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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Fl-2015, l-ambjent taħt assedju. Fl-2016 l-assedju ikompli.

msida_water. 021015

 

Is-sena 2015 kienet waħda li fiha l-ambjent kien taħt assedju. Assedju li bla dubju ser jintensifika ruħu matul is-sena d-dieħla. Għax ma hemm l-ebda dubju li l-aġenda tal-Labour hi waħda kontra l-ambjent.

Bla dubju mument importanti fl-2015 kien ir-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li intilef bi sbrixx imma li xorta wassal messaġġ qawwi, prinċipalment minħabba li huwa riżultat li nkiseb minkejja li kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL dejjem appoġġaw il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Wara spikka il-każ taż-Żonqor li wassal għal dimostrazzjoni kbira ġol-Belt. Iktar tard il-Gvern ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li kien qed jagħti kaz u dan billi ċċaqlaq ftit.

Il-qagħda tat-trasport pubbliku matul l-2015 tjibiet ftit imma għadha lura ħafna minn dak li jixraqlu u għandu bżonn dan il-pajjiż. Hi l-unika tama li tista’ tnaqqas il-pressjoni taż-żieda tal-karozzi fit-toroq. Hi l-unika tama għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja. Inutli jwaħħlu fil-ħinijiet tal-ftuħ tal-iskejjel.

Matul l-2015 l-ilma tax-xita flok ma jinġabar fi bjar li qatt ma saru, baqa’ jintefa’ fit-toroq. Issa li x-xogħol fuq il-mini taħt l-art ġie konkluż il-periklu fit-toroq ser jonqos għax il-parti l-kbira tal-ilma ser jispiċċa l-baħar. Il-flus li intefqgħu fuq dawn il-mini kienu fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom flus moħlija. Kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku intefqgħu biex l-ilma jinġabar flok biex jintrema.

F’nofs dawn l-aħbarijiet negattivi kollha ġiet ippubblikata l-enċiklika ambjentali tal-Papa Franġisku. Fiha tinħass sewwa t-togħma Latino-Amerikana ta’ Leonardo Boff li tenfasizza r-rabta bejn il-faqar u t-tħassir ambjentali. Hemm tama li din l-enċiklika tista’ tkun ta’ siwi biex iktar nies jiftħu għajnejhom.

F’Ġunju l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni qalilna li l-PN fil-Gvern għamel diversi żbalji ambjentali u li jixtieq li jibda paġna ġdida. Din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Busuttil tikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal fir-rapport tal-PN dwar it-telfa fejn ġie emfasizzat li l-PN kien vittma ta’ sabutaġġ minn dawk maħtura biex imexxu (inkluż ovvjament mill-MEPA).

Il-battalja tat-torrijiet għadha magħna. Preżentement hemm pendenti żewġ applikazzjonijiet f’tas-Sliema, waħda f’Townsquare (38 sular) u oħra f’Fort Cambridge (40 sular). Ir-residenti, li bħal dejjem jispiċċaw iġorru l-konsegwenzi ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huma injorati.

Kellna t-tniġġiż fil-baħar. Diversi inċidenti fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk li bihom ġie ikkonfermat, jekk qatt kien hemm ħtieġa ta’ dan, li l-Bajja s-Sabiħa m’għandhiex iktar sabiħa. Dan minħabba li issa l-port sar definittivament wieħed industrijali. L-unika ħaġa li jonqos huwa t-tanker sorġut b’mod permanenti fil-port biex fih jinħażen il-gass.

Nhar is-Sibt jorħos il-prezz tal-petrol u d-diesel. Għal uħud imissu ilu li raħas. Forsi kien ikun aħjar li ma raħas xejn. Hemm bżonn kull mezz possibli biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq. Il-prezz tal-fuel hu wieħed minn diversi miżuri li jekk użati bil-għaqal jistgħu jagħtu frott. Il-problema imma, sfortunatament hi li ma hemmx volontà politika.

IL-MEPA ser tinqasam. L-ippjanar għalih u l-ambjent għalih. Mhux ser isir wisq ġid b’din il-miżura għax is-saħħa amministrattiva li għandu pajjiż żgħir ġejja miċ-ċokon tiegħu. Meta taqsam l-awtorita f’biċċiet tkun ferm inqas effettiv. Hekk ser jiġri. Il-MEPA ma kienitx qed taħdem sewwa għax ma ħallewiex taħdem sewwa. Għax kienet imxekkla minn bordijiet li jew ma jifhmux inkella b’aġenda moħbija.

Dan hu l-wirt li s-sena 2015 ser tħalli lis-sena 2016. L-unika ħaġa pożittiva hi li bil-mod qed tiżviluppa kuxjenza ambjentali fost il-ġenerazzjonijiet li tielgħin.

Is-sena t-tajba? Forsi.

The Freeport’s neighbours at Birżebbuġa

freeport.aerial viw

 

 

Two incidents occurred at the Freeport Terminal last week. The first led to the spill of an oily-like chemical when a container was accidentally hit and part of its contents spilled out into the sea. The second concerned odours resulting from the handling of fuels at the Oil Tanking Terminal.  The second accident led to the precautionary hospitalisation of six employees. The first incident, on the other hand, led to the suspension of bathing activities at Pretty Bay, Birżebbuġa for a number of days.

The accident leading to the spill occurred on Monday, 8 June at around noon. Yet on Friday, 12 June, personnel from the Civil Protection Department were still dealing with the spill as by this time water currents had moved it from the Freeport Terminal to Pretty Bay. It was only late on Tuesday, 16 June that the Environmental Health Department certified that Pretty Bay was once more fit for swimming.

 

Unfortunately, such accidents are bound to happen. That they do not happen more often is only due to adequate training and the availability of the adequately maintained equipment available on  site.

The Freeport Terminal extension – approved five years ago by MEPA and currently in hand – is intended to tap into the container movement market in the Mediterranean even further. In the coming years, this will lead to a increased activity and, consequently, the likelihood of similar but more frequent accidents happening in the future is possible.

The Freeport Terminal activity is only one of a number which, over the years, have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. Delimara Power station and fish- farming  as well as the ever-present fuel reception points at the San Luċjan and Enemalta stations are other examples of industrial activity along the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. We should also remember that, at some time in the near future, bathers at Pretty Bay will also have an enhanced landscape: they will be able to enjoy in full view a gas storage tanker permanently anchored just opposite the sandy beach, along the Delimara part of the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. The spectacle will include its refuelling between eight and 12 times a year, with possibly three of such refuelling instances occurring during the summer bathing season.

The compatibility of this situation with the EU Seveso Directives is debatable.

All this industrial activity may be healthy when considering the general economic requirements of the country on its own. It is, however, generally incompatible with the needs of Birżebbuġa both as a residential community as well as a touristic venue.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of this industrial activity on the residential community  of Birżebbuġa (and to an extent even on the locality of Marsaxlokk) are in place. Yet with so much going on, the effects of these mitigation measures are necessarily limited. In fact, one wonders why the decision to locate all this industrial activity in the area was not also accompanied by a decision to restrict the development of land for residential use so close to these industrial facilities. In one particular case, at il-Qajjenza in the 1980s,  residential development was accelerated in the vicinity of the then Enemalta Gas Depot. Fortunately the Gas Depot has now been closed down and decommissioned, however it has been moved to the other side of Birżebbuġa, close to the entrance of Marsaxlokk Bay at Bengħajsa.

 

The Freeport Terminal management, supported by MEPA, had also decided to extend the permissible facilities at the Freeport Terminal to include minor repair work to ships and oil rigs. The decision was only reversed when it was faced with the vociferous opposition of the Birżebbuġa residential community led by its local council.

Recently, Transport Malta has added to the summer pleasures at Birżebbuġa. It has planned a mooring area for pleasure craft and small boats adjacent to the swimming zone, right in the middle of Pretty Bay. It seems that Transport Malta does not give a fig about the impact of anti-fouling agents used on a large number of craft berthed very close to a swimming zone.

 

With all this activity going on around Pretty Bay, it is inevitable that that there will be an increase in unacceptable environmental impacts on land, air and sea. Some accidents will also be inevitable.

As a result, however, it is very possible that in future there will be further restrictions on the use of Pretty Bay as a bathing venue. One hopes that this will not be often. It is, however, unavoidable and is the direct result of the ongoing activity which is definitely incompatible with the needs and requirements of the Birżebbuġa residents.

One interesting development at the time of writing is that Hon. Marlene Farrugia, as Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development Planning, has placed last week’s incidents at the Freeport Terminal on the Parliamentary Committee’s agenda. For the time being, a request for information has been sent out. The resulting discussion will hopefully direct the spotlight on the manner in which successive governments have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port, in the process at times ignoring – and at other times not giving sufficient attention to the plight of the residents in the area.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 21 June 2015

L-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ta’ Birżebbuġa

pretty-bay

 

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra kellna żewġ inċidenti fil-Freeport.

L-ewwel inċident seħħ it-Tnejn 8 ta’ Ġunju meta ntlaqat container li nfaqa’ u parti mill-kontenut likwidu tiegħu spiċċa l-baħar. Sal-Ġimgħa 12 ta’ Ġunju, tard fil-għaxja, l-ħaddiema tad-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kienu għadhom sejrin bil-ħidma ta’ tindif. Sadanittant il-Bajja s-Sabiħa baqgħet magħluqa sakemm it-testijiet tal-kwalità tal-ilma baħar li qed isiru mid-Dipartiment tas-Saħħa Ambjentali jagħtu riżultati tajbin, ċjoe li jista’ jsir l-għawm.

Sadanittant kellna inċident ieħor u s-Sibt waranofsinnhar sitt ħaddiema tal-Freeport iddaħħlu l-isptar bħala prewkazzjoni minħabba rwejjaħ ta’ gass li x’aktarx ikkawżaw uġiegħ ta’ ras u dardir.

Fortunatament ftit li xejn kellna inċidenti ta’ din ix-xorta, u dan  minħabba li kemm il-management kif ukoll il–ħaddiema tal-Freeport jaħdmu sewwa u bil-galbu. It-taħriġ kontinwu li jingħata lill-ħaddiema kollha tal-Freeport, kif ukoll l-apparat addattat li jintuża jgħinu biex inaqqsu l-possibilità ta’ inċidenti. Imma huwa inevitabbli li iktar ma jiżdied ix-xogħol fil-Freeport [u bl-estensjoni tal-Freeport, ix-xogħol ser jiżdied] tiżdied ukoll il-probabiltà ta’ iktar inċidenti.

Ma dan trid iżżid ukoll il-ħidma bil-gass tal-Power Station ta’ Delimara. Faċċata tal-Bajja s-Sabiħa suppost li jkollna tanker permanenti fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk biex fih jinħażen il-gass. Bejn tmien u tnax-il darba fis-sena jidħol ukoll tanker ieħor biex iġib iktar provisti ta’ gass.

Jiġifieri fil-bajja l-problemi ser jiżdiedu mhux ser jonqsu.   Ma noħodiex bi kbira li l-ġranet li fihom ma jkunx possibli li jsir l-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ukoll ser jiżdiedu. L-inċidenti tal-ġimgħa l-oħra huma indikazzjoni ta’ x’hemm lest għalina.

Dan hu l-prezz ta’ dak li uħud isejħulu progress jew żvilupp. Huwa l-prova ta’ kemm kellhom raġun dawk kollha li opponew l-estensjoni tal- Freeport.

Jafu x’inhuma jagħmlu?

left and right

 

Dal-għodu l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa f’Konferenza Stampa spjega kif l-Awtorità tat-Trasport iddeċidiet illi fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa (Pretty Bay) jinbeda proġett għall-irmiġġi tad-dgħajjes. Ħafna movement ta’ dgħajjes ma jgħinx biex titjieb il-kwalita’ tal-ilma baħar b’mod li jkun tajjeb għall-għawm.

Fl-istess ħin l-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu kienet qed tikkoordina mal-Kunsill biex is-servizzi fil-Bajja jitjiebu u b’hekk ikun iktar possibli illi tingħata l-bandiera l-Blú (Blue Flag Status).

Verament każ tal-id ix-xellugija ma tafx x’inhi tagħmel l-id il-leminija!

 

Birżebbuġa u l-Port Ħieles

birzebbuga.jpg

  Flimkien mal-Inġinier Dr Patrick Attard, kandidat tal-Alternattiva fuq il-5 u it-12-il Distrett kelli laqgħa mas-Sindku ta’ Birżebbuġa Joseph Farrugia biex iddiskutejna l-estensjoni ta’ mollijiet tal-Port Ħieles kif proposti fl-applikazzjonijiet mal-MEPA bir-referenzi PA 3368/06 and PA 4819/07. Tal-ewwel ġja ġiet approvata filwaqt li t-tieni waħda għada pendenti. Il-baħar madwar il-Bajja is-Sabiħa f’Birżebbuġa għandu funzjoni doppja. Kemm dik kummerċjali konnessa mal-operazzjoni tal-Port Ħieles kif ukoll jintuża għall-għawm. L-operazzjoni tal-Port Ħieles hi importanti għall-ekonomija tal-pajjiż u tajjeb li tkun kontinwament imsaħħa. Iżda ma nistgħux ninjoraw li n-nies tuża ukoll l-inħawi għall-għawm, u ilha tagħmel hekk għal ħafna snin, ferm qabel ma beda jopera l-Freeport.

Il-baħar fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk huwa imniġġes tant li huwa nieqes mill-ħajja marittima.

L-Alternattiva Demokratika ser isegwi l-iżviluppi konnessi mal-estensjoni tal-Port Ħieles u fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin tara x’inizzjattivi tista’ tieħu biex fil-Port Ħieles u l-Awtorita’ Marittima tkun imxettla kultura ta’ Responsabbilta Soċjali (CSR) konessa ma amministrazzjoni aħjar tal-Portijiet tagħna li tirrifletti l-użu kultant konfliġġenti tagħhom.