddieħor. Il-ħsara ambjentali hi l-kawża ta’ inġustizzji soċjali kbar li lkoll isiru f’isem l-iżvilupp. Għax fl-aħħar huma dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli fostna li l-iżjed iħossu l-konsegwenzi tal-qerda ambjentali li qed isseħħ madwarna. Għalhekk kull pass il-quddiem, (żgħir jew kbir), li nagħmlu biex inħarsu l-ambjent ta’ madwarna huwa pass biex innaqqsu l-inġustizzji ta’ madwarna.

 

(kummentarju li xxandar fuq l-RTK it-Tnejn 4 ta’ Jannar 2016, ibbażat fuq il-paragrafi 48 sa 51 tal-enċiklika Laudato Sì tal-Papa Franġisku)

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Simon’s ODZ bluff

Simon Busuttil.Zonqor2

 

20 January is the closing date for the submission of expressions of interest in response to the call by the Privatisation Unit for the setting up of a Motorsports complex in Malta.

During the press conference that launched the call on 29 September, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Chris Agius emphasised the fact that the choice of location was up to the investors presenting the submissions, even though several sites were proposed in the consultation process leading up to the call for expressions of interest.

However, Sam Collins, writing on 25 April last year on an online motor-racing guide, under the heading Malta eyes Formula 1 with new circuit stated that a “110 hectare parcel of land has been earmarked for the development.”  It is pretty obvious that the as yet unidentified  “110 hectare parcel of land” to be used for this proposed motorsports complex will be situated outside the development zone (ODZ). Each hectare consists of 10,000 square metres, meaning that 110 hectares equals one million, one hundred thousand square metres.

Sam Collins describes the proposal in this manner: “The government documents relating to the circuit’s development point out that part of its purpose would be to attract major international racing series, including Formula 3 and similar classes. The proposed facility would also include facilities for concerts, conferencing and a racing school. A hotel and museum of motoring and transport heritage would also be built on site. Road safety and driver training would play a major part in the facility’s layout, with a dedicated area for these activities. A CIK Kart circuit would also be built alongside the main track.”

The basic question which had to be addressed – but which most obviously has not been addressed so far – is whether Malta can afford to waste this much land. The answer, in my opinion, irrespective of the number of motor-racing car enthusiasts on the island, is clear and unequivocal: Malta cannot waste any more of its limited land.

The sites that have been possibly earmarked are limited in number, as Malta’s size does not present too many options and the impact of the selected site will be substantial, irrespective of its current use.

Development on the  parcel of land selectedcould have a substantial impact on areas of ecological importance that are protected either in terms of local policy or else as a result of EU or international commitments. Knowing that most of the undeveloped land along Malta’s coastline from Bengħajsa right up to Ċirkewwa is protected for ecological purposes, this could be the case, particularly if the identified parcel of land is close to the coast.

The impact could be further increased in view of the possible proximity of the selected parcel of land to residential areas. A specific area, mentioned consistently through the grapevine, would lump these impacts on Malta’s political south, further adding to the disregard for residents’ quality of life in the region accumulated over the years.

There are, therefore, three issues on the basis of which the proposed facility is objectionable: firstly, that Malta is too small for such a development; secondly, that the environmental impact will be substantial and thirdly, that the neighbouring residents’ quality of life, as well as biodiversity and natural resources, will be bartered for short term economic gain.

Depending on the precise eventual location, it may be possible to mitigate and reduce the impact on residents. However, it is most probable that a reduced impact on residents would signify increased impact on natural resources and biodiversity. In my opinion, this signifies that even on the drawing board the project should have been a non-starter.

In recent months we have had the Żonqor “University” debacle. A major sticking point in that case was that the original proposal was to use land situated outside the ODZ and public opinion’s unifying reaction was “No to ODZ development”.

The Parliamentary Opposition, both inside and outside Parliament, took a clear stand against the ODZ Development proposed at Żonqor. Yet in the case of the proposed motor track facility, the Opposition Spokesperson on Sport, David Agius, was invited to be present when the call for expressions of interest was launched. His presence confirms that, notwithstanding Simon Busuttil’s solemn declarations on the sanctity of ODZ land, the proposal for the (ODZ) motor track facility enjoys bipartisan support.

Which means that Simon’s talk on ODZ is just bluff.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2016

Muscat’s priorities : the environment not included

Labour u l-Ambjent

 

The manner in which the government is handling the Żonqor University issue is a failure in environmental governance. It is a mishandling of Malta’s natural resources.

How can the government say that the feasibility of the Żonqor project depends on the low monetary value of the ODZ land and expect to be taken seriously? Is this not placing the profits of the Jordanian businessman above everything else, including Malta’s interests?

After the government signed a preliminary agreement with Jordanian businessman Hani Hasan N Salah on what has been labelled as the “American University of Malta” (at Żonqor Point) civil society erupted. The site site earmarked for development will gobble up thousands of square metres of agricultural land. Earlier this week, Joseph Muscat  tried to minimise the impact by stating that only one per cent of the agricultural land to be taken up for the project is used for growing crops. He was immediately rubbished by the farmers themselves who told the Independent on Friday that most of the agricultural land in question was, in fact, used to produce potatoes for the export market.

The term ODZ (Outside Development Zone) is associated with rural areas where development is limited to what is necessary in the interests of agriculture. There have been a number of exceptions, but, so far, such exceptions have been made where ODZ development was considered to be in the national interest. Such instances included the state hospital, the airport terminal, Malta’s only University, the Freeport, a number of both state and private schools, a home for the elderly, industrial estates, sewage purification plants and waste management facilities.

We have also had the case of Smart City. This replaced the former Ricasoli Industrial Estate but the site was extended into ODZ territory.

The general feeling is that ODZ land should only be developed in exceptional cases which have a social policy dimension or else are required in the national interest. The proposed American University is not such a case.

The government has not done its homework: in particular, it has not, to date, examined alternative sites for the proposed University. The ongoing debate has identified a myriad of such alternatives, most of which are located in Malta’s political south. In some instances, the alternatives sites that have been identified are competing with other uses proposed through “expressions of interests” currently being assessed. Whilst this might be understandable at this point, the government needs to explain why it has issued these “expressions of interests” when it knew quite some time ago that it had this competing demand for a substantial area.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister  Muscat embarked on a damage limitation exercise through which he seeks to collect from the public a list of possible alternative sites for his consideration.   This is a farce in the making, because suitable sites for this type of project are not selected in this manner.  The government  should have embarked on a meticulous search months ago, and should have entrusted a group of experts with the study of all possible options, analysing in detail the advantages and disadvantages of each site, including the relative opportunity costs.

The fact that it did not proceed in this manner is a testimony to the amateurishness of the Muscat administration, an administration which clearly imagines that it knows it all. It is bad governance at its worst.

Malta has a right to land use planning that is sensible and sensitive. Each one of us has the right to expect as much from Labour, which promised that the environment would be its priority.

By now it should  be pretty obvious to everyone that the Audrey Harrison billboard stating that, for Labour, the environment is a priority is just another gimmick. The environment never was a Labour priority, and it will never be.

Published in the Independent on Sunday, 24 May 2015

Green acres for the tourists

festa frawli 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a niche neglected for quite a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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