The risk of failure stares us in the face

The United Nations Environment Programme is one of the success stories of the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Through its Mediterranean Action Programme, UNEP successfully brought together the states bordering the Mediterranean. In 1976, they signed the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution.

Malta signed the convention and a number of protocols, among which a 1980 protocol against pollution from land-based sources and activities, known as the LBS Protocol. One of the commitments that Malta entered into in the 1980s was to ensure that sewage should be treated before being discharged into the sea.

Malta was not in a position to honour its LBS Protocol commitments as the finance required to carry out the infrastructural development was not available. It was only as a result of EU accession that such funds were made available for the Xgħajra and the Gozo plants. (Funds through the Italian protocol were used to construct the Mellieħa plant.) This has come about because, in 1991, the EU adopted its Urban Wastewater Directive, which Malta had to implement on EU accession.

Notwithstanding the availability of EU finance, it was only in 2011, when the third sewage purification plant at Ta’ Barkat Xgħajra was commissioned, that Malta finally came in line with the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. This is clearly evidenced by the latest positive results on the quality of bathing waters along Malta’s coast. The waters off Wied Għammieq/Xgħajra, site of the sewage outfall for over 75 per cent of Malta’s sewage, have registered the most notable quality improvement.

While recognising that Malta has honoured long-standing commitments, it is unfortunate that the long wait was not utilised to identify possible uses of recycled sewage on the basis of which the available EU finance would have yielded long-term benefits. Lessons learnt from the Sant’Antnin sewage purification plant at Marsascala seem to have been ignored.

The sewage purification plants have been designed as an end-of-pipe solution. Situated at the point of discharge into the sea, the whole infrastructure is based on the wrong assumption that sewage is waste. Its potential as a resource was ignored at the drawing board. In fact, I remember quite clearly the statement issued by the Water Services Corporation in the summer of 2008 in reply to prodding by Alternattiva Demokratika. WSC had then derided AD and stated that the treated sewage effluent had no economic value.

Since then we have witnessed a policy metamorphosis. Water policy has slowly changed to accept the obvious and unavoidable fact that sewage is a resource that should be fully utilised. During the inauguration ceremony of the sewage purification plant at Il-Qammiegħ Mellieħa, Minister Austin Gatt had indicated that the possible use of recycled sewage would be studied.

The decision to study the matter had been taken when the design of the infrastructure was long determined. At that point, provision for the transfer of the recycled sewage from the point of treatment to the point of potential use was not factored in. Substantial additional expenditure would be required for this purpose. This is a clear case of gross mismanagement of public funds, including EU funds.

It has been recently announced that a pilot project is in hand to examine the impacts of recharging the aquifer with treated sewage effluent. This pilot project was listed in the First Water Catchment Management Plan for the Maltese Islands as one of three measures submitted to the EU in 2011 in line with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. The other two measures are the efficient use of water in the domestic sector and using treated sewage effluent as a source of second class water.

AD agrees that a successful pilot project on recharging the aquifer could lead to a long-term sustainable solution of the management of water resources in Malta. This is, however, dependent on the nature of the liquid waste discharged into the public sewer. I am informed that tests which have been going on for some time at the WSC pilot plant at Bulebel industrial estate have revealed specific chemicals that are being discharged into the public sewer and which are proving difficult to remove from the treated sewage effluent.

The successful use of treated sewage effluent for a multitude of uses, including recharging the aquifer, is ultimately dependent on a tough enforcement policy ensuring that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewers. Recharging the aquifer with treated sewage effluent while technically possible is very risky. On the basis of past performance, enforcement is an aspect where the risk of failure stares us in the face!

The technical possibilities to address the water problem are available. What’s lacking is the capability of the authorities to enforce the law. I look forward to the time when they will develop their teeth and muscles. Only then will the risk be manageable.


Published in The Times of Malta, June 16, 2012 : Risk of failure staring at us

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.

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’.

Recharging the aquifer

The Prime Minister has announced that in Gozo as part of the eco-Gozo project government will embark on a project of recharging the aquifer with purified sewage. The matter has been awaited for some time as it has been brought up during technical discussions/seminars on water and the depleted water table during the past months.

The experiment is very risky. I only hope that it has been well thought out. If it succeeds it may be a long term solution to our water problem. If it fails we will ruin what is left of the water table.

Studies made should be published.

I have my doubts on the whole matter. But then I am not in favour of playing around with nature.