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.

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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

Thoughts for an Environmental Policy

The government has published a number of policy documents for public consultation. Two deal with different aspects of water policy while a third deals with issues for a National Environment Policy.

Also of relevance is an Ernst & Young Report commissioned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on a 2008 Public Attitudes Survey. It is dated April 2010. Although recently published I do not recollect reading anything in the press about this survey. One of the conclusions of this survey should be an eye opener to policy makers as to the central importance which the Maltese public attaches to the environment.

In the 2008 Public Attitudes Survey it was concluded that 69 per cent of respondents held the view that the environment was as important as the economy. On the other hand 23 per cent of respondents considered that the environment was more important than the economy while only eight per cent considered the economy as being of overriding importance.

To my mind these are significant conclusions contrasting with current national policy which considers that the economy has an ­overriding priority over the environment. The Maltese public thinks otherwise: 92 per cent of respondents of the Mepa Public Attitudes Survey have understood that the economy should not be an overriding consideration in environmental policy formulation. Now this is what sustainable development is all about.

Contrary to what green-washers imply, being committed to sustainable development does not mean that one seeks to balance or mitigate environmental, social and cultural impacts of economic development. Sustainable development speaks another language altogether for which unfortunately there is still a lack of translators. Real commitment to sustainable development conveys the message that humankind does not own the earth. It shares the earth with other species together with which it forms part of one eco-system.

The way in which our society has evolved and is organised is such that it considers human activity as meriting overriding importance. In fact it is often stated that policies are anthropocentric. Both PN and PL environmental policies can be grouped in this category. AD together with other Green parties around the globe differs as it follows a eco-centric path. But then the ecology has no vote!

Sustainable development properly construed considers the need of an eco-centric environmental policy. This signifies that a holistic approach is applied through which impacts on the whole eco-system are considered.

Now this is completely different from the manner in which our society is accustomed to look at itself. An eco-centric approach leads us to take a long term view in contrast to the short-sighted view of our immediate interests. This does not only impact land use but also waste management, agriculture and fishing, light pollution, acoustic pollution, air quality, water resources, mineral deposits, transport policy, the protection of our ecological heritage and many other areas.

When one considers the above I cannot understand why the authors of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper ignored the National Sustainable Development Strategy when formulating the Issues Paper for public consultation. They considered the 2008 State of the Environment Report and the Parliamentary debate which ensued together with the Ernst & Young report above quoted as the basis for a discussion.

In so doing they ignored completely a consultation process spanning a number of years which answered most of the questions which the Issues Paper poses.

This is surely not a new way of doing politics. It is a way with which most of us are familiar as it does away with past achievements and seeks to start a fresh page, ignoring everything and everyone. Knowing that at least one of the drafters of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper was actively involved in the process leading to the National Sustainability Strategy, I must ask the obvious question: Is the Issues Paper the first step towards the scrapping of the National Sustainability Strategy?

The current Bill before Parliament which seeks to consolidate existing legislation on land use planning and the environment removes all references to the National Sustainable Development Commission. It was stated repeatedly that a separate legislative measure will be proposed dealing with issues of sustainable development. Yet to date this is nowhere in sight. Does this confirm that there have been second thoughts on the National Sustainability Strategy?

The Strategy should currently be in the process of implementation. Section 5 of the Strategy entitled “The Way Ahead” provides that ministers have to produce action plans for the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy in their portfolio within 18 months from the adoption of the strategy.

The strategy was adopted by Cabinet more than 18 moons ago yet the action plans are nowhere in sight.

I have never had any doubt that this government is being consistent with its beliefs: it says one thing, but when push comes to shove it proceeds with doing something else.

published in The Times : August 14, 2010