Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

December 14, 2010

Tuesday, 14th December 2010

Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I  must admit that Eco-Gozo was a brilliant idea. The launching of this bright idea, however, lacked adequate communication, education and public awareness and cannot be said to be that brilliant.  Stakeholders did not have enough chance to meet to discuss, to suggest and to feel part of this concept. Public consultations lacked any brilliancy. All subsequent development, in its widest sense, does not necessarily dovetail in this concept and is indeed bizarre, to say the least.

Gozo is a small island, endowed with a topography and a geology that make it a unique ecological gem. But, because of its smallness, every mismanaged and short-sighted development has drastic effects on its ecosystem, defying the whole Eco-Gozo concept.

Just a few examples would suffice to show how this concept is unfortunately being torpedoed, with the official blessing of the same authority that should be in the forefront to stop them.

Wied il-Qasab, meandering from Nadur to Ramla l-Ħamra, is fed by natural springs, originating from the upper garigue. The water percolates down through the strata to the valley bed, sustaining both the valley ecosystem and cultivated fields. A short-sighted permit issued against all technical advice saw the excavation of the water source, devastating historical planning techniques dating back to the times of the Knights, shattering bell-shaped wells that stored precious water resources, eventually cutting off one of the valley springs, while negatively impacting the others. All for the sake of a cemetery, where the dead, directly and indirectly, will now contribute to the destruction of this part of Eco- Gozo.

Dwejra is one of the landmarks of Eco-Gozo.  Looking through the azure window reveals the Mediterranean culture, biodiversity and history. Dwejra is a special area of conservation, part of the EU Natura 2000 network, also proposed as an International Heritage Site. A few weeks ago, Dwejra was made to play prostitute in exchange for economic gain. Tom, Dick and Harry were officially assured that there was no ecosystem in this part of the SAC. They were also lectured on the fact that if the economy does well, the environment usually does better. A couple of horses were eventually filmed trotting on the quarry-sand covering the fossil-rich rocks, with the azure window in the background. The covering of sand sent the eco-sensitive public in a rage, seeing the authority who should have ensured that this did not happen, giving its official blessings. Another under-the-belt blow for Eco-Gozo.

This is the International Year of Biodiversity. Someone, a few weeks back, had another “brilliant” idea for this eco-island – to clean the valleys. With myopic ingenuity, devoid of any ecological sensitivity, and of any environmental management, the Marsalforn Valley was bulldozed.  By all means, let the valleys be cleaned to be in a better position to hold more water, as they used to do in the distant past. But for heaven’s sake this is not the way: descending on valleys and destroying all ecosystems in the bulldozers’ path. The end does not justify the means. The valleys have been neglected, abused and mismanaged for so long.

The bottom line again was the economic gain – time-wise at the expense of social and ecological expense. Who would think of using a bulldozer in St John’s Co-Cathedral to clean the accumulated dust in every nook and cranny and so save on time and expense?

eco-scars and eco-wounds

The extant indigenous protected mature trees in the said valley show the scars and wounds left behind, some with exposed and mutilated roots, in a bed now devoid of species that once flourished in the valley ecosystem. The saplings are all gone. Once, there was an authority that used to protect the environment and would have issued permits with conditions regarding such work in delicate ecosystems.  It also used to monitor the works to ensure no damage was done.

It would not be surprising if Tom, Dick and Harry are again informed that, if the economy does well, the environment will do better and there was no ecosystem in the path of bulldozers.  From the economic short-term point of view, the aim might have been achieved but the social and environmental accounts now show an alarming deficit. Another Eco-Gozo concept sunk beneath the waves. Another case of missing the wood for the trees.

The next step towards the concept of Eco-Gozo now seems to be the proposed development of that idyllic place Ħondoq ir-Rummien. Will the authority that used to protect the environment be taken in by the great financial glitter and dismiss the fragile, little understood and uncared for social and environmental unique values?  Will Tom Dick and Harry be told again such a financial economic weight will raise the social and environmental (deficit) sky-high, which will definitely contribute to the Eco-Gozo myth?

The brilliant idea of an ecological island seems to be slowly but surely fading away into extinction, like so many indigenous species. Eco-Gozo can only bear fruit if the entities that cannot and do not want to take into consideration the social and environmental wealth keep their hands off Gozo.

One is now bound to ask:  Is it Eco-Gozo … or Ecce Gozo?

aebaldacchino@gmail.

 

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Dwejra: developments

November 27, 2010

November 2010

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101121/opinion/editorial

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101120/local/mepa-director-martin-seychell-changes-ecosystem-comment

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101120/local/views-from-the-ground

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101127/local/dwejra-assessment-starts

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101125/local/heads-must-roll-after-dwejra-sand-dumping

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101118/local/pl-reiterates-call-for-independent-inquiry-into-dwejra-disaster

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101117/local/total-elimination-of-ecosystem-at-dwejra

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101118/local/it-s-just-bare-rock-mepa-director

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101127/opinion/much-more-than-bare-rock


GOZO – an ecological island

February 21, 2010

Sunday, October 26, 2008

 GOZO – an ecological island – Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The concept

The concept of establishing Gozo as an ecological island is indeed a great concept: a concept which can not only transform Gozo in all its splendours, but also one which at the same time can conserve all the characteristics of the island, be they ecological, historical, cultural, economical, educational, or aesthetic. However, this vision has to follow a strategic holistic plan, rather than piecemeal fragmented efforts. Every social entity, be it governmental or nongovernmental and every interested and willing individual of whatever colour or creed, should feel the responsibility and the duty to contribute to such a vision. From what I have read and from what I have heard, there is still a need for more public awareness on the basic principles of this concept. These need to be better defined and refined. Some do have feelings of fear and uncertainty, while others are not fully convinced of what this is all about, and if there is a need for it at all, or whether all this is just political mileage. This is mainly due to the fact that the meaning of the words ecology and sustainability need to be more clearly explained to one and all so that stakeholders’ ideas and input towards the realisation of this concept can be one of conviction. Admittedly, this concept is still in its embryonic stage, and strategic and holistic plans still need to be drawn up to encompass the thoughts, suggestions and ideas of all stakeholders.

 Ecology

Ecology is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living species (life) and the interactions between such organisms and their natural environment. In common parlance the word ‘ecology’ is a synonym for the natural environment. The environment of an organism includes physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local factors such as sunlight, climate, water and geology. So the ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a  functional unit. An ecological concept has its roots in ecology as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain the ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity, into the future, conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, education, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of the biological diversity and its components.

 Sustainability

Sustainable use means the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. Sustainability means that nature’s resources are to be used at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. According to the above definitions, some topics that quickly come to mind and on which action can be taken are climate change and clean energy, sustainable transport, sustainable consumption and production, conservation and management of natural resources – both terrestrial and marine, public health, social inclusion, demography and poverty, education and training, research and development, communication, economical activity to bring about change towards the implementation of this concept. And this is not an exhaustive list either. Education, through which knowledge can be shared, makes all the difference. And the use of market forces to boost sustainable development is a keystone of such strategy. To be fruitful, such a vision has to be run on the principles of openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence, followed by constant monitoring. The diagram shown above, readily found on any related Internet site, shows the three pillars of sustainability: the social environment, the economic environment, and environment protection. Not only are the three pillars interdependent, but also it is their joint mutual efforts that contribute to sustainability. This can perhaps dispel the fears of some who do not feel comfortable with the ecological sustainable tag as regards future visions, not least the concept of Gozo as an ecological island.

 First steps

The first official steps taken by the government offers a direction for such a concept. In the brochure “Share your dreams” published by the Ministry for Gozo, Minister for Gozo Giovanna Debono underlines the important fact that this is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” where “everybody is called to the front line to project our Gozo of tomorrow”, “to shape its future together”. The brochure also gives an idea of what eco-Gozo means. Valid points which “… will make change happen, in both small, everyday practices and significant issues or sectors.” On similar lines, Dr Chris Said, a Gozitan himself and currently parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, in his article on sustainability (TMI, 13 October) emphasises that sustainability demands a change in mentality and lifestyles choice, as well as in the way we think, plan, work and earn our living and live; this will come to fruition through the participation of all interested parties, particularly the general public. In a separate article “A vision for Gozo” (TMI, 29 September), Dr Said, while touching on some topics that should be addressed with regard to the eco-Gozo concept, rightly emphasises “that this is not a concept exclusively owned by the government”, but that “every citizen, should embrace the eco-Gozo concept and make it his own”.

 Sharing a dream

The concept for Gozo as an eco island is great. The official directions presented are encouraging. The stage is set. Admittedly it is no easy task to collate all the separate agendas and fine tune and amalgamate them into one, especially if there is that odd one or two which disregard the two other pillars of sustainability as explained above. A way forward is the convening of a number of ad hoc thematic groups, possibly chaired by a government official, with the main aim being that they draw up a report incorporating their views and suggestions on the concept of an eco-island based on ecology and sustainability as guidelines. Outlines of such reports can then be presented by the groups’ rapporteurs at a public national seminar for further discussions and evaluation. Proceedings from such a national seminar can then be published as the first draft of the strategy to implement and achieve such a concept for Gozo as an eco-island. As Dr Said concluded his first article, “this may sound utopian”. However where there is a will there is a way: nothing ventured, nothing gained. The artist Vincent van Gogh once said: “I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.”

 aebaldacchino@gmail.com