The impact of coronavirus

May 4, 2020

Monday, 4th May, 2020
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Coronavirus is lesson that the Earth does not need us

Hello coronavirus, or should one say COVID-19? You have spread and conquered the planet! Indeed you have outclassed SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and Ebola, all linked to animal food sources or wet markets.

You have infected over three million people and claimed over a quarter of a million victims.

Without a doubt you are familiar with wet markets, where animals are traded in unsanitary conditions, an adequate habitat enabling viruses to undergo fast mutations. The damp floors constantly hosed by vendors to clean food scraps of species they sell: from fresh vegetables and processed meats to live animals, consisting of fish, poultry, and also crocodiles, snakes, lizards, bats, turtles, dogs, pigs, civets, birds, badgers, pangolins, toads and more, all waiting to be slaughtered. It was pointed out, since 2007, that: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.” At that time, you were still within your natural confines.

You must be thankful to mankind’s intelligence and to his cultural pride for your existence. Many of the animals on sale at wet markets never have had the possibility to come in contact with each other in the wild where viruses would coexist. The ecosystem does not allow this.

You must be thankful to mankind’s intelligence and to his cultural pride for your existence

But to satisfy an urge (mainly commercial), man brought them over from everywhere to be sold and eaten. Crammed in small cages, together or near each other, the unlikely transmission of inter species disease became possible, more so in such an unsanitary and unhygienic environment. A perfect place for viruses to jump on to other animals as intermediates, or directly to humans who crowd the stalls in such close contacts, in search of food?

It is documented that vendors often slaughter animals in front of customers, skinning them in front of shoppers, aerosolising things in the process. You know pretty well how popular beliefs of the use of animals to cure common ailments is heavily capitalised upon, mainly for commercial reasons.

One would assume that you will not tell us about your origin. Some assume that bats and their faeces could have been your parental source considering that your virus type share 96 per cent of genetic code found commonly in Chinese bat populations. Incidentally even SARS has, as a point of origin, direct relations to bats, also sold for food in such wet markets.

You have incredibly reached heights which mankind, because of invested interests, can never reach. In the few months of your existence you have rendered sophisticated military warfare to children’s toys. You have grounded almost all airplanes, garaged most of transport vehicles to the extent that this has had a significant effect on climate and the environment.

Such is your invisible strength that you have also succeeded in isolating man indoors, making him experience the fearful feeling of stressed animals in circuses and in zoos, caged for commercial purposes.

You have also echoed, and proved correct, the words of one religious leader on our planet, Pope Francis, who emphasised that: “Economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain. As a result, what is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of the deified market, which becomes the only rule”.

The mentality that man is not part of the ecosystem is making him pay through his nose. This mentality has given rise to your presence.

The message that you are delivering with every victim you take, is very clear: Mother Earth does not have any need for anybody to save her, not even the self-proclaimed most intelligent being. If this message is heeded or not is still too early to bet upon.

Alfred Baldacchino is former MEPA assistant director

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


“For our trees”

July 30, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Sunday, 28th July 2019, saw a strong determined crowd (2000 +/-) show their disappointment, disagreement and anger towards the recently approved Attard Central Link Project, a projects funded by EU funds.

Individuals from all levels of primary, secondary and tertiary education, young and old, from all walks of life, attended for this symbolic protest, expressing their concerns about the destruction of trees and other biodiversity, and other negative impacts this project will be having on the social, environmental and ecological fabric of the area, with far reaching consequences.

Some tied themselves to the trees adorning the Rabat Road, trees which are not necessarily earmarked for destruction, but nonetheless representing the 500+ trees officially granted a permit by ERA to be removed, transplanted or destroyed.

Congratulations for the 19-year-old Sasha Vella and friends, who organised such activity, despite “pitiful attempts by partisan forces” to undermine their work. It was indeed encouraging to see so many youths and others so concerned about our environment. No wonder Sasha Vella was over-whelmed by the response.

Congratulations also to all those who turned up to encourage and support such a voice for the environment.

The following are some of the posters and messages which were used for this activity for our trees. It definitely show that there is a voice, getting stronger, which is being professionally, sincerely, without any political influence, used to show the stand being taken for our environment in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

related article:

Environment hit by EU funds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Environment hit by EU funds

July 27, 2019

Saturday, 27th July, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.

There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.

The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.

Here is a résumé of the questions:

Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.

There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.

There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.

The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.

Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).

Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.

There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.

Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely be­yond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?

None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to bene­fit from this EU-funded project.

None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Im­pact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.

He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.

In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.

This trophy was first awarded to MEPA in 2015. Despite the fact that the year 2019 is not yet out, this has been awarded to the Planning Authority and the Infrastructure Malta for the environmental devastation that they are involved in.

 

So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction

The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.

With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.

Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.

This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.

All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.

The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.

How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.

Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.

If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.

ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.

On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.

Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


Unkept green pledges

January 17, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 17th January, 2015

Unkept green pledges

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Public awareness on environmental matters has never been so strong. Yet, the environment is still being decimated and abused with the blessing of government entities.

MEPA, the competent authority for environment, is under the responsibility of a parliamentary secretary, and falls within the Prime Minister’s portfolio. Projecting colourful fireworks’ toxic smoke, killing of species, and ODZ ‘tweeting’ are higher on the agenda than any tangible national policies for the good of society and the environment at large.

Once there was a party in government who in 1980 initiated regulations for the protection of biodiversity, and had a vision to green Malta and push afforestation. Surprisingly, that same party is in government today, albeit with different faces, different visions, and different principles. It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment, despite its social, ecological, economical, educational, scientific, psychological, and quality of life contributions, is a new principle. As are the dismantling of environmental regulations. Times change not only names, faces and logos, but also basic principles it would appear.

photo - unkept green promise

It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment is a new policy. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

An authority that is funded by the public turns a blind eye on social and ecological negative impacts. No finger is turned to stop the decimation and butchering of biodiversity. Spraying of chemicals to kill every living species growing for free goes uncontrolled. Millions of euros are spent to dump free natural sources in the sea. A directorate which once was responsible to see that these do not happen is in deep freeze. The mentality of pecuniary and materialistic greed at the expense of society and the environment rules the day.

EU funds are still used and spent without any ecological consideration. Commercial banks still sponsor without ensuring that some of the funds do not go toward the loss or destruction of biodiversity. Politicians are not concerned about loss of biodiversity with the funds provided.

The Environment Directorate is abused, gagged, and hijacked till hopefully it gives up its ghost. Mepa has become more of an environmental hazard than environmental protector. Can anyone be blamed for believing that government does not have any vision or interest in collective social and environmental gain?

The government’s manifesto, if electoral manifestos are anything to go by, clearly explains that a well-protected environment leads to a better quality of life. The new government had to seriously administer and be greatly committed to the environmental sector. It had to work with determination to make up for lost time, aware that there are a number of difficult decisions to be made, amongst them the upheaval of MEPA. It had to take this measure in the interest of our national environment so that it will be in a better position to address the challenge (electoral manifesto p. 93).

“Times change not only names, faces and logos

but also basic principles, it seems”

The separation of the environment and planning directorates within Mepa, was intended “to strengthen the environment’s autonomy” and “to give more importance to the strategic aspect and long term vision”, “to reach a better balance between conservation and the protection of the environment and responsible development.” (electoral manifesto p. 94).

Yet after 21 months in government, Mepa remains responsible for environment protection, playing havoc in this sector, not wanting to have anything to do with environmental protection. Mepa’s environmental management is far from the elected commitments made by the party in government. The procrastination in bringing about the promised demerger does not help to convince anyone that government is keen on immediately honouring its electoral manifesto even on such a delicate matter which will affect the future of the islands. Such a vacuum and delay is undoubtedly being capitalised, to the detriment of society and the environment. It is very clear that the official pro-business vision is sucking Malta’s resources dry. The Minister, who on paper is responsible for the environment, will eventually be handed a dead skeleton of environmental structures, impossible to resuscitate, if at all.

The ‘not-my-fault’ syndrome has unfortunately undermined any sense of good governance. Sometimes I ask myself whether the environmental remit has been politically omitted from the Environment’s Minister portfolio and divided and fragmented among other Cabinet ministries so that it would be easy to say that no one is responsible when environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility?

In the run up to the election, the Prime Minister said that if any voters were not happy with the way ministers were handling their responsibilities according to the manifesto, they should refer the matter to him directly. The letter signed by present and former presidents of Din l-Art Ħelwa regarding the pitiful state the environment was a first step. It was followed by a group of other environmental NGOs.

I would also like to bring to the Prime Minister’s attention, the manner the environment is being mismanaged and exploited. There is no doubt that the legacy this government will be leaving to future generations is indeed shameful and does not do any honour to any politician, if honour is valued any more these days. Ironically, the environment falls within the portfolio of the author of the electoral manifesto. He is definitely being advised by the wrong people, some say conveniently, though I do not agree with this.

The latest comments by the Prime Minister can possibly shows that he is not happy with this sad state of affairs. And rightly so, because there will definitely not be much hope for the environment in the future with the big irreparable negative impacts this will have on society, which will eventually have to pay the price for such political mismanagement.

Mepa playing havoc with environmental matters is definitely not in line with the electoral manifesto’s commitments. Not only will lost time not be recovered (electoral manifesto p 93) but such lost time is being extended and extended until there will be nothing left to recover.

Having hijacked the planning authority, the pro-business mentality driving force is holding society and the environment to ransom.

Environmentalists who have the real national interest at heart, consider 2014 as a very bad omen for the future of Maltese environment. Will this new year offer new hopes, new visions, new sustainable life for the benefit of society and the environment? The momentum of environmental degradation through the vision of exploitation at all costs raises serious doubts amongst those having the well-being of the country at heart.

I only hope 2015 will prove me wrong, not through political blah-blah but by genuine social and environmental tangible measures.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


MEPA leaves no stone unturned

August 19, 2014

times

Mepa leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta lately reported the construction of a dirt and concrete road on Comino, an island with barely half a dozen residents and an EU Natura 2000 site.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, thus also for Natura 2000 sites, was quick to show its surprise and lack of awareness of the matter.

It immediately issued an enforcement notice on the Commissioner of Land, on the grounds that Comino is government land. Pontius Pilate would have envied this. Incidentally, the Commissioner of Land falls within the portfolio of the Prime Minster.

Natura 2000 sites are sites listed according to important habitat types in the EU Habitats Directive. On accession, each member state has to declare such sites, and once approved by the EU Commission as Special Areas of Conservation, these form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network, all of European ecological importance.

Member states are obliged to draw up a management plan for each Natura 2000 site. Following agreement with the EU, Malta’s management plans were finalised by December 2013. What happened to these management plans: have these been shelved sine die?

According to the government’s electoral manifesto, the Environment Directorate had to be separated from the Planning Directorate. “The main aim of the separation will be to strengthen the respective autonomy of the two important parts”, “the environment will be given the priority it deserves” and “the environment and resources will be conserved, protected…” the new authority established “will assume the important role of a regulator which to date our country does not have”.

Furthermore, “a new government will be more seriously committed in the environmental field. We will work with determination so that we will recover the lost time, conscious that there are a number of difficult decisions to be taken, amongst them the Mepa reform. We will take these measures in the interest of the environment of our country so that we will be in a positon to address the challenge”. (Malta Tagħna Lkoll – Manifest Elettorali 2013 – section 9, pages 92 – 96)

Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before. After 18 months, the environment is still in limbo, still hijacked by Mepa.

2014.08.17 - mepa reform

A cartoon which appeared in the Sunday Times of Malta – 17 August, 2014

The political responsiblility today rests with a Parliamentary Secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister. This can lead one to rightly conclude that the aim behind the separation of the directorates is more a measure of convenience than of conviction. The status quo has definitely not strengthened the environment. It is contributing to its destruction.

The fact that the environment does not fall within the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but is still in Mepa’s grip, also shows the lack of good governance of this social, national and international responsibility. The damage and rampage going on in the environment, endorsed by the Competent Authority paid to ensure that this does not happen, is unbelievable.

The feeling of those who honestly have the national interest of society and the environment at heart is that the environment is not a priority on the govenment’s agenda, despite the fine words in the electoral manifesto. In fact,the environment is not on the agenda at all.

Mepa is on the front line, as a Competent Authority, leaving no stone unturned to accomodate widespread and massive development and to sanction illegalities, with a hugely negative impact on society and the environment.

I fear there is much more to come. Such laissez-faire in environmetal protection leads one to ask if Mepa is finding it difficult to honour its obligations. It seems as if it wants to imply that one should ask any related questions and forward any complaints on the environment to the European Commission, because Mepa is not interested, not willing and perhaps not competent to deliver.

 The Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for this Competent Authority, is miles away from a basic awareness of professional environmental management and planning, judging by his comments and stands taken.

And with such an official political lack of vision of environmental matters, despite the electoral manifesto, one can understand the sorry state to which the environment is degenerating.

 

“Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed, but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before”

Aware of Mepa’s workings, I can almost see another Montekristo on Comino, with Mepa eventually boasting that it has issued scores of enforcement notices to stop the rape – and doing nothing about it.

One such note has already been issued. Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken. And if the electoral manifesto is anything to go by, Mepa has ample directions, unless it has succumbed to a rubber stamp role.

“We believe that Malta should be in the forefront on environmental standards. Not because there is the obligation of European directions, but because our children deserves this.” Eloquent words in the manifesto, which every citizen of this country should applaud and look forward to achieve.

But with the Competent Authority finding it difficult to address a mere illegal dirt road in a Natura 2000 site, I very much doubt whether such an electoral promise can ever be achieved.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Imagine the stand Mepa will take with regard to the White Rocks development, extending into a Natura 2000 site, which will definitely be negatively impacted. The more so since the project cannot be regarded as a development related to the management of the site.

I believe that if the Prime Minister – who is responsible for Mepa, the Competent Authority for environmental matters – really wants to achieve the electoral promises made in the Labour Party’s manifesto, he has to seriously commit himself before it becomes almost impossible to achieve them.

“Our aim is clear: we want to be the best because this is what we deserve. We want to leave behind us a heritage to future generations so that these will be better than we are today.”

Too much time has already been wasted and much damage has been done.

With Mepa at the helm of environmental protection and management, there is no possibility at all for the government to achieve and honour its electoral promises.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Environmental disorientation

January 31, 2014

times of malta

January 31, 2014

Environmental disorientation

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Political environmental awareness reached its climax in 2004 before accession to the EU. Membership achieved, environment started a political nose­dive. ‘Merged’ with the Planning Authority, it was hijacked, destabilised and emarginated. Look at how environmental matters are being handled today by MEPA, politically referred to only just for convenience sake with no conviction at all. This led nine environment NGOs to show their disapproval of the lack of professional management of the environment.

2013 can be regarded as the year when environment disorientation reached its peak, and environment conservation hit rock bottom. To the extent that MEPA ­ the competent authority for the EU Environment Acquis is not within the control and not in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but managed and run by the Office of the Prime Minister, through a Parliamentary Secretary.  MEPA, who never really showed any zeal or understanding of environmental responsibilities, except for producing nicely coloured publications and policies, which nobody takes any notice of, not even Mepa itself, had a field day. Stable doors were flung wide open allowing horses not only to gallop out but to stampede over all environmental and social considerations. Reason for this sad and sorry state of affairs is that the environment and planning directorates are going to be separated. All environmental matters are in deep freeze, till the day, when the surgical operation of dismembering Mepa will see the light of day. In the meantime development permits are being dished out with little, if any, environmental or social concern. When the environment is given the kiss of life, then it won’t be MEPA problem any more to see how the vacated stables door can be closed to keep the freed horse inside.

Why was MEPA not included in the environment portfolio until the operation takes place, and then the planning directorate passed to the appropriate Minister? Because environment is not a priority. It never was.

WFD1

One of the expensive muddles regarding EU obligations is the Water Framework Directive: not an easy Directive by all means, the more so since Malta is an island. This Directive covers both surface, and underground water: a matter of life and death for all life in the country. 2013 saw this resource in such a pitiful state as it has never been since the advent of man on these islands. Projects inherited from previous water-drop1years, included an educational programme piloted by one Minister and sponsored by a local bank to catch every drop of water, while another Minister happily boasting and spending 57 million euros or more, mostly coming from the EU, excavating underground tunnels so that every drop of rain­water caught is swept into the sea, after bulldozing biodiversity in valleys. Yet another Minister responsible for EU funds to see to the purification of drainage water, not to harvest such resource, but to dispose of it into the sea with a certain pride and satisfaction of

dumped-water

Rain water which comes for free is chanelled to the sea. Then sea water is pumped up to be desalinated by energy consuming desalinators!

being unique in the EU! Still another Minister trying to find his way through an inherited tangled cobweb, trying to plug the holes through which water tankers plying the local streets, selling water extracted for free from the aquifers. Another Minister is financing the desalination of sea water (containing dumped purified drainage water) by energy consuming desalination plants. I cannot not mention water park, the dancing fountains and the expanses of turf being laid, taking gallons and gallons of water sprinkled everyday with the approval of the Ministry for landscaping. And a postponed and postponed national water policy, in the face of a possible EU infraction.  Great Political management of the environment! Shall we soon be singing ring a ring o’roses? God forbid.

“Environment destruction is turning our lives upside-down”

The monument for environmental and social destruction during 2013, without doubt was the Nadur cemetery in Gozo; built on a priceless ecological water catchment area, destroying works of the Knights to harvest rain water, and putting the ecosystem and the life of a farming community in danger, by depriving them of water and by flooding other farmers’ fields because of the hydrological changes in the area. A 600­ grave cemetery to be run on a time share basis blessed by that Competent Authority for the Environment, MEPA; blessed by the local politicians; helped by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal who like Pontius Pilate washed its hands from such a catastrophic social and environmental crime; and developed, built and blessed by the Gozo Church Diocese. A cemetery whose first intakes were Mepa’s and

epitaph_name_Tomb1

the Gozo Diocese’s environmental and social conscience. Only God can forgive such an environmental and social crime, approved in 2013. To add insult to injury, this happened in Eco ­Gozo, cementing the lip service for ecological protection and the lack of understanding of biodiversity.

eco-1

The good thing about environment in 2013 is that I have run out of space, and cannot delve deeper on the proposed changes to the Outside Development Zones, and Structure Plan; the Xemxija scandalous planning decision, biodiversity loss and the invasion of alien species, and other policies in the pipeline in favour of further myopic development, such as land reclamation, Hondoq ir-Rummien, the Malta-­Gozo tunnel both in Eco Gozo, all burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction.

What of 2014 one might ask? Following the liaise-faire in environmental and social awareness by politicians and other social entities since accession to the EU, one can only say that environmentalists, socialists and nationalists (nothing to do with politicians) atheists and believers alike, would better fasten their seat belts. Past decisions can only reflect further destruction of the environmental and social fabric, rendering our country a difficult and unhealthy place to live in. The momentum of these negative impacts on society and the environment can already be seen and felt. Development and money matters are holding the political decision makers of this country at gun point, at a cost to the environment and society.

times 1

Photo and caption in the Times: Changes burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction were also proposed for Eco-Gozo. Photo: viewingmalta.com

Every time I get to think about this, with every thought of where all this will lead us to, makes me feel that I can’t tell the bottom from the top. Am I standing on my head or on my heels? Is it cloudy is it bright? Is it day or is it night? Am I wrong or am I right? And is it real?

Environment destruction is turning our living upside-down. But why cannot this country ever grow up?

I have as yet refrained from answering my question as to whether all this is sheer inexperience in good governance, or a shrewd diabolical political psychology.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

You may also wish to see: 

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The greener it can get

November 29, 2013

times

The greener it can get

Friday, November 29, 2013, 

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which will eventually be submitted to the European Commission for funding, was discussed at a public consultation earlier this month.

Consulttion Document cover

The synopsis presented contains positive ideas. The full report was not available being ‘a long and detailed document’ and ‘not easy to use for public consultation’. This greatly hindered more indepth suggestions and comments. Could it not have been uploaded on the department’s website?

The synopsis is based on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of rural development based on five themes, with objectives and activities for funding.

Theme 1 deals with water, wastes and energy.
Can water be managed in the absence of a national water policy? The present fragmented ‘management’ reveals a ministry digging a tunnel to channel rain water directly to the sea. Another purifying sewage water and dumping it in the sea. A corporation managing and distributing potable water while a secretariat is trying to plug holes and mend cracks in water reservoirs and cisterns.

Such lack of coordination and waste of financial resources, most of which are coming from the EU, does not augur well. This was also pointed out by the representative of the Malta Water Association during the public consultation, adding that lack of access to the original draft report restricts discussions.

Activities suggest investment “in water management, abstraction…” Does this mean that abstraction will be funded when this is being tackled by another ministry trying to control and regulate it?

Theme 2 deals with Maltese quality produce, highlighting the need for quality assurance, poor enforcement of regulations and support for adding value as the major opportunities. The GMOs Pandora’s Box that farmers and consumers are being offered and possibly swallowing and the ever-increasing public rejection of GMOs can be capitalised upon by the farming community. Not only was this not even referred to but a farmer’s representative was heard saying that farmers cannot do without GMOs!

Theme 3 refers to sustainable livestock.
A positive item under activities to be funded is the support “for activities that reduce livestock farms’ impact on the climate and environment”. This can perhaps address the issue of past EU funds used to build such livestock farms on sensitive water table areas, rendering the water so nutrient rich and unusable.

Theme 4 deals with landscape and the environment.
The objectives are great and the wording is even nicer. But this is another subject where fragmentation reigns supreme.

Landscaping is under the responsibility of the Ministry for Transport where the main driving force is devoid of any ecological input. Mepa is the competent authority (on paper) under the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office. It is no secret that Mepa has rarely raised a finger to protect any tree and often turns a blind eye to all mutilation, uprooting, chemically-killed trees and introduction of alien species.

Local councils, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, go on a rampage ‘pruning’ trees with no questions asked.

The reply to my question as to who will be the regulator in such landscaping was no reply at all, sending shivers down my spine. The sanest political, technical, administrative, ecological, economical, legal way forward is that the regulator has to be the Minister for the Environment. This will ensure that there will not be any cow itch trees, fountain grass, flame trees et al. or turf growing in rural areas. And EU funds will be used in line with EU obligations, not as has happened in the past.

The economic bias of such a
report completely dwarfs the
sensitive ecological obligations

The funding of “new skills and knowledge (that) will be required in terms of landscape management, ecological understanding, conservation and practical skills” is a good idea if well managed and executed professionally.

The maintenance and restoration of rubble walls brought a rumble of disappointments by many who have been waiting for five and more years to restore the breach in their rubble walls. Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea. Cannot photos and videos record such breaches to allow their immediate restoration and then farmers be reimbursed by the RDP?

rubble wall builder - The Times

Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea (Photo: The Times)

A one day’s wait, especially during the rainy season, is too long for this fragile environment, resulting in ecological and additional expenses.

The wider rural economy and quality of life are addressed under theme 5
Among the objectives listed is the development of bed-and-breakfast business, which is also a good objective. However, if its implementation does not encompass the ecological impact it can be bizarre in such a small island State, the more so when experts and representatives involved in such activity omit biodiversity experts and the Ministry for the Environment, whether by conviction or for convenience.

The unnumbered delivery section outlines other actions, including ‘valley management/landscape management partnerships’ and a ‘rural resource hub’.

The first is urgently necessary even from an ecological point of view but, God forbid, if this is executed on the lines of past years without any holistic professional input but just by bulldozing earth to temporarily please the eye and inflict ecological damage.

The ‘rural resource hub’ is also welcome and can fill the void and neglect so conspicuous during the last decade. The once beneficial government experimental farm has, during the last years, been used more by domestic cats, dogs and pets. The once experimental farm can help educate, train, give technical knowledge advice and hands-on experience to all stakeholders in rural development.

These are but a few reflections and suggestions on the abridged consultation document, without having access to the original draft and keeping in mind that “precise details may well change over the next year, as discussions and agreement are still being developed in Brussels”.

Unfortunately, the economic bias of such a report completely dwarfs the sensitive ecological obligations. The outline nonetheless contains important and useful points that can contribute to rural development and Maltese biodiversity with some dotting of the i’s and crossing of thet t’s.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com
Alfred E. Baldacchino is a former assistant director at Mepa’s environment directorate.


The future

June 10, 2013

The future: our future; What future?

What are we doing to our planet earth?
Are you proud of it?
Is this what you are contributing to?
Are you planning such a future for mother earth?
NO?
What are you doing about it?
This short film should be seen by the entire world…

Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125


TREES – Open letter to the Prime Minister

September 30, 2012

28th September 2012

Dear Prime Minister Dr. Gonzi,

I would like to join Anna Spiteri’s appeal for the protection of the Senglea trees which are intended to be uprooted because of unjustified reasons, when less expensive measures can be taken to manage and incorporate them in the envisaged works. I would also like to add that the recent unprofessional uprooting of established trees which all have a role in the local ecosystem, seems to have run out of control. I have never experienced such misuse and mismanagement of such a natural heritage, done on an official basis, utilising both public and European funds.

Such use of public and European funds is not contributing to any protection, appreciation or to the safeguarding or embellishment of our urban landscape, thus having a drastic negative impact on the social and ecological environment
of the Maltese Islands.

While appreciating that considerable funds are being made available for such ‘landscaping’ and also government’s intervention to acquire European Union’s financial help towards such an aim, I regret to say that the way these resources are being used falls short of expectations and obligations, lacking any professional planning, wise use and proper management of local biodiversity. One cannot be blamed for thinking that the main aim of such activities is just commercial.

As you may be aware, a great number of trees were hacked, uprooted, transported and dumped elsewhere, from areas such as those at Fgura, Żebbuġ, Cospicua, Mdina Ditch, Mellieħa, Luqa, Santa Lucia, Raħal Gdid, Corradino, Marsa, Senglea, San Ġwann, and Victoria and Xewkija in Gozo. More uprooting and removal of trees is planned in connection with the EU TenT-financed project at Salina Road, Kennedy Grove, and the Coast Road, as well as the proposed uprooting of a substantial number of trees, including old Holm Oaks (Ballut) in Floriana and outside Valletta. I would also like to bring to your attention the destruction of indigenous protected trees which were planted by the late Prof. John Borg at San Anton Garden.

As you may also be aware, there is quite a public outcry at this lack of appreciation of local established trees and the complete disregard of public opinion. I am sure that you do agree that the public has a right to be involved in such decisions, a right which unfortunately is not being completely given.

I also regret to have to point out that the precious time, money and publication of local legislation and guidelines with regards to trees and local biodiversity are being ignored, as are the international obligations arising from various international environmental conventions, and the EU Environmental Acquis, also transposed into local legislation.

It is indeed a pity that such scarce resources are not being used and managed in a more professional, open way, both from the economic, ecological and social point of view. There is a great potential with the available resources that could offer more protection for the local biodiversity, a better balance of payment, more local opportunities and jobs in the protection of the local biodiversity, better embellishment of urban areas, the boosting of local environmental education the more so when the general public is crying for such measures. Unfortunately, because of myopic and other commercial reasons, all these are being ignored.

It would indeed be greatly appreciated if you can intervene in the interest of the people and the protection of local biodiversity, and ensure that such commercial activities do not have any negative impact on local biodiversity, that local and European funds are better utilised and better managed, and that the general public is involved in such decisions. After all these are all incorporated in a pre-electoral promise and are also incorporated in EU Environment Acquis obligations.

Regards

Alfred E. Baldacchino

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/

SEE ALSO RELATED ARTICLES ON THIS BLOG

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentali…ent-over-trees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-md…eally-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/government-policy-on-trees/


Qerda tal-biodiversità fil-foss tal-Imdina… biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità!

September 28, 2012

Dan l-aħħar qrajna u smajna stqarrijiet minn Ministru tal-Gvern dwar ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji.

Meta wieħed jaqra u jisma’ l-kummenti ta’ dan il-Ministru tal-Gvern li huwa responsabbli minn dawn il-proġetti, wieħed mill-ewwel jifhem għaliex illum il-qerda tal-ambjent naturali hija daqstant kbira. U wieħed ma jistax ma jistaqsiex numru ta’ misoqsijiet, bħal ngħidu aħna:

  1. Bliema immaġinazzjoni jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jaqla’ u jeqred ammont kbir ta’ sigar b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità tal post?  (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel).
  2. Kif jista’ wieħed jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jiksi l-post b’medda wiesgħa ta’ konkos; konkos aktar milli hemm u aktar milli kien hemm siġar qabel ma beda x-xogħol? (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel)
  3. Liema raġuni xjentifika tiġġustifika li biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità titqaxxar u tinqered il-liedna kollha li kien hemm fil-post u li kienet tħaddar u tiksi metri kwadri kbar tal-ħajt tal-ġnien Howard Gardens (mhux mal-ħajt tas-sur) u li kienet toffri ambjent naturali għall-numru ta’ fawna indiġena? Din kienet ukoll issebbaħ u tgħati l-ħajja lill-kull ġnien anki jekk mhux ta’ kwalità. U dan minkejja li l-Gvern ta’ Malta huwa obbligat u marbut mill-Unjoni Ewropea biex jara li jieħu miżuri biex ma tkomplix tinqered il-biodiversità tal-Unjoni Ewropea li aħna parti minnha. Il-Ministri tal-Ambjent (anki dawk li jgħidu li xi darba kienu Ministri tal-Ambjent) din kollha jafuha, kemm mid-dokumenti tal-UE li jirċevu, kif ukoll mill-laqgħat tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri li jattendu.

Fid-diskors tiegħu fil-video li deher fil-ġurnal The Times

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

dan il-Ministru qal li ma nqerdux siġar.  Jekk wieħed iħares lejn ir-ritratti hawn mehmuża, waħdu jasal f’konklużjoni waħda.

  1. Kif jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li dan ix-xogħol qed jerġa jieħu dan il-post għall-ġranet passati tal-glorja tiegħu?  Sa fejn naf jien fi żmien l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri ma kienux jużaw konkos (sakemm xi perit ma jikkoreġinix!) li llum huwa l-aktar ħaġa li tispikka f’dan il-ġnien (u ġonna oħra simili) ta’ kwalità. Lanqas kienu jiżirgħu turf  għax l-ilma għalihom kien jiswa mitqlu deheb, u lanqas kienu jagħmlu ilma ħiereġ jiżfen mill-art!  U lanqas ma kienu jużaw lift biex jinżlu mis-swar għall-foss. Jidher li l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri li ħakmu pajjiżna tant għexieren ta’ snin ilu, kellhom viżjoni ferm u ferm aktar professjonali, ekonomika, soċjali, ambjentali u sostenibbli milli għandhom il-mexxejja politiċi Maltin tal-lum, minkejja li dak iż-żmien ma kienx hemm obbligi ambjentali internazzjonali bħal ma għandna llum u lanqas kellhom Ministri tal- Ambjent.
  2. Ir-Rabtin u l-ġirien tagħhom  ma għandhomx bżonn xi politku li ma għandu l-ebda idea ta’ xi tfisser biodiversità biex jgħamillhom ġnien ta’ kwalità! U lanqas għandhom bżonn spazji miftuħa għall-familji għax għandhom biżżejjed spazji miftuha. Żgur li ma għandhomx bżonn ta’ spazju miftuħ ġo foss. U jekk kien hemm il-ħsieb li dan il-foss jinfetaħ għal kulħadd, kull ma kien hemm bżonn kien  li jitneħħew il-katnazzi li kienu jsakkru l-bibien li jgħalqu l-aċċess għal kulħadd. Li kieku dan id-diskors jintqal lill-kostitwenti ta’ min qalhom, li llum huma ferm u ferm konxji mill-ambjent naturali u l-qerda li l-konkos qed jagħmel lil dan l-ambjent, żgur li kienu jibgħatuh jistgħad biex forsi jaqbad xi mazzun!
  3. Imma veru li biex tagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità illum l-ingredjenti huma: a) konkos; b) turf; c) ilma jiżfen; d)  issa anki lift; u e) l-qerda tal-biodiversità tal-post kollha, kif sar fil-foss tal-Imdina u f’kull hekk imsejjaħ ġnien ieħor li qed isir mill-istess ministeru?
  4. Ħarsa lejn il-kummenti li kien hemm fil-gazzetti f’dawn il-links

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

u fir-ritratti li ħadt jien stess u li wħud minnhom jidhru hawn taħt, kollha jitkellmu u juru  d-disastru li sar bi flus pubbliċi u b’dawk tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

  1. Forsi hawnhekk ta’ minn jistaqsi minn qed jamministra l-fondi tal-UE, f’dan il-kas il-European Regional Development Fund?  Min qiegħed jawditjahom? Fejn jista’ l-pubbliku jara rendikont tal-infiq?
  2. Barra minhekk, minn qiegħed jara li jkun hemm diskussjoni pubblika fuq il-proġetti biex b’hekk ikun involut iċ-ċittadin fid-deċiżjoni, qabel jintefqu dawn il-flus? Dan ukoll huwa fost l-obbligi li titlob l-UE.
  3. Jiddispjaċini ngħid li l-ħsara li qed issir lill-biodiversità Maltija bi proġetti bħal dawn, bi skuża ta’ ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji, trid aktar minn ġenerazzjoni biex titranġa.
  4. Dan il-ġnien sejjer ikollu kwalità waħda …. dik ta’  mafkar ta’ kif l-ambjent naturali qed jiġi sfruttat u mżeblaħ f’dawn l-aħħar snin, mingħajr ebda mistħija u ebda mgħodrija.
  5. Fl-aħħarnett min huma l-konsulenti tal-Ministru li huwa responsabbli biex jaraw li dan ix-xogħol ikun wieħed sostenibbli, jiġifieri li ma ssirx ħsara ekonomika, ħsara soċjali u ħsara ekoloġika kif qed issir?
  6. Nismagħhom jgħidu li hawn Malta kollox possibli, imma ma naħsebx li hawn xi ħadd li sab kif jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel, għalkemm hawm min qed jipprova u qed jagħmel ħiltu kollha.

ARA WKOLL

http://www.orizzont.com.mt/Issues/19092012/social/article95864.html

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

http://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentali…ent-over-trees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-md…eally-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/government-policy-on-trees/

iL-BIODIVERSITA’   SINJURA TA’ QABEL BEDA X-XOGĦOL FIL-FOSS TAL-IMDINA U L-KWALITA’ TA’ QERDA LI SARET MINN META BEDA X-XOGĦOL FUQ IL-ĠNIEN TA’ KWALITA’

QABEL – Ringiela ta’ siġar taċ-Cipress li kienu jiffurmaw parti mill-biodiversità

WARA – L-unika siġra taċ-Cipress li baqa’ – MEJTA. L-oħrajn kollha nqalgħu u nqerdu. Ikun interessanti kieku l-esperti tal-Ministru jgħidulna kif mietet din is-siġra, jew aħjar jekk inqatletx b’xi kumbinazzjoni!  Ma naħsebx li issa sejjer ikun hemm xi ħadd li tniggżu l-kuxjenza biex jaqla’ siġra mejta, meta nqalgħu tant u tant siġar ħajjin minn dan il-post .

QABEL – ambjent naturali sinjur

WARA – parti mill- ġnien ta’ kwalità – anqas biodiversità, aktar konkos!

WARA – liedna  meqruda fil-ġnien ta’ kwalità

WARA – siġar taċ-Ċipress maqlugħa, meqruda  u mitfuha fl-art biex jagħmlu wisa għall-ġnien ta’ kwalità.

WARA – fdalijiet tas-siġar mejta taċ-Ċipress taħt it-tabella tal-Ministeru li qed jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità

QABEL U WARA – id-dehra tal-foss ftit wara li beda x-xogħol fuq il-ġnien ta’ kwalità.  Is-siġar immarkata b’salib isfar kollha ġew meqruda, jew maqlugħa.

WARA – post għeri mill-biodiversità fi ġnien ta’ kwalità fejn jispikka l-konkos u l-għibien tas-sigar li qabel kienu jżejnu dan il-post.

It-tabella imwarrba u mitluqa fl-art li madankollu turi l-għajuna finanzjarja li qed tgħati l-EU mill-European Regional Development Fund, għar-restawr tal-post, li qed isir fost oħrajn bit-tneħħija tal-biodiversità u kisi bil-konkos.


Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

(If you cannot open link

highlight link, then right click, and then click on go to

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On pruning trees in Malta

April 12, 2012

12 April, 2012

On pruning trees in Malta

Alfred E Baldacchino

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining great momentum among the general public, though unfortunatley the official side has still a lot of ground to cover to be in line with modern thinking, despite national and international  legal obligations and much publicised colourful plans and projects.

This has led to the creation of a blog on saving our trees which are so much under official pressure and being decimated by the dozen without any proper management and without any official regulator, making the political responsibility so much greater. Congratulations to all those who have given birth to such a blog and to all those, without exception, who are contributing to it. It is a healthy dialogue which one hopes one day will lead to a proper professional management of trees in Malta.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

A reference was made in the blog to a  tree at Balzan which was damaged by the strong wind (Photo 2).   It grew  on a small traffic island at the end of a one way street reached from Balzan square. Because of the way it was pruned, it was so top-heavy, with a heavy crown on thin main branches,  that with a relatively  strong wind it cracked. This photo (2) was taken on 10th February 2008.

Today I passed from the site to see how the trees there were faring. They did recieve quite an extensive ‘haircut’ as photo 3 shows. To my asthonisment, the tree in photo 2 was not there. Wonder of wonders: it had either gone to heaven, or gone up in smoke. The traffic island though is still there but covered in concrete.

Scandalous management of street trees in Malta.
(photo taken by AEB on 10.02.08)

I walked further up the line of “hair-cut” trees to see how the tree in photo 1, the phallus shaped tree, had fared. It looks more like a lolipop than a tree, or  like an upside down phallus, hiding its head in shame  while exposing its pubic hair.

On this save the tree blog above mentioned, there is a very interesting, educational video regarding the pruning of ficus trees, and one should thank the person responsible for putting it there. But unfortuntely  many of the various suggestions and advice given in this video were not taken in consideration in pruning these trees? I sometimes believe that street trees in Malta have never seen any secutors (imqass taż-żabra) in their lives. Chainsaws are more quick in the job, and thus they do not drain any of the proifts, irrispective of the negative aesthetic value they leave behind (photo 3).

Trees crying in agony after chainsaw treatment, and possibly the one who gave such an order was having an orgasm. (photo taken by AEB,on 10th February 2008)

I remember, as I am sure many of the readers do, when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping,  before the present Governemnt Contractor took over. Such trees used to be pruned with more dedication and with more feeling.  I remember the ficus trees at Saqajja Rabat, which, in those days, were professionally pruned in a  seemingly sculptured way, with a crown that extended from one end of the line to the other, and with small branches seemingly like a trellis, which were so adequate against the historic builidngs behind. At that time the Department of Agriculture did not have any of the resources that today’s  ‘landscapers’ have, but in the past they used to do miracles, with as little public expenses as possible.

If one looks at the way that street trees are being pruned today, one immediately asks how  professional this  is. True that one has to keep in mind that we live in Malta, where everything is possible, and where amateurism is called professinalism and professinalism is called fundamentalism!

While following the line of the trees pruned in 2008, still showing their wounds, I came across the cherry on the cake in present Maltese landscaping approved by the political masters. When I went  past the Lija Cemetery on the road to Mosta, an employee with a tank on his back, probably paid out of public funds, was spraying herbicide around all the trees lining the pavement! Now those who know something about ecology and nature conservation know that at this time of the year the undergrowth is full of life with the various stages of a number of fauna and flora, such as butterflies and moths which are becoming scarcer by the hour.  Those in official positions know that the Governemnt on behalf of Malta is obliged to take measures to control biodiversity loss, an obligation arising out of our EU Membership. Those who chose not to know anything about the subject, endorse invoices for the payment of such activities paid out of public funds.  The poltiical responsiblity is greater than one thinks. It is a permanent dent on the ecological set up of these islands, as much as tampering with Hagar Qim or Imnajdra is a permanent dent on the archaeological heritage of the islands. No wonder a person I met told me that the Maltese people hate trees!

Never in the history of ecological conservation in Malta,  (or its exploitation) have so few benefited at the expense of so many.


Look who’s taking care of our environment!

February 7, 2012

I am sure that readers remember the Dwejra Gozo debacle when a substantial amount of building material and soil, labelled as  sand, were spread  to cover a Natura 2000 site, to accomodate a filming crew to fim a couple of shots with the Azure Window in the background. The outstanding part of this saga was the historical MEPA’s (the Malta Environment and Planning Authority) statement, that the part of this Natura 2000 site was ‘just bare rock‘, and that the film company were spending about 9 million Euro to accomplish their filming programme. see Dwejra – gone with the wind

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/dwejra-gone-with-the-wind/

On Sunday 5th February, 2012, spent-oil flowed along one of the valleys so rich in biodiversity. The Director of the Company who were contracted by MEPA for the clean-up when asked if the spent-oil could harm biodiversity in the valley, is quoted as saying that he “is no biologist”, but added that the fuss being made on this spent-oil spilled from a 45 gallon drum is too “much ado about nothing”.

The Minister, who is responsible for water resources  (which  can be negatively impacted by this spent-oil, as explained by hydrologist Marco Cremona  in his attached comments to theThe Times), acted the Pontius Pilate, saying that his cleansing department and MEPA (who is in another Minister’s portolio) are handling the matter.

Shouldn’t we be proud of the entities which are taking care of our environment!

I would have been if this was a Punch and Judy Pantomime.

for running commentary see:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120206/local/mepa-mosta-oil-clean-up-well-underway.405645

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

 by Christian Peregin
Is it “much ado about nothing”?

Up to 200 litres of black oil could have been ‘accidentally’ spilled into the picturesque Mosta valley from an old tank in the quarry of Ballut Blocks, The Times has learnt.

The police investigated the case with officers from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and said it was an ‘accident’ caused when oil leaked from an old 45-gallon tank.

Mepa said the operator of the yard was cooperating fully with the authorities and will be covering the costs of the entire cleanup operation.

“Mepa will consider what appropriate action to take against the operator after the clean-up operation within the valley is completed,” it said.

Most of the oil was removed over two days by Mepa-contracted pollution response company Alpha Briggs, whose director described the “fuss” over the incident as “much ado about nothing”.

But biodiversity expert Alfred Baldacchino and hydrologist Marco Cremona have warned about possible long-term impacts of the spill which tainted a 400-metre stretch of the valley.

Mr Baldacchino, who accompanied The Times on site yesterday, said the spent oil leaked from the quarry and streamed into the nature-rich valley with the help of rainwater. “Some impacts are immediately evident,” he said, pointing out plants covered in the tar-like substance and “microhabitats” destroyed by pockets of concentrated oil.

A 400-metre stretch of the Speranza valley has been marred by the accidental oil slick. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The clean-up operation saw several men using shovels, white absorption pads and a suction machine to remove the oil.

Mr Baldacchino said this would have further disrupted the biodiversity, with any flora and fauna being vacuumed away with the oil and water. The long-term impact would only be measured once the rainy season was over and experts assessed the damage.

When The Times was on site, the only people involved in the operation seemed to be Ballut Blocks and Alpha Briggs.

Mr Baldacchino said this operation should be managed carefully and supervised at all times, particularly by Mepa, which is responsible for the protection of biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Mr Cremona warned that certain components of spent oil were “toxic”and some may have dissolved in the water.

“It is likely that some of the contaminated water seeped into the ground, which explains the black stains on rocks which show the original level of the contaminated water.”

The valley lies over the mean sea level aquifer, whose water is pumped up for public supply by the Water Services Corporation from a station adjacent to the valley.

“If the oil-contaminated water seeped through, it could take anything between a few hours to decades to reach the aquifer and be pumped up. However, since the water is at the bottom of a valley, its journey will probably be shorter than the average for the country, which is estimated at 40 years,” Mr Cremona said.

It takes only a small amount of oil to contaminate large tracts of water and make it unfit for drinking, according to the limits set by the EU Drinking Water Directive. For instance, one litre of Benzo(a)pyrene, a compound found in spent oil, will make 100,000 litres of water unfit for drinking.

In the past, where reservoirs were contaminated with spent oil, WSC took action by ceasing supply, testing the pumped water regularly and discarding the remaining supply.

“I presume WSC and the health authorities will act cautiously and temporarily discontinue production from the station until samples are collected and lab tests abroad give the all clear,” Mr Cremona said.

This could take weeks or months and could prompt WSC to take legal action against the polluter to recover costs. But according to Alpha Briggs’s director Paul Pisani, the incident was blown out of proportion. “The problem is that we are making a fuss about nothing … This was just a 45-gallon tank.”

He added that if full this would have been equivalent to 205 litres.

Asked if this could have affected biodiversity, he admitted: “I’m not a biologist.” But when asked if contaminated water could have seeped into the ground, he said: “No… Oil stays on the surface. And we cleaned it. There is no problem.”

Mr Pisani also denied chemicals were used to disperse the oil in the clean-up process.

Meanwhile, Mepa said it ensured the clean-up was done “sensitively and in the shortest period of time” by calling in a private company with the expertise and equipment to deal with these situations.

Mepa was alerted by the police department on Monday afternoon, the same time passer-by Marcus Camilleri alerted the police and The Times to the case.

Meanwhile, questions sent in the afternoon to Ballut Blocks, the Environment Ministry, and the health authorities have all remained unanswered.

The Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs simply said the clean-up was coordinated by Mepa officials and the director of the cleansing department.

for readers comments on the above see:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120207/local/Fears-over-Mosta-valley-oil-spill.405656


The time for the green itch

November 5, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The time for the green itch

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every five years or so there is an itch in the air – a political itch – that intensifies at the eleventh hour. The environment is not immune to this five-year itch. In fact, the last environmental itch centred around an environmental pillar. What a noble idea, I thought! But when the itch subsided, the mass media was inundated with criticism regarding official decisions and actions not exactly having the environmental-pillar base.

These included: the discharge of treated sewage water in the sea, declared as having “no economic value”; mismanagement of Natura 2000 sites, declaring part of Dwejra “to be just bare rocks”, building adjacent to a freshwater stream of EU importance; Buskett saved by the skin of its teeth from being turned into a public garden; planting and covering substantial areas with declared invasive imported species, despite international obligations and recommendations by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority; channelling scarce resource of rainwater along roads to the sea; compliance certificates issued to buildings that do not conform to the legal requirements that each should have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the floor surface of each room; over-extraction of the already precarious groundwater; disbanding the National Sustainable Development Commission; opposing an EU proposal for the listing of the bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; permitting buildings that make it impossible for neighbours to tap solar energy; negative impact of black dust politically regarded as an alien phenomenon; “cleaning” valleys by bulldozing their ecosystems… Space does not permit me to go on.

The virtual environmental-pillar was knocked out flat by the commercially-driven economic-pillar. It was not strong enough to withstand the official onslaught by those who have a collective responsibility to defend it. The environmental pillar is now dead and buried under commercially-driven decisions, perhaps at Wied il-Qasab Nadur cemetery.

Now it is time for a new itch: the green itch time. A draft National Environment Policy has been published for public consultation. What a noble idea, I think! The draft in hand encompasses legal international environmental concepts and principles, the great majority of which are already transposed in national legislation. These are juxtaposed in a colourful mosaic but, unfortunately, like all mosaics, hairline cracks abound, which, with some political acumen, can easily develop into loopholes. Some are already evident.

Such an essential document does not even have definitions of important concepts like “sustainable development”, “environment” or “precautionary principle”. International environmental legal obligations all have such definitions but do the political players have the same definitions in mind?

Some important concepts have also been mishandled. Can an environment policy disregard biodiversity as a resource? I cannot image that such omission is meant to cover the government’s stand against the listing of the bluefin tuna, an endangered international natural resource! The draft NEP lists a number of measures, all of which can definitely contribute to the sustainable use of the environment, though one comment betrays an inferiority complex.

Besides, a number of measures cannot be implemented within this legislature. Considering that some could be sitting on different seats, not necessarily of a different colour, following a musical chairs festival, one cannot exclude the possibility that such a policy will not necessarily be handled with care. The more so when some colleagues in the corridors of power do ignore national environment legislation, published over the signature of the Prime Minister himself. And the competent authority responsible for environment legislation habitually stands and stares, licking its wounds and cursing its impotency to take action.

I do, however, admire the tenacity and drive of Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco but I cannot help feel that he is a lonely voice in a political wilderness, abandoned even by his environmental watchdog. A few days ago, another colourful environment document metamorphosed. This spelled guidelines for controlling alien species. A much-needed effort, though it retrospectively tackles negative economic, social and ecological impacts of introduced alien species and does not address the cause. They seem more like guidelines on how to control horses that have bolted after housing them in stables without doors.

This is why I have become very allergic to nicely-coloured printed documents that undoubtedly are attractive to the illiterate. Could be because I have not yet recovered from the decision to disband the National Sustainable Development Commission, flavoured by the now popular political dictum that one should not be judged by what one says but by what one does. These do not help at all to dispel any of my fears.

The eleventh hour is nigh. When the clock strikes one, will the environment policy slowly, silently, diplomatically, slide down in repose on the shelves of history, like the National Sustainable Development Commission did after all? National environmental legislation has been brushed aside; an environmental-pillar has been laid to rest; why not a policy? I am wishing, hoping and praying that I am wrong but I fear that Greenwich time will prove me right.


Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

September 13, 2011

Following my contribution to The Times on the 26th August 2011,  MEPA has officially replied on 6th September 2011, confirming all the illegalities mentioned in my contribution.  My initial reply is also attached. May be interesting to readers.  I am attaching both the link to the MEPA’s letter, which is self explanatory,  and also a copy of the letter itself and the subsequent comments by readers.

I am attaching some photos  as a reminder of the illegalities which had to be corrected by the 7th September 2011, according to MEPA’s  enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) to Transport Malta.  Besides, according to MEPA, this would also show that my assertion that MEPA “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets” is wrong.

Blatant infringement of the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations published on 24 ta’ May, 2011, over the signature of the Prime Minister, the Minster responsible for the Environment.

The brutal pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, which could only have been carried out by approval from the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Minster for the Environmnet.

How the rubble wall protection regulations was brought to disrepute for one and all to see

When protected national heritage meets financial considerations and political decisions - despite the 'high level' of responsibility given to 'sustainable development'

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110906/letters/Illegal-brick-wall-on-the-Rabat-road.383498

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 

Peter Gingell, communications manager,

Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Floriana

Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

I refer to the article Trees, Rubble Walls And BSS (Alfred E. Baldacchino, August 26). Mr Baldacchino highlights the incident whereby works carried out during the construction of a new bus interchange facility, along the Rabat road near Ta’ Qali, resulted in a rural rubble wall being demolished and replaced by a brick wall, while concrete was shoddily laid around a number of Aleppo trees. Mr Baldacchino uses this incident to assert that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

Contrary to the negative impression Mr Baldacchino tries to create for readers, the authority can confirm that on August 23, a few days before Mr Baldacchino’s article was published, Mepa had already issued an enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) against Transport Malta for having illegally demolished a protected rural rubble wall and replaced it with a brick wall. The authority also requested Transport Malta to remove the concrete from around the circumference of the affected tree trunks and under supervision, construct a “konka” to allow for better water percolation.

The authority has given Transport Malta up to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action. The Enforcement Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate are monitoring closely the situation and inspected the site again last week. If, for Mr Baldacchino, the authority has been caught sitting “retired” and “staring”, then he is mistaken.

While the authority continues to do its utmost to ensure the implementation and enforcement of planning and environment regulations, it reminds the public and all government entities that we all bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage.

5 Comments

Mr Tony Camilleri

Today, 12:13

Would anyone blame the people who think rightly or wrongly that corruption is rampant in MEPA?

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Today, 10:35

Indeed I am greatly obliged to MEPA for proving me right all along. MEPA has finally found its voice, 11 days after my article (26th August) saying it acted on the 23rd August, but found it only convenient to inform the public today.  15 days from August 23rd is September 7th: in two days time. MEPA will be hearing from me again, no doubt about it.

MEPA also felt offended when I said that it “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.  Such works should not have taken place in the first place, and not accomplished before MEPA acted and gave 15 days to the Transport Authority to correct illegalities, after which MEPA MAY consider taking action.

Thanks also to MEP for stressing that “all governemnt entities ..bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage” This has been my contention all along.  Now MEPA is under the portfolio of the Prime Minister who was the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development.” If MEPA does ‘not sit retired’ it could easily have whispered in the PM’s ears about the utiliy of such commission, before it was idle since 2006, and disbanded in 2008.

Let us wait for 7th Sepotember, 15 days given in the enforcement notice (ECF 434/11). to see if MEPA is “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

PS – with reference to the ‘konka’ in MEPA’s letter, in Englsih this is referred to as a watering trench or watering well. A good Maltese dictionary can tell you this.

Bernard Storace

Today, 09:34

“The authority has given TransportMaltaup to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action”. MEPA ‘may’ take direct action, How? by turning the clock back. It’s never been done before and I believe will not be done now too.

What, no guts to stick up to the minister in charge. Action should be taken BEFORE and not after the crime against nature has taken place. Will the rubble wall be rebuilt? I doubt it very much and as usual the illegal stone wall will be sanctioned and more trees will die too. Another joke or what?

Alfred E. Zahra

Today, 16:08

If you or I want to get rid of a rubble wall or a tree, how can MEPA stop us? Not unless we are stupid enough to inform it of our plans beforehand. Mepa unfortunately is not like Joseph Muscat. It does not have Godly powers.

Mr Peter Murray

Today, 09:12

What hope do we have when governmental entity fail to obey the law or take the appropriate action when found out and ordered to take remedial action.Yet again we have Mr.Gingell only responding to complaints/concerns expressed via newspaper publications, yet seldom, if ever, to complaints lodged individually with his


E is for Environment

August 8, 2011

Maltatoday, Sunday 7th August, 2011

E is for Environment ___________________________________________________________________________________ Despite occasional improvements, Malta’s environmental standards remain below expectations raised by EU accession. ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, the man who was involved in the transposition of the acquis communautaire into Maltese law, offers an insight into why. ___________________________________________________________________________________

As environmentalists go, few can lay claim to the epithet ‘tree-hugger’ quite as convincingly as Alfred E. Baldacchino. An author of numerous books on Malta’s indigenous wildlife (and biodiversity in general), his very name is now practically synonymous with all matters arboreal. More significantly still, he is often heard on the radio, where he discusses the regular ‘massacre’ of roadside trees in the name of ‘pruning’ and ‘landscaping’… as well as what appears to be our national predilection for choosing the species most unsuited to our islands’ particular ecosystem.

I meet Baldacchino at his Attard home, and I am soon introduced to his private collection of indigenous Maltese saplings – all taken from seeds and cuttings, and grown in pots on a small and crowded verandah. As he talks me through the different species, it quickly becomes apparent that behind his regular complaints about our national treatment of trees and plants, there lies a deeper and altogether more pressing concern with the lack of comprehensive planning and co-ordination: a state of affairs affecting our country’s entire attitude towards all aspects of the environment, with results that can be seen all around us.

Back on the terrace, he points to a specimen of Fraxinus angustifolia (Fraxxnu in Maltese) on his terrace. “If I can grow this from a seed here in my own home – and believe me, I am no expert in cultivation – why can’t we do the same elsewhere? Why do we have to import harmful and invasive species, sometimes spreading diseases and unwanted alien pests like the red palm weevil, when we can invest the same energy into preserving our own natural biodiversity?”

He promptly answers his own question: because commercial interests have meanwhile overtaken all other considerations… including our country’s legal and moral obligations to manage and protect the environment. As an example he turns to his hobbyhorse: environmental landscaping.

“Just this morning I talked about this on the radio, and I was surprised by the reaction: some 12 phone-calls throughout the programme… of which only one was critical, accusing me of being ‘too negative’.” Baldacchino’s point on that programme (of which I had caught snatches while driving) was that pruning of trees – which used to be carried out under the auspices of the Agriculture Department, but has now been farmed out to the private sector – is now being done at the wrong time of the year, and in a slapdash way that reduces many of the trees concerned to mere stumps.

“Just a few moths ago, the trees outside my own home were being ‘pruned’ (or rather, ‘hewn’) and when I popped my head out of the balcony and asked the landscapers why they were doing this now – and more to the point why they were chopping them down to the trunk – they replied ‘because cars pass from here’. What sort of answer is that? Did cars suddenly start passing this way only now…?”

Baldacchino suspects the reason is another: that the job of environmental landscaping has since been taken over by a ‘public private partnership’, or ‘PPP’. “If you ask me, it more like ‘Pee Pee Pee’,” he says… spelling out the ‘double-E’ each time. “The problem is that private concerns like these are driven by commercial interests, and commercial interests that simply do not mix with environmental protection.” For instance, Baldacchino argues that landscapers have taken to using herbicides on roundabouts and pathways. “Not a good idea,” he intones. “These herbicides will be washed away by the rain, only to find their way into valleys and possible reach the watertable. Why is this being allowed to happen? Why isn’t MEPA coming down like a tonne of bricks?”

Even the choice of plants and flowers for these roundabout displays is at best questionable. “Recently, the Prime Minister was on TV talking about government investment in embellishment projects. He was saying things like: ‘when did we ever see so many flowers blooming in August, when it is normally dry as dust?’ Personally I don’t blame the PM himself for saying things like that, but somebody should really tell him that this sort of landscaping goes against his own environmental credentials. These take substantial amount of precious water, especially those laid out with turf. Their temporary aesthetic impact carries hidden costs carried by society.…” Baldacchino explains that ‘alien’ flowers like (for instance) petunias tend to guzzle enormous amounts of water – itself a precious resource that the country can ill-afford to waste – and some species also have the potential to ‘escape’ and take root elsewhere in the wild. “Some of the plants used have microscopic seeds that get easily blown about by the currents as cars drive past, or carried by the wind, washed away by the rain, and so on. It is easy for them to end up germinating in a valley somewhere. What happens if they start to spread? They will become an invasive species, competing with other indigenous plants and ultimately become a threat toMalta’s natural biodiversity.” Some established invasives include the south and Central American Nasturtium, and the south African Hottentot Fig, the latter also used in landscaping.

Baldacchino points towards the profit margins of the private companies involved in the partnership as the main reason for both the use of herbicides, and the inauspicious choice of flowers. The reasoning is one we have all heard before, perhaps in relation to other issues and scenarios: ‘someone’ will be importing a certain type of herbicide, or a certain type of plant… “None of this is necessary,” Baldacchino asserts. “This is the result of having lost our way when it comes to environmental issues.”

But we have raced ahead of ourselves. Part of the reason I came here was to talk about these issues, true; but I also wanted to ask for a historical perspective on what exactly went awry. Baldacchino has after all been involved in the country’s environmental sector…  having kick-started the government’s environmental department in the early 1980s. At that time, the environment fell loosely under the portfolio of Health Minister Vincent Moran… though Baldacchino doesn’t count Moran as one of Malta’s environment ministers, for the simple reason that the word ‘environment’ had yet to achieve practical relevance back then. It was only later – and very gradually – that the concept began to take root in Malta’s subconscious, slowly rising to become a major concern. “Since the 1980s I have worked under six ministers and one parliamentary secretary,” Baldacchino recalls: adding the curious detail that three of them (apart from Moran) were doctors –Daniel Micallef, Stanley Zammit and George Vella. “Doctors make good environment ministers,” he asserts. “I think it’s partly to do with their scientific academic background, and also their charisma with people as doctors. In fact it was with Daniel Micallef that environmental awareness began to take off; and things reached a peak with Stanley Zammit, who had by far the longest time to deliver.”

Baldacchino also acknowledges the input of lawyers who took over the portfolio – namely Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Francis Zammit Dimech – considering that by their time Malta had to face the voluminous legal international obligations including those of the EU. He was less enthusiastic about role of architect ministers who came in their wake. “Doctors immediately grasped the scientific concept of environmental conservation, while the legal aspect was also quickly picked up by lawyers… But something that took maybe five minutes to explain to the doctors, would take up to five hours with the lawyers…” As for the architects, Baldacchino makes an exception for Michael Falzon, who had the benefit of being helped by Stanley Zammit as his parliamentary secretary. I point out that this leaves us with only one architect who was also environment minister – George Pullicino, with whom Baldacchino had a very public and very acrimonious fall-out. However, he had no intention of being drawn into a discussion about that difference – which erupted after his retirement from the Environment Protection Directorate.

Instead we talked about what he defines as the two ‘fatal errors’ that have undermined previous efforts to create a functional environmental protection regime. “Initially, all the people involved in the department were chosen on the strength of their scientific background. Despite the paucity of human resources, we had the best available people. We needed them, too. Back then we were screening Maltese legislation with a view to transposing the EU’s acquis communautaire: a massive job and we had problems – big problems – at the beginning. But we also had a wealth of highly scientifically qualified and motivated people, enabling the department to be professionally run at the time.”

And then, out of the blue… the catastrophe. Baldacchino explains how the government suddenly decided to strip the environment of its own ministry, and instead transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the Planning Authority. “I think I was as surprised as Minister Zammit Dimech at the time,” Baldacchino recalls, referring to the decision as an environmental disaster from which the country has never fully recovered. “We were like a round peg in a square hole. Suddenly, decisions started being taken without any consideration or even idea of the country’s legal international obligations. Scientific and technical expertise was put aside in favour of other, more commercial considerations. From that point on, we started heading downhill.”

Baldacchino observes that – with the exception of occasional improvements – the trajectory has remained downhill ever since, in part thanks to a second and equally damning mishap. “The second major mistake was to allow the National Sustainable Development Commission (NSDC) to fizzle out. Whether intentionally, or through ignorance, or out of our national tendency to simply ‘postpone’ problems for future generations, the commission was never set in motion …” Originally set up in 2002 – significantly, before the decision to rob the environment of a ministry of its own – the NSDC initially aimed to provide an umbrella organization to integrate and amalgamate all economic, social and environmental considerations. “It has been years since the Commission last met,” Baldacchino says in regretful tones. “Today, decisions which have huge impact on the environment are taken in the absence of any framework organization. Development planning has hijacked all other considerations.”

Baldacchino argues that we are literally paying a high price due to the lack of any clear planning strategy… as an example, he singles out Malta’s policy regarding water. “The Knights of St John handed everything to us on a silver platter. They left us an entire aqueduct and water storing system, and more importantly they had drawn up laws whereby all houses had to have their own wells.” He points out that technically, these laws are still in the statue books. “But are they being implemented? No. Today, MEPA merely issues compliance certificates in cases where houses are illegally built without wells. And just look at the homes we are building: any space for reservoirs is today taken up by garages instead.” Ironically, then, it seems that Maltawas more conscious of water conservation 500 years ago … despite the fact that population pressures, coupled with the demands of a thirsty tourism industry, have resulted in skyrocketing water demands.

From this perspective, environmentalists like Baldacchino were ‘scandalised’ to hear Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt cavalierly announcing that excess water produced by sewage treatment would be pumped into the sea because it “had no economic value”. “No economic value? That’s blasphemy. What economic value is there is throwing away 50% pure water, when only a few metres away we have Reverse Osmosis plants pumping up 100% concentrated water from the sea? Considering how much we are paying for water produced in this way, can we afford to throw away water that would actually cost us less? So much for economic value…”

Baldacchino argues that the whole system was geared up from the outset with a view to pumping the water into the sea. No thought was given to the possibility of re-utilising that precious resource, “How else do you explain that all the country’s sewage treatment plants were sited near the sea to begin with?”

All this is symptomatic of a system which has fallen apart at the seams – almost an inevitability, Baldacchino suggests, when one considers how the environment itself was divorced from its original ministry, and instead spread among different entities, all of which work independently of one another without any cohesive framework policy. Again, water provides a good example; being a resource which falls under no fewer than three separate ministries. “MEPA is responsible for Malta’s surface water policy, and this falls under the office of the Prime Minister. But the Water Services Corporation – which handles distribution of water – falls under the Finance Ministry, whereas groundwater extraction, among others, falls under the MRRA.” So who takes ultimate responsibility for water-related problems when they arise? Baldacchino suggests the answer, as things stand, is ‘nobody’… coming back to his earlier point that the current set-up encourages government to put off existing problems, leaving future generations to cope with them as best they can.

“It’s a little like what happened with Bisazza Street, but on a national scale,” he remarks. “In the case of Bisazza Street, we had one ministry planning for pedestrianisation, and another ministry planning for traffic, and they only realized there was a problem when the two came together. Why? How is this possible? But at least,” he adds with a twinkle in his eye, “in the case of Bisazza street, a few ‘heads’ did actually roll…”


Green credentials do not grow on trees

March 23, 2011

Green credential do not grow on trees.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The following is my comment to the article Striving for green credential published  in the Times of Malta of Thursday, 3rd March 2011, and written by Dr Mario de Marco, Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism , Environment and Culture, .  The article and other comments referred to can be accessed at the link at the end of this post.

I admire Mario DeMarco efforts towards the environment, but I am sorry to say I pity him for the buck that has been passed on to him. Vincent Gauci, Louis Vella and I were the heads of three sections within the Environment Department directing it through difficult times towards accession to the EU, despite the lack of resources. But when this was ‘merged’ with the Planning Authority, as I wrote and said a number of times, things started to be thrown overboard by some planning personnel who thought they hijacked the environment, and who just had a planning mentality. Yes, Dr DeMarco is right when he says that “What we gained yesterday we have to pay for today and tomorrow with interest”.

From past experience, and from the latest happenings, I am more than convinced that the Environment was ‘merged’ with PA just for the sake of being controlled, and to put a bit between its teeth. Vince Gauci and Louis Vella also echo this feeling, and we all were the last Assistant Directors in the EPD, before these posts were abolished and taken over by the planning entourage.
Dr DeMarco will be striving hard to find green credentials with the present set-up and planning mentality as the driving force. If he really wants to find these green credentials he has at the earliest possible to put Environment on solid independent bases, as it was before.

Another urgent measure he needs taking is to get help from experienced and qualified personnel. But I am sure he will have some pressure from ‘colleagues’ because this would upset their applecart.

This will make it possible for Dr Demarco in his striving for green credentials. These do not grow on trees, and one has to work hard to achieve this especially when as he so rightly said that “The environment is no longer the pet subject of some fundamentalists” as we used to be called when at MEPA.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110303/opinion/striving-for-green-credentials


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


Budget 2011 – The Budget jury gives its verdict

October 27, 2010

Tuesday, 26th October 2010 – 11:47CET

The Budget jury gives its verdict – Environmentalist

 

Alfred E.  Baldacchino, 64 Now a pensioner, Mr Baldacchino used to be an assistant director at the planning authority’s Environmental Protection Directorate and has a master’s degree in environmental management and planning. He lives in an Attard maisonette with his wife with whom he has two children, now married. He drives a five-year-old OpelCorsa – “the cheapest possible on the market”, and his income falls in the €7,501 – €14,000 bracket.

Mr Baldacchino said although the environment was addressed, there were some disappointing inclusions or omissions and some were “worrying”.  One such point was the announcement of the roads linking Mellieħa to the Red Tower and the Red Tower to Ċirkewwa. Apart from passing from “virgin natural environment, one of them has to pass through two Natura 2000 sites”.  He was also disappointed to see that the environmental deficit was not so strongly addressed. “No plans for the collection, management of run off and protection of underground water;  no management plans for Natura 2000 sites, either terrestrial or marine, no plans for job opportunities in the environment fields, no plans and measures for the negative impacts of climate change.”

He also saw as disappointing the fact that only slight importance was given to the economic opportunities in the environmental fields and only small limited incentives were given to photovoltaic panels and solar heaters.

“The Budget also ignores present economic burdens borne by society because of unsustainable mismanagement, such as in the field of water,  particulate matter, disappearance of biodiversity and toxic waste, be it liquid or solid,” Mr Baldacchinosaid.

Mr Baldacchino said environmental investment was still minimal compared to other fields such as health, industry, education, infrastructure, development, commercial activity and economic gain. He added this was a “clear indication” the environment was still regarded as being a mere appendix, “notwithstanding the fact that its mismanagement has such a great negative economic and social impact”.


X’nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent

October 20, 2010

X’nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Illum il-kelma ambjent hija fuq fomm kulħadd. Dan huwa pass il-quddiem. Iżda mhux kulħadd jifhem l-istess ħaġa bil-kelma ambjent. Hemm min jaħseb li jekk inżżommu nadif huwa biżżejjed. Hemm imbgħad dawk li jaħsbu li jekk tħawwel siġra jew tnejn ukoll huwa biżżejjed. Ngħiduha kif inhi, mhux għax dawn ma jgħinux, imma l-kelma ambjent hija aktar wiesgħa minn hekk. Ejja nieħdu eżempju biex naraw x’għandna nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent.

 

In-nisġa tan-Natura li tiġbor fiha wkoll il-bniedem

 

Kulħadd jaf xhini siġra. Siġra hija ħolqien ħajja, li tikber, tiekol, tixjieħ, tipproduċi, u anki tmut. Ħarsa lejn siġra turina li din hija ankrata fl-art, fejn l-għeruq tagħha jinżlu fil-fond kemm biex jgħinu lis-siġra tkun soda fl-art, kif ukoll biex jgħinuha ttella’ l-ilma biex tagħmel l-ikel. Fl-istess ħin, din is-siġra qed iżżomm il-ħamrija f’postha u ma tħallihiex tinġarr bir-riħ u bix-xita. Barra minn hekk il-weraq li twaqqa’ is-sigra fl-art jgħinu biex il-ħamrija ssir aktar sinjura. U s-siġra qed toffri wkoll ambjent għan-numru ta’ ħlejjaq oħra.

M’għandniex xi ngħidu li s-siġra trid ukoll id-dawl tax-xemx biex tkun tista’ tikber. Permezz tad-dawl tax-xemx u l-ilma li ttella mill-għeruq, il-weraq ħodor tas-sigra jagħmlu l-ikel tagħha li jgħinha tikber, tipproduċi, u tkompli tgħix. Kif jafu dawk li fi żmien il-Milied jiżirgħu l-ġurbiena u jpoġġuha fid-dlam, din titla’ bajdanija, mingħajr kulur ħadrani, u tkun anki dgħajjfa għaliex ma jkolliex id-dawl biex tkun tista’ tagħmel l-ikel. Barra minn hekk it-temperatura minn dan id-dawl tax-xemx ma tridx tkun la sħuna ħafna u lanqas kiesħa ħafna li s-sigra ma tkunx adattata għaliha. Hekk jekk nieħdu siġra mill-Mediterran u nħawluha fl-Iżlanda, din ma tgħix għaliex it-temperatura hija kiesha wisq għaliha. Hekk ukoll jekk inġibu siġra mill-Iżlanda hawn Malta, din tbgħati għaliex il-klima hija sħuna wisq għaliha. Hekk kull bdil fit-temperatura jkollu impatt fuq il-ħlejjaq li ma jkunux imdorrijin b’dik it-temperatura, kemm jekk tkun għolja, kif ukoll jekk tkun baxxa aktar milli jkunu mdorrijin biha.

Is-siġra wkoll trid l-arja biex tieħu n-nifs. Jekk ngħalqu siġra f’post mingħajr arja, għalkemm ikollha d-dawl u l-ilma, din ma tgħix u bil-mod il-mod tmut. Filwaqt li s-siġra tieħu d-diossidu tal-karbonju (carbon dioxide) mill-arja, hija tgħati wkoll lura l-ossiġenu (oxygen). U hekk naraw li s-siġra tgħin biex iżżomm bilanċ tal-gassijiet fl-atmosphera, għaliex jekk dan il-bilanċ ma jiżammx, allura jista’ jkun kemm ta’ ħsara għas-siġra nnifisha kif ukoll għall-ħlejjaq l-oħra li jgħixu fuq din l-art. U dan il-bilanċ huwa meħtieġ li jinżamm minkejja t-tibdiliet kontinwi li hemm.

Mela naraw li s-siġra li hija ħajja għandha bżonn ukoll partijiet fiżiċi, bħall-ilma, id-dawl, l-arja, u l-art. Mingħajr dawn din ma tistax tgħix, u dawn il-partijiet fiżiċi ma jkunux sħaħ mingħajr il-ħajja tas-siġra minħabba n-nisġa li għandhom magħha. Imma jekk l-ilma jkun imniġġeż jew ikkontaminat bil-kimika, jekk l-arja tkun imniġġża b’kimiċi li wħud minnhom jistgħu ukoll jifformaw xi aċtu meta jitħallatu ma’ l-ilma, jekk it-temperatura tkun aktar sħuna jew kiesha minn dak li siġra tkun adattata għaliha, dawn kollu jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-sigra li jistgħu wkoll iwasslu biex joqtlu lis-siġra.

 

 

Iż-Żnuber - siġa tal-Mediterran

 

Issa npoġġu l-bniedem minflokk is-siġra u naraw li dan bħas-siġra għandu bżonn ukoll l-art, l-ilma mhux imniġġeż, l-arja safja, kif ukoll id-dawl tax-xemx biex ikun jista’ jgħix, jikber, jiekol u jirriproduċi. U bħal ma dawn jistgħu jeqirdu siġra, hekk ukoll jistgħu jeqirdu mhux biss is-siġar l-oħra kollha, imma anki l-annimali inkluż il-bniedem.

Għalhekk meta wieħed jitkellem fuq l-ambjent irid iħares kemm lejn il-parti fiżika li tkun tajba għall-ħajja, kif ukoll għall-ħlejjaq kollha li jiddependu minn din il-parti fiżika. Din hija n-nisġa naturali li minna jiddependi wkoll il-bniedem. U ma nistgħux ngħatu każ lill-parti waħda biss u ninjoraw lill-oħra. Din hija t-tifsira wiesgħa tal-kelma ambjent li wieħed għandu jżopmm f’moħħu meta jitkellem fuq l-ambjent.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Moon – 2

August 16, 2010

28th October 2007

Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Moon – 2
Alfred E. Baldacchino

As we have seen from the first part of my feature, the world’s leading religions – no matter how diverse – are of one voice regarding man’s obligation to care for and protect the environment.

The wealth of spiritual direction by the leading world religions was
manifested in Assisi, Italy, on September 29, 1986, on the occasion
of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s 25th anniversary, where they
issued a declaration on man and nature.

For the very first time in history, five major ethical systems of the
world categorically stated that their beliefs led them to the need to
conserve this delicate and fragile ecosystem of which man is just a
part and so dependent upon.

The Venerable Lungrig Namgyal Rinpoche, Abbot of Gyuto Tantric
University, presented the Buddhist declaration on nature, dwelling
on the fact that the disregard for natural heritage has brought about
risks to world peace and to the survival of endangered species. The
destruction of the environment, and the life depending upon it, was
the result of ignorance, greed and disregard for the richness of all
living things. “We are the generation with the awareness of a great
danger. We are the ones with the responsibility and the ability to
concrete action, before it is too late.”

Fr Lanfranco Serrini, Minister General of the Franciscan Conventual Order, declared that man’s dominion cannot be understood as a licence to abuse, spoil, squander or destroy what God has made to manifest His glory. That dominion cannot be anything other than a stewardship in symbiosis with all creatures.

On one hand, man’s position verges on a viceregal partnership with God; on the other, his self-mastery in symbiosis with creation must manifest the Lord’s exclusive and absolute dominion over everything, over man and over his stewardship. At the risk of destroying himself, man may not harm or destroy God’s bountiful treasures.

Karan Singh, president of the Hindu Virat Samaj, read the Hindu Declaration on Nature referring to the Hindu scriptures which pronounce a reverence for life, and an awareness that the four elements – earth, air, water and fire – as well as various orders of life, including plants and trees, forests and animals, are all bound to each other within the great rhythms of nature. An ancient Hindu dictum is: “The earth is our mother, and we are all
her children.”

Abdullah Omar Nasseef, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, said that for Muslims, mankind’s role on earth was that of a khalifa, viceroy or trustee of God. We are God’s stewards and agents on earth. We are
not masters of this earth; it does not belong to us to do what we wish. It belongs to God and He has entrusted us with its safekeeping. Our function is only to oversee the trust. He added that the world is green and beautiful and God has appointed man as His steward over it. Environmental consciousness is born when such values are adopted and become an intrinsic part of our mental and physical make-up.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, explained that the encounter of God and Mother Earth by Jenness Cortez
Perlmutter man in nature is conceived in Judaism as a seamless web with man as the leader and custodian of the natural work. Man has a responsibility to life, to defend it everywhere, not only against man’s own sins but also against those of others. “We are all passengers together in this same fragile and glorious world. Let us safeguard our row boat – and let us row together.”

Since these statements were made in 1986, much water has passed under the bridge. But the strong flow of water today facing humanity is all murky, carrying the hidden costs of man’s greed. The silver lining is that the destruction of the eco system is also strongly contributing to a stronger public awareness, not least in the spiritual field.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI led the Church’s first ‘eco friendly’ youth rally on the occasion of his prayer vigil with young people in Loreto, Italy. Addressing nearly half a million youngsters, the Pope, referring to world
leaders, emphasised that “before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that reflect knowing how to recreate a strong alliance between man and the earth” and stressed the “pressing need for science and religion to work together to safeguard the gifts of nature and to promote responsible stewardship.”

On October 1, the Maltese Church’s Environment Commission published an opinion paper stating that “the Church needs to be a clear and courageous sign of the times. With its sincere interest in the holistic development of humans – because they are created in God’s image – the Church is in the best position to find the right balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development: the environment, society and economy while lamenting that “… for some individuals in the various strata of the Church in Malta, environmental responsibility features quite low in their personal value scale”.

The light at the end of the long dark tunnel is shining brightly, helped by the world’s leaders, obeying the command of our Creator. The sacred writings all spell out the anguish that can befall humanity, both from a spiritual and a physical point of view, if the environment is destroyed. Keeping in mind, with courage and determination, that we are guardians of God’s creation, we cannot fail.

And once obeying the command of the Creator, can anything block our enthusiasm when we are united with Christ? Before it is too late, let’s do it, in the name of the Father.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Moon: some spiritual teachings

August 14, 2010

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Moon:

some spiritual teachings
Alfred E. Baldacchino

In the name of the Father, man has committed a number of atrocities – in the political arena, in the religious realm, and also in the same ecosystem which sustains him. The holy books of all religions are as old as man himself, and they still teach what they originally were meant to teach. But the different interpretations given to them down the years were very often meant to accommodate man’s relentless greed rather than to get him
closer to the deity he worshipped.
Leafing through the main religious books, be they Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu, the writings give the same clear and identical message. For instance, in the Bible we read that after creating man, God saw
everything that He had made was very good. And the Lord took man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to tend it and to guard it. God also said to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis).
The Western world, which mainly professes Christian beliefs, has not only interpreted ‘subdue’ and ‘dominate’ ad litteram but also implemented it to the fullest ad nauseam. I remember reading teachings that man is unique
and not part of the ecosystem which God has created only for man to ‘exploit’.
Fortunately, following spiritual revival, these teachings have been dumped, though there are still many of their followers around. The Bible and other sacred writings all lead us to better understand their teaching, as some
of the following references clearly show.

A delicate balance
In the Jewish Talmud we read: “When the Holy Blessed-Be-He created the first man, he took him aside and warned him: See my works, see their beauty, their perfection; everything I have created I have created for you.
Take care not to spoil or destroy my work, because there will be no-one to mend it after you
.”
As regards creation, the Qur’an, the Muslims’ holy book, teaches: “To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heaven and the earth; All obey His will. And it is He who originates creation” (30:25). Creation was designed to
function as a whole, a dynamic delicate ecological balance. “Transgress not in the balance, and weigh with justice, and skip not in the balance. It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth” (6:165).
The Old Testament teaches that the land belongs to God. People are “only strangers and guests”. The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is Mine (Leviticus 25:23). The earth is God’s and all its fullness, the world and all who dwell in it. (Psalm 21:1). Man must rule the world in holiness and righteousness (Wisdom 9, 3). “God took Adam and placed him in a garden… to work it and to preserve it.” (Genesis 2:15.).
The Dalai Lama, in line with Buddhist belief, teaches: “We only have one earth and any damage which we do to it will rebound upon us.” A. Tyiradhammo, from the Dhammapala Buddhist monastery referring to the
delicate ecological dynamic balance explains: “The illusion of separate, independent subjects and objects is merely due to the influence of self-centered ignorance.” The founder-director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environment Sciences, F. Khalid, emphatically declares: “Dominion over Creation remains with the Creator Himself and there is no evidence there of Him having abdicated His responsibilities to one of his
creatures no matter how intelligent.”

Much to answer for

The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, of October 4, 1986, points out that many who embrace the Christian faith have much to answer for. Quoting Max Nicholson, a well known authority on ecology, The Tablet says that it
has been a tragedy that the most influential religion in the world should have been “one of the very few which preached man’s unqualified right of dominance over nature”. Aboriginal spirituality in Australia teaches that ‘the land is our mother“, “we do not own the earth and the land owns us”. Chief Seattle, of the North American Indians explains: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know: all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Quite a different perspective from the interpretation of “dominion” and “exploitation” we Christians have been taught, and on which teaching many an empire has been built, many a life taken, and many a resource plundered. But before any of your readers pulls out his red card, not to accuse me of being an ecofundamentalist, but to show me the way back to the fold following my readings of ‘other’ biblical books and writings, I will now dwell more deeply on the teachings of the spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church. This will be amplified in the next part.
According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, man is the final and supreme creation, the only being made in God’s image. Nature has been handed over to his dominion. He is commanded to “fill the earth and subdue it” and “rule” over the animals. Man is not only the “master” but also the “guardian” of the ecosystem. But a guardian is one entrusted with property that does not belong to him. His role is to take charge of it and
eventually return it to its owner intact. It has also been explained that the world is not ours. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalms 21:1). It has been handed into our safekeeping only on condition that
we maintain it unspoiled. This approach to creation is also supported by the teachings of other main religions of the world.

Sustainable development
Pope John Paul II, addressing the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, quoted from the Genesis to direct and lead the faithful towards the responsibility of the Lord’s creation. The Pope dwelt on the Church’s commitment to the conservation and improvement of our environment being linked to a command of God. God created all things and then entrusted them to the care of human beings who were themselves
created in His image as we find in the very first pages of the Bible.
The Pope explained that it is a requirement of our human dignity, and therefore a serious responsibility to exercise dominion over creation in such a way that it truly serves the human family. Exploitation of the riches of nature must take place according to criteria that take into account not only the immediate need of the people but also the needs of future generations. In this way, the stewardship entrusted by God to man will not be guided by short-sightedness or selfish pursuit, rather it will take into account the fact that all created goods are directed to the good of all humanity.
In a way one can undoubtedly say that Pope John Paul was laying the foundations for national strategies for sustainable development, a concept arising out of Agenda 21 which is a comprehensive plan of action to be
taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations of the United Nations system, governments, and major groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment. (see my article in The Sunday Times of
September 9).
Pope John Paul II continued with his teachings on man’s role and responsibility for the environment in his famous speech on the celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1990. The Holy Father emphasised that states should jointly implement internationally accepted standards and make or facilitate necessary socio-economic adjustments within their society.
In his keynote address, the Pope touched upon respect for nature, collective selfishness, disregard for others, dishonesty, the ecological crisis which reveals man’s lack of moral character and ethical values, interference in the ecosystem, uncontrolled destruction of animal and plant life and reckless exploitation of natural resources, emphasising the need for a sound economic, industrial and scientific progress.
John Paul II stressed that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, by regional conflicts, by the never ending injustices among people and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources and by a progressive decline in the quality of life. Such a lifestyle harbours a sense of precariousness and insecurity and “is a seedbed for collective selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty”, he said.
Furthermore, certain motivating forces contributing to today’s ecological crisis reveal its moral character. We have now realised, at a painful cost, that “we cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due
attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.”

A moral issue
Many patterns of environmental pollution, and the uncontrolled destruction of animal and plant life, and the reckless exploitation of natural resources underlie a most profound and serious indication of the moral
implication evident in the lack of respect for life.
The Pope warns that “even if this is carried out in the name of progress and well-being, it is ultimately to mankind’s disadvantage” because the “respect for life, and above all the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress.”
A lesson to be learnt by the leaders of any social entity from this dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is the extent to which greed and selfishness – both individual and collective “…are contrary to the order of creation,
an order which is characterised by mutual interdependence.”
Our planet is administered, governed, ruled or dictated by politicians, who if guided by such teachings would definitely make our world a better place to live in. Unfortunately, politicians, worldwide, are more concerned
with their short-term delivery during the term with which they have been entrusted. The long-term vision is left for the electorate, if there is one, and for future generations to solve, if they are still around.
This is what has fuelled the environmental crisis worldwide, because of the expected quick results at the expense of hidden costs of long-term damage. No wonder Paul John II lamented that “…the seriousness of the
ecological issue lays bare the depth of man’s moral crisis” and “the air and its atmosphere are telling us that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.” (my italics).
Man, the most intelligent being created by God, is the only creation who can rebel against his Creator and who can destroy himself. Adam and Eve were the first to immediately oblige and rebel, and they were followed by
their subsequent progenies, when they crucified the Son of the Creator. It is not surprising then that man, the climax of intelligence on this planet, wipes out other “inferior” living species over which he has been given
dominance. It is also not surprising at all that man is the only creation who again through his ‘intelligence’, can sabotage his own existence – something he is very close to achieving.

Pope’s warning
Christians who still believe, by conviction or through convenience, that as the most intelligent being on earth, man has unqualified rights of dominance over nature, should do well to take heed of Pope John II’s
admonishment that “Christians, in particular, realise that their responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith” and that “modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle” whether they prefer to emphasise the quality of life enriched by spiritual values rather than the quality of life swamped with material possessions, but empty of joy.
At a conference on man and the environment on December 1971, Cardinal Villot, then Vatican Secretary of State, declared that “every attack on creation is an insult to the Creator”. As far back as 1986, a lone voice
boldly took a first step in this insular fast-desiccating intellectual desert, within the enclave of his social institution.
The late Mgr Professor Carmel Sant, on December 20 of that year, in his oration entitled Natural Environment: the biblical perspective, at the graduation ceremony at the Seminary at Tal-Virtù, courageously wrote: “It is man’s moral responsibility to care for God’s creatures around him, on whom his own physical existence and spiritual uplift depend. Hence it is not only within the competence of the Church and her ministers to intervene and take a definite stand for the defence of the environment, but their duty to take such a step”.
One needs to explain that the graduation ceremony was held at Tal-Virtù because the Faculty of Theology was booted out of the University at Tal-Qroqq, on the pretext that such teachings and studies should not be
subsidised by public funds. Now, almost 21 years later, the first ripples of that address have reached our shores. If only these directions can be taken in hand, in the name of the Father.
(To be concluded)
aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Mepa and EU obligations

July 30, 2010

Friday, 30th July 2010

Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino

It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.

It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!

Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo.  And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.

Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.

Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.

A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the  imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is  deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.

If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.

Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100721/letters/malta-living-up-to-the-eu-habitats-directive

_________________________________________________________________
The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority


The Red Palm Weevil – another alien species

July 25, 2010

 

Sunday, 2nd December 2007

 The Red Palm Weevil – another alien species –  Alfred E Baldacchino

The Red Palm Weevil – il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm – is a relatively large species of beetle about 3cm long. Its common English name is derived from its rusty red colour. Scientifically known as Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, the Red Weevil originates from tropical Asia, but has now spread to Africa and Europe. It reached Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in 1985. And by 2006 it was recorded in France and in Cyprus.

The rapid spread of this pest is due to the transportation of infested young or adult date palm trees and offshoots from contaminated to uninfected areas. Egypt supplied, directly or indirectly, thousands of such palm trees each year to Spain and other European countries. There is ample evidence to conclude that the first Red Palm Weevils were introduced into Spain from adult palm trees imported from Egypt. And despite the fact that palm trees, like all other imported plants, must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, adult palm trees can still conceal large quantity of hidden insects and diseases, such as Red Palm Weevil eggs and larvae. Red Palm Weevil larvae can eventually kill the tree host. In fact, it is a most destructive pest of date palms in the Middle East.

The Red Weevil spends all its stages (egg, larva, pupa and adult) inside the palm tree itself. The female weevil deposits 300 eggs in separate holes or in injuries on the palm tree. The eggs hatch after two to five days into legless grubs which bore into the interior of the palms and feed on the soft succulent tissues of palm trees.

The larval period varies from one to three months, after which the grub pupate in an elongated oval, cylindrical cocoon made out of fibrous strands. The pupation period lasts 14 to 21 days, after which the adult weevil emerges – a life cycle of about four months.

The adult is a reddish brown cylinder with a long prominent curved snout, varying considerably in size. It is about 35 mm in length and 12 mm in width. Its leathery forewings are dark red, strongly ribbed longitudinally, covering the hind wings which are brown in colour. The weevils can fly a distance of up to one kilometre.

In a press release issued on 24 October 2007, the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment warned the public of the Red Palm Weevil’s presence in Malta. The question is, how did it get to Malta? The expanse of sea surrounding the Maltese islands is a strong enough natural barrier. But following the importation of hundreds of palm trees to Malta, the Red Palm Weevil took a free ride and established itself as an alien species.

In a previous article, I had drawn attention to the great number of palm trees that are being imported. Some, similar to those in the midst of Mikiel Anton Vassalli regional road, are up to two storeys high. They are easily 60 or more years old and once must have graced some natural oasis in north Africa. Considering the infested trees in Egypt which have contributed to the introduction of the Red Palm Weevil to Spain and Europe, the indications are that this is where it came from. And with such an abundance of food available, who can stop it from dispersing all over the island.

Malta does have indigenous species of palm trees, the Dwarf European Fan Palm – Chamaerops humilis il-Ġummara, whose wild population is critically endangered.

Furthermore there are a number of important Date Palms – Phoenix dactyliferail-Palma, and Canary Island Palms – Phoenix canariensis il-Palma tal-Kannizzati. There are also a number of historical specimens of palm trees growing in a number of private gardens and also in the Argotti Botanic Gardens, San Anton Gardens, among others, most of these planted from seed by the renowned Maltese botanist John Borg. However, all these important indigenous and historical palm trees are now in danger of kissing their roots goodbye.

Dead palm trees – the result of the introduced invasive alien species, the Red Palm Weevil

 

The control of such an alien species is indeed a hard nut to crack. It came fairly easily. But eliminating and controlling it is almost impossible. When the laboratories of the Plant Protection Section of the Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Institute in Cyprus discovered the Red Weevil on its territory, all infested plants were removed and burned. In addition measures were taken to train all plant health inspectors in the identification and handling of infested palm trees.

The ecological, economic, and historical damage will become more evident with time. The damage caused by the Red Palm Weevil’s larva is not immediately visible, and by the time symptoms of such infestation appear, the damage is so advanced that it is difficult to save the tree from death. The population of the Red Weevil cannot but increase with such a large food supply available, and with no official national biodiversity strategy in place.

Measures necessary to control this introduced alien species are expensive, as with all other invasive alien species. One wonders if the entrepreneurs who have been directly involved in importing palm trees to the Maltese Islands are going to finance such measures to control this species – though perhaps the ecological and economical damage is not so much of a concern to them as much as cashing in on the profits. From experience it is almost impossible to convince decision-makers and garden centres to use locally grown specimens for landscaping. Dealers in palm trees and other plants find it more profitable economically to import, and let society carry the hidden costs.

As M. Ferry and S. Gomez (2002) conclude in their paper The Red Palm Weevil in the Mediterranean Area, “… there is a need for phytosanitary regulations at a European and North African country level to forbid totally the importation of date palms.” Will the minister responsible for the Environment and Agriculture eventually stop the importation of palm trees to contain such damage? Who is going to be accountable for any potential additional importation of this alien species and more of its food supply? What action will be taken to prevent the introduction into and the spread within the community of the Red Palm Weevil?

It is more realistic than pessimistic to conclude that at the end of the day, it will be common people Read the rest of this entry »


The EU Habitats Directive

July 13, 2010
  Tuesday, 13th July 2010 

  The EU Habitats Directive 

 Alfred E. Baldacchino 

    Few, if any, have never heard of the European Union’s Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as the Habitats Directive of May 21, 1992. But fewer know what the aims and obligations of this EU Directive are.

 

The main aim of the Habitats Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity and to ensure the restoration or maintenance of natural habitats and species, that are important to the EU, at a favourable conservation status. Natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna are under continuous threat from development and agricultural intensification. To pursue such an aim, EU member states are obliged to designate special areas of conservation (SACs) so that a coherent European ecological network known as Natura 2000 is created. These SACs support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats, native plants and animals. Once a site designated by a member state is accepted by the EU Commission, it forms part of the Natura 2000 network, for which the member state has to honour the obligations incorporated in the directive. The EU has accepted as SACs 35 sites proposed by Malta, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Pembroke area, coastal cliffs from Il-Qammieħ area to Rdum tan-Nofsinhar, Wied il-Miżieb (which includes Mistra Bay and Baħrija Valley) and Ta’ Ċenċ area and Ramla area. 

Natura 2000 also incorporates special protection areas (SPAs) which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats and which are identified by member states according to the obligations of the EU Birds Directive. Malta has 

identified 13 SPAs which today form part of the Natura 2000 network, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Ta’ Ċenċ in Gozo and Filfla. 

  

Obligations which member states have towards such sites are: 

  

• the establishment of necessary conservation measures involving, if need be, the appropriate management plans specifically designed for the sites or integrated into other development plans; 

• appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the different natural habitat types listed in Annex I and of the species of flora and fauna listed in Annex II of the Habitats 

Directive, present in the sites; 

• appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as the disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated by the member state; 

• an appropriate assessment of any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to, the management of the site but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective. The national competent authority for this directive (the Malta Environment and Planning Authority) shall endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. The national competent authority is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the public. 

• If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the SAC or SPA and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the member state shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It has to inform the EU Commission of the compensatory measures adopted. 

• Where the site concerned hosts a priority species or a natural habitat type listed in the Habitats Directive, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health or public safety, beneficial consequences of primary 

importance for the environment or further to an opinion from the EU Commission. 

• Undertake surveillance of habitats and species and ensuring strict protection of species of flora and fauna listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive. 

• Report to the EU Commission by the national competent authority on the implementation of the directive every six years, incorporating information on conservation measures taken, describing impacts on the conservation status of the species and natural habitats types listed in the directive, measures taken in Natura 2000 sites, besides the key findings of monitoring activities conducted to assess the conservation status of species and natural habitat types of community interest, as all outlined in the directive. The directive also places particular importance on informing the public and making such reports accessible to the public. 

• To improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, member states are to encourage the management of landscape features that are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species and so improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas and beyond. 

• The Habitats Directive requires member states to monitor natural habitats and species of community interest. 

• Member states must also handle communication, education and public  awareness to ensure the effective implementation of this directive. Malta had to implement the Habitats Directives from the date of accession, that is May 1, 2004. It seems that a number of ministries are among the many that are not au courant with the Habitats Directive. And I would not be surprised in the least if 

the national competent authority itself is oblivious of such obligations, being so development-oriented and judging from the number of permits issued, including some in Natura 2000 sites.  

The public officer who will be detailed to write Malta’s first six-year report on the implementation of the Habitats Directive will find it easier to paint the sky green. Unfortunately, Mario de Marco, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, will have to endorse the “achievements” of his predecessor. 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Missing the wood for the trees

June 21, 2010

 

Wednesday, 20th February 2008

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I can fully empathise with Louis Schembri’s feelings expressed in his letter Tree Murder in Balzan (February 1).  But Mr Schembri should not expect too much. The lack of a national biodiversity strategy leads to a lack of direction, and a lack of policy, amongst others for the proper planning, management and conservation of trees. In the absence of such strategy one cannot expect any better. The prevailing blinkered vision seems to be in planting more trees. This is not a bad idea at all, and can contribute not only to a better landscaping but also to a better afforestation. But the lack of such a national biodiversity strategy leads to an artificial implementation. As one can see the emphasis is just on numbers – quantity at the expense of quality. This leads to a false perception that it is not important whether these trees are locally grown or imported, as long as there are more and more and more, and one can then boast of numbers – the numbers’ mentality which should not form part of any biodiversity strategy. In the meantime, established urban trees are butchered or as Mr Schembri aptly put it, “murdered”. This would be quite explainable if the post of the minister responsible for the environment was vacant! The ever increasing impacts of climate change, and the need for measures, no matter how small, to address it, both in the context of national and also of international obligations, includes the control of the loss and the mutilation of trees. In their own unique natural way, trees remove carbon dioxide from the surroundings, besides enriching the urban environment where they flourish. The picture accompanying Mr Schembri’s letter clearly shows that the Balzan trees can no longer contribute to this. Unfortunately, this seems to be the order of the day considering the ever increasing numbers of such mutilated trees one can see, and the amount of public criticism resulting from a fast growing public awareness and a stronger environmental conscience.

Some such denuded trees that immediately come to mind are those at Saqqajja Square, Rabat, those along Ħal Warda Street, Attard, those in front of the Lyceum in Ħamrun, and those at Bir Bal Balzan. Incidentally the latter three sites are all adjacent to educational institutions – schools. I am sure readers can point out more of such mutilated trees in their locality. One can easily conclude that the Maltese official contribution to control and to limit the effects of climate change (apart from asking for higher quota for carbon emissions) seems to be the giving of a carte blanche to a contractor to chop and denude trees, paying him out of public funds for doing so. But alas not a word from the minister responsible for the environment, also responsible for landscaping, as well as being responsible for climate change and for formulating the policy for landscaping. When one sows the wind one cannot but expect to reap a whirlwind. What a waste of resources! I can hear echoes in the corridors of some Ministry saying that we, yes we, are paying millions of pounds to landscape the countryside with beautiful coloured pansies, marigolds and geraniums (for a maximum of a score of weeks, before they are ploughed up, to be planted anew) not forgetting the number of imported trees species, such as, for example, palm trees. I would not be surprised in the least if some other introduced species will make its presence felt considering the ever increasing amount of imported flora without any biodiversity strategy at all. As one drives around the island one cannot but see a number of such “hat stands” such as those at Balzan, Rabat, Attard, and others, sculptured out of established living trees and paid for out of public funds. The latest additional visual results in landscaping efforts are the number of dead palm trees: the result of short-sightedness in importing trees for landscaping purposes. Living monuments to crass incompetence, again the result of the lack a national biodiversity strategy.

Is there somebody who still believes that money does not grow on trees?


Mepa: The missing link

June 21, 2010

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured. A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour. Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a Member State of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the Competent Authority for the EU environmental acquis. The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly Competent Authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the Competent Authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other international infringements. This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU.

Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10):  “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates“.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: The two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a Competent Authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two.

If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer. This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the Competent Authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay. Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the Competent Authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep in its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”. Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa. aebaldacchino@gmail.com


The introduction of alien species into the natural environment – a European concern

June 21, 2010

22 June 2008

Alfred E. baldacchino 

Alien species are not extraterrestrial species, as one could be led to believe by the word “alien”. From a biological perspective, alien species are living species of flora and fauna which, in an unnatural way, are introduced into a natural habitat where they have never occurred before, and as such are not indigenous to that area. Some of these species may be quite harmless. But others can be very dangerous from an ecological and an economical aspect. The introduction of alien species can be either accidental or intentional, but in both cases the species introduced can became invasive, competing with the local species for space and food and thus threatening the survival of indigenous species, sometimes even by predation. Invasive alien species (IAS) can be a serious threat to biodiversity and contribute to its loss. Aided by other environmental threats, IAS weaken the resilience of natural systems and reduce their ability to adapt to new conditions generated by climate change. An example of a local intentionally introduced floral species is the eucalyptus tree. The latest introduced faunal species recorded towards the end of 2007, and officially declared invasive, is the red palm weevil. This is but a brief and simple definition of an alien species. The ever-increasing international demand for exotic species, whether animal or plant, for commercial trade, aided by modern means of transportation, make it easier for species to establish themselves in countries where they have never previously been present. The increasing illegal trafficking in exotic wild species on a global scale (which is only second to illegal drug trafficking) further enhances the possibilities of species invading other countries. Having seen the negative impact of IAS, the international community introduced legislation to control them. Below is a very brief general look at some of this legislation and its provisions and obligations, which is aimed at controlling introduced aliens species, and to which the signatories have committed themselves.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed at Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992, is the most recent international convention and embraces the most modern scientific principles in the conservation of biological diversity. It lays down measures regarding the conservation of species and the contracting parties will, as far as possible and as appropriate, achieve this by establishing or maintaining the means to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology that are likely to have an adverse environmental impact that could affect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account the risk to human health. Furthermore, the signatories are also obliged to prevent the introduction of, see to the control of or the eradication of those alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species. Malta became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity on 29 December 2000.

Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern)  was signed in Bern on 19 October 1979 under the auspices of the Council of Europe. The signatories to this convention are obliged to undertake strict control of the introduction of non-native species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 26 November 1993.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn) The United Nations Environment Programme is the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. The signatories to this convention, which came into force in 1985, agree to endeavour – to the extent that is feasible and appropriate – to prevent, reduce or control factors that are endangering or are likely to further endanger the species listed in an annex of the convention. Signatories are also obliged to strictly control the introduction of, or control or elimination of, already introduced exotic species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 13 February 2001.

United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) UNCLOS also addresses the protection and preservation of the marine environment. The signatories to this convention, which came into force in 1994, are to take all measures necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment resulting from the use of technologies under their jurisdiction or control, or the intentional or accidental introduction of species, alien or new, to a particular part of the marine environment, which may cause significant and harmful changes thereto. The cleaning of ships’ hulls and the ballast water carried by ships are the main contributors to such alien introduced species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 25 May 1993.

EU Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora    This European Union legislation also addresses the issue of the introduction of alien species with regard to the conservation of European natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna. In implementing the provisions of this Directive, also referred to as the Habitats Directive, member states are to ensure that the deliberate introduction into the wild of any species that is not native to their territory is regulated so as not to prejudice natural habitats within their natural range or the wild native fauna and flora and, if they consider it necessary, prohibit such introduction into their country. This Directive became applicable to Malta when it joined the European Union on 1 May 2004. The European Union also has other decisions and regulations that support and encourage member states to honour the international conventions that incorporate such principles. These include, amongst others, the above-mentioned conventions. It has to be admitted that such concepts are relatively new to all the social entities in the Maltese Islands, where a lot still has to be done so that they can be understood, accepted and implemented. Nevertheless, these are Malta’s legal obligations under the international treaties to which Malta is a contracting party. aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Why not use native plants for landscaping?

May 28, 2010

Sunday, 23rd May 2010

Why not use native plants for landscaping? Vincent Gauci, Sta Luċija

Environmental Landscapes Consortium (ELC) Ltd is the government contractor for the landscaping of our roads, roundabouts and centre strips. ELC is doing a good job. However, the consortium is quite wasteful with water and it is not difficult to realise that the taxpayer is paying a hefty price for this service. ELC should consider using flora of local genetic origin, i.e. native plants, for landscaping public green areas. Malta is endowed with a selection of scented, colourful and attractive native plants, some of which may be suitable for growing in public green areas. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. Many native plants have deepspreading root systems that protect the soil against erosion. Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, bees, birds and other animals. Moreover, native species require less watering and caring than imported horticultural species. Indeed, encouraging the development of indigenous plant communities in roundabouts and other public areas may also somewhat compensate for the destruction of native communities in the wild due to development.

Comments

Alfred E Baldacchino  (5 hours, 39 minutes ago) Why blame ELC for this rampage on trees going on all over the island. They are supposedly getting their policy from the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, unless of course the ELC drafts the policies themselves and also implement it. If policies are being made by the MRRA, who in such cases also issues permits for such ‘pruning’ then I am afraid that at the MRRA there are none who can distinguish between a tree and an elephant. If policies are being drafted by the executers, then this is very highly irregular and urgent administrative action is needed to correct this. Otherwise the rampage can only gather momentum, unfortunately financed by public monies. This is one of the reasons why such a mentality is doing so much damage to the Maltese natural environment, when one also considers the uncontrolled introduced species, and the spraying of herbicides on every plant that is regarded by these landscapers as a weed, amongst others. It is no wonder that in the year which is the UN and EU International Year of Biodiversity, an EU report has revealed that Malta trails miserably in biodiversity protection. This is just a living example.

Antoine Vella (1 day, 2 hours ago) Native plants would be cheaper than imported ones and ELC would make a bigger profit if they limited themselves to indigenous species. The reasons for growing exotic plants are others.

Annalise Falzon (1 day, 2 hours ago) @ Azzopardi native plants are boring?have you ever been on walk in our countryside?? There are about 800 indigenous plants on this rock! Join any nature walk to learn more or simply have a look at any flora guidebook and website for local species.

S.Zammit (1 day, 8 hours ago) I could not agree more with you Mr.Gauci! I’m no expert on local plants, but I think a patch of poppies, ‘lellux’ and ‘qarsu’ – to name the more common ones – is as striking as a mass of any other cultivated (read moneymaking!) flower….

Andrew Azzopardi (1 day, 8 hours ago) Sticking to ‘native’ species is impractical and boring. Imagine…….no citrus trees, no geraniums, no cacti, basically very little beyond carob trees and widnet il-bahar. And what is ‘native’ anyway?

D.Dalli (1 day, 4 hours ago) I agree with your, what is native anyway. What could have been introduced here a millenia ago could now erraneously be considered as native because the species is further found around the Mediterranean basin. One thing is for sure, and as again you, in my view, rightly state, if we had to stick to what some term native, this place would be boring and much of the trees etc will simply vanish. Agreed some have their particular over abundant thirst for water and compete with “native” species. So do many other things, including humans. 8000 years ago, humans were not indigenous to this place, should we all go, because we compete for a whole lot of resources with animals and plants. I am a firm believer that a responsible (and that is underlines) team of scientists should actually introduce other plants and trees in Malta, making sure they are of a species that don’t destroy what we have in a matter of months/years. Some plantsm, rather than compete alone,destroy and that is where i would be cautious. For example I would actually plant a whole lot of magnificant cactii at the bottom perimeter of Maghtab

Ramon Casha (17 hours, 8 minutes ago) Wow Andrew… you should get out more often – into the countryside in spring. We have an amazing variety of local plants of all colours. I have yet to see a sight as beautiful as a field covered in common “silla” in full bloom. We have flowering plants of all colours – some annual, some more permanent but there’s a great variety.

Paul Borg (1 day, 11 hours ago) Could profits on imported plants have something to do with it? Could the very perishability of foreign plants be their attraction? That way ELC has to keep on replacing them? Is it true that Polidano (aka Caqnu is one of the shareholders of ELC?) Is the care of our roundabouts an ELC monopoly, or does it get tendered out publicly, giving other companies a chance to win the contract?

T Camilleri (1 day, 9 hours ago) Paul Borg Money on imported plants certainly has got to do with it. We are paying millions to ELC apart from paying the wages of the ex-Agricultural Department employees who are seconded with ELC. This is what the people should be told and not that we have more beautiful roundabouts.


Environment: a new beginning?

March 7, 2010

 

  Thursday, 4th March 2010

 Environment: A new beginning?

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 

The Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, the Environment and Culture,  Mario de Marco made his first public statement on the environment following the latest adjustments to his portfolio (The Times, February 19). This, I am glad to say, provides a lot of food for thought and hope for the ever-increasing number of citizens who are convinced that the environment is the platform on which all decisions have to be based. “And so it should be,” said Dr de Marco, adding that decisions and actions have to take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect. “It places sustainable development even more at the centre of the government and as the building block on which all policies, not just environment policies, are built.” Very well said. Expectations that the dormant National Commission for Sustainable Development will be given the breath of life must now be very high.

Dr de Marco may still be trying to find his feet under the added weight of his responsibilities but his first official comment on the environment augurs well for the environment and he should not only be congratulated but also encouraged and given all possible help. His understanding of the interdependence of the biotic (life on earth) and the abiotic (the physical environment such as water, air, light and land) is indeed a very good start. It is an understanding that is so conspicuous by its absence in so many decision-making public bodies.

Admittedly, the “task at hand is by no means an easy one”. If I may borrow a slogan from the party in government, that “together everything is possible”, then, if all the social entities are involved and are made to feel they belong and are part of such a vision, the task may not be as difficult as one thinks. These social entities include, among others, the political, religious, commercial, educational, judicial, medical, trade unionist, scientific and non-governmental bodies.

Dr de Marco also correctly made emphasis on the EU environment legislation, with its obligations with regard to the biotic and abiotic environment, and the need for this to be the platform for implementing such a vision if “we want to bring our environment up to European standards”. We are more than capable as a nation of meeting the environmental challenges… when there is the will.

Dr de Marco wrote that the Environment Protection Directorate will be strengthened, a very urgent and long overdue measure following the depletion and mutilation of the Environment Protection Department after its “merger” with the Planning Authority. I wrote and even publicly stated during the public discussion meeting with the Prime Minister on December 14, 2009, that it is a big mistake to leave the Environment Protection Directorate “merged” with the planning authority. From past experience and public knowledge, since this “merger” in 2002, not only has the EPD been emarginated, bruised, maimed, exploited and raped but also the environment in general. This is why the separation of the EPD and the Planning Directorate is a sine qua non. It has been stifled (not because of Hexagon House conditions) for far too long now.

This does not mean that the EPD should necessarily be an authority on its own but it can be part of or a directorate within another authority; for example, the Malta Resource Authority, naturally within the portfolio of the minister responsible for the environment.

The vision, the understanding, the legal framework and the need of action plans to bring the environment up to EU standards are all outlined in Dr De Marco’s contribution; a very big step forward, in such a short time. Dr de Marco concludes that “we now have a clear idea of where our problems lie”.

Having been deeply involved for so long in the protection of the environment on a national and international level, the greatest problem in achieving such a vision is the lack of a political will. Without such a will, it will be completely impossible to achieve Dr de Marco’s aim of bringing the environment up to EU standards.

Dr de Marco deserves all the possible help and all the necessary resources to achieve such an official vision. There is no doubt that a lot of pieces have got to be picked up from the floor and put together again and others have to be resurfaced, having been thrown overboard. I would like to wish him all the best of luck and success in achieving this, not only for the benefit of the present generation but also for future generations from whom we have temporarily borrowed such an intricate web of life.

Shall we see a new beginning for the environment? If there is a will, there is a way. Time will tell.

 aebaldacchino@gmail.com


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


Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

February 21, 2010

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The recent proposal to build a road at Ghadira is indeed alarming. The reasons advanced to justify such a road sound more like the environmental joke of the week, rivalled only by the same Minster’s environmental statement that the second class water produced by the drainage purification plant has no economic value. No scientific reports or studies were published with regard to the proposed road. Everyone would have loved to see these, rightly so because of other international obligations. The statement by the Minister concerned, as reported in the press, could lead one to think that the plans to build such a road were hurriedly drawn up before the deadline to apply for EU funds expired, not primarily for the sake of the road, but to obtain and utilise funds. Once this news and maps have been officially released by the DOI, one presumes that Cabinet has approved it.

The green and red arrows are inserted by the author, the former indicating the amount of sound and light pollution, disturbance and impact of the new road, and the latter indicating the area that will be at the mercy of strong easterly winds. These were inserted on the original photo montage issued by the DOI showing the new road and the removal of the existent road.

As an EU member State, Malta is bound by the EU legal obligations of the treaty it signed on 1 May 2004. One such legal instrument of this treaty is Council Directive 92/43 EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, or as it is better known, the Habitats Directive. According to Government Notice 112 of 2007, Malta proposed the Ghadira Reserve as a Site of Community Interest (pSCI), which means a site in the biogeographic region (i.e. the Mediterranean) that contributes significantly to the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type listed in Annex I, or of a species in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, and which may also contribute significantly to the coherence of the EU Natura 2000 network, and/or contributes significantly to the maintenance of biological diversity in the biogeographic region concerned. The Għadira Reserve, together with the other Sites of Community Interests proposed by Government Notice 112 of 2007 (among them also il-Qammieh) was approved by the EU as Special Areas of Conservation. According to the Habitats Directive, a Special Area of Conservation means a site of Community Importance designated by the member State through a statutory, administrative and/or contractual act where the necessary conservation measures are applied for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of the natural habitats and/or the populations of the species for which the site is designated. Moreover, the Malta Government also declared Ghadira Reserve, through the same Government Notice 112 of 2007, as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the Conservation of Wild Birds, better known as the Birds Directive. Today, Ghadira Reserve forms part of the EU Natura 2000 sites. According to the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 sites are a coherent European ecological network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). This network enables the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned, to be maintained or where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range. The Natura 2000 network also includes the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified by the Member States according to the Birds Directive.

L-Għadira Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

Il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

As indicated above, the boundary of the Ghadira SAC touches the boundary of another SAC – il-Qammieh, also proposed by the government through Government Notice 112 of 2007, and now endorsed by the EU. The two site plans published with the G.N. 112 of 2007 are being included. Therefore, the new road will cut through two SACs, both forming part of Natura 2000. And such a proposal for such a new road has to follow the procedure of the obligations of the Habitat Directive. Article 6 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to “…take appropriate steps to avoid, in the Special Areas of Conservation, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this Directive.”

Furthermore, Article 6 of the Habitat Directive obliges that: “Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.” (my emphasis)

Malta is also a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention – the Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. On accession, Malta designated Ghadira as the suitable wetland in its territory for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. As a contracting party, Malta is obliged to formulate and implement its planning to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in its territory.

A number of environmental NGOs, and a substantial number of the public who really and sincerely have the environment at heart, not for any personal gain, have expressed their concern saying that there is no need for such a road. Indeed a comment by one NGO – Din l-Art Helwa – expressed fears that this would open virgin land to speculation. I cannot for a moment imagine such a road with no adjacent “landscaping”, with bungalows and possibly a high-rise tower similar to the one at Mistra. The present four-carriageway road is quite good and adequate enough. The removal of this road would threaten and possibly eliminate the Ghadira Reserve – a Natura 2000 site.

If one were to look at old maps of the area, the present Ghadira Special Area of Conservation was once a salt pan because the sea had access to the deepest inland part of the area, which is below or at sea level. When the strong easterly winds blow, the big waves are kept at bay by the road. It would take only one such strong storm to sweep over and eliminate the Natura 2000 site, including the adjacent surrounding agricultural land. I witnessed such storms twice during the habitat engineering works at Ghadira in the early 1980s. The negative impact of the removal of the present four-carriageway road, would be augmented by those from the building of the new proposed road at the back of the Natura 2000 site, with sound and light pollution, other disturbances and the alteration of the hydrology of the area, besides obliterating pristine natural habitat. These would render the Ghadira Natura 2000 site a mere glorified duck pond, and would also negatively impact il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site too. In brief, the proposed new road does not have any economical benefits, it does not benefit the social environment and it negatively impacts the ecological environment. It is not sustainable, but is merely a “free market concept” without any social or environmental considerations. In the run up to the last general election, and in the first public meeting after the general election, the Prime Minister repeated, wrote and stressed, that the environment is one of the three pillars of his government. I have been trying hard to find a reason, following such a commitment, why the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister responsible for the Environment, as well as the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCSD), is finding it difficult to activate such Commission, which was set up in 2002, in terms of the Environment Protection Act (2001). The main remit of the NCSD is to advocate a national sustainable development across all sectors, to review progress in the achievement of such sustainable development and to build consensus on action needed to achieve further progress, besides being an obligation as a member of the European Union. This lack of action with regard to the NCSD is also further surprising when during a business breakfast organised by the Nationalist Party, The Times (10 September) reported that “Dr Gonzi said the time had come for the pendulum to swing towards the environment. He argued that the country is at a crossroads in terms of how it views the environment and stressed that a strategic decision on sustainable development needs to be taken now.” I am informed that during another recent business breakfast held on 20 November, a member of the NCSD Commission remarked that the Commission has not met for the last two years! The workings of such a Commission would definitely put an end to such environmental antics. It would also be of help to the Prime Minister and his government in honouring their commitments with regard to their environment pillar, both to the local community, to future generations, and also its international obligations. It would also help the people of Malta to avoid embarrassment vis-à-vis their international obligations, especially those of the European Union environment acquis. Present and future generations will doubtlessly ask why EU funds were spent in a way that threaten two Maltese EU Natura 2000 sites. They will also ask why more natural protected environment of international importance was taken to build a road when a four carriageway one existed and was adequate. They will, without doubt, ask which Minister was responsible who approved such a project when historical, archaeological sites and other roads are crying for maintenance and restoration. Certainly they will ask who the Minister was who had the responsibility to protect their environment, which they had lent us, and more so since it was one of the main pillars of his government. Those responsible may not be here to answer such questions.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

February 21, 2010

 

21 ta’ Frar, 2010

IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Nistħajjel xi ħadd jistaqsi: “imma x’jagħmel siġra siġra Maltija u oħra mhux Maltija? Is-siġar mhux kollha siġar?”

Il-gżejjer Maltin kellhom għatja ta’ siġar adattati kemm għall-klima kif ukoll għall-ambjenti naturali tagħhom għall-eluf ta’ snin qabel mal-bniedem medd riġlejh fuq dawn il-gżejjer. Insibu siġar li kienu, u wħud minnhom għadhom jikbru sa llum il-ġurnata, f’ambjent niexef u fqir fil-ħamrija; oħrajn jikbru f’ambjent bi blat bi rqajja’ ta’ ħamrija, waqt li oħrajn jikbru matul il-widien u qrib ta’ nixxigħat minħabba li dawn iħobbu l-ilma. Dawn, li kif għidna, uħud minnhom għadhom jikbru fil-gżejjer Maltin, huma s-siġar Maltin, jew kif huma magħrufa teknikament, siġar indiġeni Maltin. Dan ma jfisserx li dawn is-siġar Maltin jikbru biss fil-gżejjer Maltin, imma huma popolazzjoni ta’ siġar li għal eluf ta’ snin ma kellhomx u lanqas illum ma għandhomx kuntatt fiżiku ma’ siġar oħra bħalhom li jikbru barra mill-gżejjer Maltin. Siġar oħra bħalhom jikbru l-aktar fil-pajjiżi madwar il-Mediterran, imma minħabba li l-gżejjer Maltin huma mdawrin bil-baħar, mhux possibli li s-siġar Maltin jiddakkru jew idakkru, b’mod naturali, is-siġar bħalhom li jikbru fil-pajjiżi tal-Mediterran għax il-firxa tal-baħar tal-madwar hija kbira wisq.

Matul il-medda tas-snin, uħud minn dawn is-siġar Maltin, saru rari ħafna, waqt li oħrajn inqerdu għal kollox.  Ilum insibu madwar 60 speċi ta’ siġar Maltin li għadhom jikbru, jħaddru, u jsebbħu pajjizna, għalkemm ’l biċċa l-kbira huma kemmxejn rari u jikbru f’postijiet imwarrba.

IR-RIĦAN – waħda mis-siġar Maltin, li għadha tħaddar u twarrad f’xi rqajja tal-gżejjer Maltin, tgħamel ħilitha biex tkompli issebbaħhom minkejja l-imġieba negattiva tagħna.  U minkejja li huwa tant ħafif biex titnissel, xorta għad hemm min jagħżel li jdaħħalha f’pajjiżna billi jixtriha jew iġibha minn pajjiżi oħra, fil-riżultati negattivi kollha li jista’ jkollha.

Kif u għaliex inqerdu xi siġar Maltin

Meta l-bniedem rifes fuq dawn il-gżejjer, dan mill-ewwel kellu impatt fuq l-ambjent naturali Malti, anki fuq is-siġar. Dan beda jaqta’ s-siġar għall-injam biex jibni għatja fuq rasu; biex ikebbes in-nar, kemm biex isajjar kif ukoll kontra l-kesħa, u anki biex bl-injam jagħmel manek għall-għodda.  Il-bniedem ukoll ġab miegħu xi annimali domestiċi, fosthom il-mogħoż.  Dawn xejn ma għenu fit-tnissil tas-siġar Maltin, għaliex kull nebbieta ta’ kull siġra kienu jqaxxruha mill-qiegħ biex jiekluha. Il-qerda tas-siġar ħadet xejra oħra meta l-bniedem beda jaħdem l-art biex ikabbar l-uċuh tar-raba’. U numru ta’ siġar Maltin, tbiċċru, tqaċċtu, u nqalgħu biex għamlu wisa’ għall-għelieqi.

Il-ħakma tal-gżejjer mill-barrani matul is-snin, l-aktar dawk Rumani u dawk Għarbin wkoll kompliet tneżża lil dawn il-gżejjer mill-għatja ta’ siġar Maltin.  Dan kien isir ukoll għall-għanijiet ta’ gwerer, u l-injam tagħhom saħansitra għen biex inbnew xi xwieni. Anki llum il-ġurnata għadna naraw l-imġieba negattiva u n-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-bniedem lejn is-siġar.  Wieħed ma jieħux gost jgħid, imma n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar dan il-wirt, tkompli tgħin biex is-siġar Maltin ikomplu jonqsu bil-mod il-mod.  U kif ngħidu aħna, tieħu mingħajr ma trodd, is-swar tħott.

Illum naraw theddida oħra ġdida għas-siġar Maltin.  Din ġejja mill-importazzjoni, jew id-dħul fil-pajjiż ta’ siġar minn kull rokna tad-dinja: mill-Asja, mill-Amerika, mill-Awstralja, u mill-Afrika t’Isfel, mingħajr l-iċken ħsieb ta’ l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom mhux biss fuq is-siġar Maltin imma anki fuq l-annimali u l-pjanti slavaġġ, jiġifieri fuq l-ekosistema Maltija.  Dan biex ma nsemmux ukoll l-impatt ekonomiku, dak storiku, dak tas-saħħa tal-bniedem, dak estetiku, dak agrikolu, u impatti oħra.  Sfortunatament, wieħed mill-għanijiet ewlenin għad-dħul ta’ dawn is-siġar barranin huwa biss għan ta’ qliegħ ta’ flus.

Hawn ukoll min jaħseb li biex tgħin lis-siġar u l-ekosistema tal-gżejjer Maltin huwa billi jinxtraw jew jinġiebu siġar bħal dawk Maltin, minn pajjiżi oħra, mingħajr ma jqis l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom fuq is-siġar Maltin stess, bħal ma sfortunatament diġa rajna. Hawnhekk ma jistax ma jingħadx li dan huwa kollu riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tas-sistem ekoloġika, nuqqas ta’ għarfien tal-obligazzjonijiet internazzjonali f’dan il-qasam, kollu frott tan-nuqqas ta’ rieda u n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


International Day for Biological Diversity

February 8, 2010

             12 July 2009

International Day for Biological Diversity

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every year, the International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated (internationally, but not in Malta) on 22 May, as declared by the United Nations for the promotion of biodiversity issues. This year, the International Day for Biological Diversity appropriately chose as its theme the issue of the introduction of invasive alien species (IAS). The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) defines invasive alien species “as an alien species which becomes established in natural or semi natural ecosystems or habitat, an agent of change, and threatens native biological diversity. These invasive are widely distributed in all kinds of ecosystems throughout the world, and include all categories of living organisms.” Plants, mammals and insects are the most common types of invasive alien species in terrestrial environments. The threat to biodiversity due to IAS is considered second only to that of destruction of natural habitats.

Invasive alien species

Invasive alien species have fearsome negative impacts. They:

• are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, and to the ecological and economic well-being of society and the planet;

• are capable of establishing, invading and outcompeting native species leading some to extinction;

• can cause changes which can be irreversible; • can act as vectors for new diseases, alter ecosystem processes, change biodiversity, disrupt cultural landscapes;

• decimate crops;

• take lifts in ballast water and on ships’ hulls, possibly upsetting ocean food chains;

• worsen human health problems, like hay fever;

• some newly introduced plant pests even cause famines, claiming the lives of millions of people and displacing millions of others;

• feed on, hybridise with, parasites and outcompete native species.

Invasive alien species are active on a global scale. With the everincreasing global markets and the rise in global trade, travel and tourism and the concept of the free movement of goods, as in the European Union, IAS have every chance of further extending their range and numbers in this century.  

Economic costs

The economical damage and control costs of introduced IAS are indeed fearsome. On a global level, the yearly costs are estimated at $1.4 trillion. In Britain, combating IAS amounts to £2 billion a year; 60 per cent of invasive plants in the UK are garden escapees. Preliminary estimates indicate that the monetary cost of IAS in Europe amounts to at least e10 billion per year, and yet almost nothing is known of the impacts, as yet, for 90 per cent of the IAS. The marine environment is not spared either, and it is estimated that overall annual European expenditure to combat IAS amounts to e8.18 million. One of the greatest problems with regard to the control of IAS is that too many governments ignore such alien species, or procrastinate sine die until the effects are visible and can no longer be swept under the carpet.

The European Union

The European Commission recently became more concerned about the impact of IAS, many of which have bene-fited from the free movement of goods concept. These are having such a negative impact on the Community and threatening European biodiversity, that a number of policy options for developing a strategy to deal with IAS have been drafted. These are aimed at a coordinated approach and measures to be put in place immediately, and include a Europe-wide early warning system for reporting IAS. Such a harmonised approach is conspicuous by its absence. European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Invasive species are a major threat to biodiversity. Halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU will not be possible without tackling the problem of these unwelcome visitors. Given the way that these quickly become established and spread, measures taken by one member state can have no effect if neighbouring countries fail to take action or respond in an uncoordinated manner. The ecological, economic and social consequences of the spread of invasive species for EU countries are serious and need a harmonised response.” The journal Science1 recently published a paper that suggests that legislation is not enough to tackle IAS. It also points out that Europe lacks appropriate governance and institutional coordination across member states to tackle the IAS invasion effectively.

The Maltese scenario

In recent years, the number of IAS in the Maltese Islands has been increasing alarmingly. The most popular seems to be the red palm weevil, which, since its introduction, has devastated at least 300 mature adult palm trees. How did Malta commemorate International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May, with the present theme of controlling Invasive Alien Species? The only reference to the subject was a press release from the Department of Information dated 25 May, in which the ministry responsible for agriculture informed the public that another introduced alien species – the tomato leaf miner – had, since April 2009, set up house in the Maltese Islands. It also informed the general public about the insecticides to use to eliminate this IAS. But worse still is the fact that when some species are declared as IAS locally, or on a European scale, these are still locally traded. To add insult to injury, invasive alien plants are planted by a government contractor, who is paid out of public funds. A case in point is the Hottentot Fig, a flat evergreen South African succulent plant with large magenta or yellow flowers, which spreads along cliffs, and spreads aggressively once it becomes established in the environment. All one has to do is take a look at the planted specimens on the roundabout leading to Malta International Airport, and at those established invasive specimens along the cliff faces on the southern coasts of the island. The Hottentot Fig is one of the IAS on the elimination target list of some EU member states, and is also declared as such by Mepa.

Besides a strong pair of hands and a virtual environmental column, a clear official vision, an iron will and a Minister for the Environment are urgently needed to give the environment the much needed boost on the lines of the obligations outlined in the EU environmental acquis. The aliens are here, there and everywhere, and in strong numbers.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Il-Buskett

January 26, 2010

 Il-Ħadd, 24 ta’ Jannar 2010

Il-Buskett – Alfred E. baldacchino

IL-BUSKETT huwa ta’ importanza kbira għall-gżejjer Maltin, mill-aspett storiku, ekoloġiku, ekonomiku, edukattiv, studju xjentifiku u anki rikreattiv. L-isem Buskett tfisser bosk żgħir (Boscetto), u mhux ġnien bħalma jaħsbu xi wħud. Il-Buskett huwa l-uniku post fil-gżejjer Maltin fejn hemm masġar naturali taż-żnuber, minbarra li hemm numru ta’ ambjenti naturali differenti,bħal ngħidu aħna, makkja, fdal ta’ foresti naturali, livelli differenti ta’ xagħri, u anki masġar ta’ siġar tan-nixxigħat.

Il-Kavallieri, li mingħajr dubju kellhom l-aħjar viżjoni ambjentali minn dawk kollha li ħakmu lil Malta, mill-ewwel għarfu l-importanza ta’ dan il-post. Mingħajr il-kontribut tagħhom ma kienx ikollna dan il-wirt sinjur. L-Ingliżi li ġew wara l-kavallieri wkoll taw sehemhom fil-ħarsien ta’ dan ilpost uniku. Illum, sfortuntament, kif wieħed jista’ jara jekk imur sa hemm, il-Buskett għandu telqa fuqu li tħammar wiċċ kull minn huwa kburi li huwa Malti: bini storiku mġarraf, l-ambjent naturali stuprat, xi kultant anki bi flus pubbliċi, u nuqqas ta’ sensittività minn min huwa responsabbli għal dan l-ambjent naturali uniku. Inħossni nistħi ngħid bħala Malti, li l-ħakkiema barranin ħadu ħsieb dan il-post aktar mill-mexxejja Maltin.

L-ewwel ħarsien legali ngħata lill-Buskett fl-1933. Permezz tal-Avviż tal-Gvern 269 tal-1933 numru ta’ siġar fil-Buskett kienu mħarsa minħabba l-valur ta’ antikità tagħhom. Fl-1996 il-Buskett kien skedat taħt l-Att tal-Iżvilupp u l-Ippjanar bħala Arja ta’ Importanza Ekoloġika, Sit ta’ Importanza Xjentifika, Wesgħa ta’ valur għoli ta’ landscaping, u kien skedat bħala Masġar (Bosk), kif jidher fl- Avviż Legali 403 tal-1996. Il-Buskett u numru ta’ siġar indiġeni wkoll huma mħarsa b’Avviż Legali 12 tal-2001.

Fl-2003 il-gvern Malti ppropona l-Buskett bħala Sit ta’ Interess għall-Komunità Ewropea, kif jixhed Avviż tal-Gvern 257 tal-2003, bil-għan li l-Buskett ikun aċċettat mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea bħala Żona Specjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation – SAC) kif titlob id-Direttiva tal-Ambjenti Naturali (EU Habitats Directive). Avviż Legali 257 tal-2003 jagħti lista ta’ speċi u ambjenti naturali li jridu jkunu mħarsa skont id-Direttiva tal-Habitats tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u wkoll jiġbor fih dawk ir-regolamenti Maltin kollha li jħarsu l-ispeċi u l-ambjenti naturali, fosthom il-Buskett. Dan l-Avviż Legali huwa ffirmat mill-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino. Il-Buskett illum huwa parti mix-xibka ta’ Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u dan iġorr miegħu numru ta’ obbligi legali. Dan kollu sar meta l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino kien Ministru tal-Ambjent, u naħseb li dan jaf bl-obbligi li hemm biex jeduka, u jqajjem kuxjenza pubblika, qabel kull politika partiġġjana jew xi avvanz personali, kif korrettement qal hu nnifsu.

Barra minn hekk ir-regolamenti tal-1997 dwar il-ħitan tas-sejjieħ u strutturi rurali oħra, ukoll japplikaw għan-numru ta’ strutturi u ħitan tas-sejjieħ fil-Buskett. Mingħajr dubju dawn kollha huma miżuri ta’ ħarsien li jirregolaw kif għandu jsir kull tip ta’ xogħol f’dawn l-inħawi li llum jifformaw parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Bħala sit Natura 2000 kull tip ta’ xogħol irid ikun skont il-permessi u kondizzjonijiet maħruġa taħt dawn ir-regolamenti. Dawn iridu jkunu osservati u inforzati.

Dan ifisser li fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-biodiversità, wieħed ma jistax jidħol b’inġenji bħal gaffef u jtajjar kull ma jaħseb li mhux importanti għalih, jiżbor bis-serrieq mekkaniku kull fergħa li jħoss li mhix f’postha, litteralment jikness qiegħ il-wied mill-weraq niexef, jaħsad il-veġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar, iqaxxar il-ħitan mil-liedna biex tidher il-ġebla. Dawn kollha jridu permessi minn qabel biex jistgħu jsiru. Barra minn hekk, min ried jagħmel dan ix-xogħol ried jissottometti stima marbuta ma’ dan it-tip ta’ xogħol (appropriate assessment) tal-impatti minn kull aspett fuq is-sit, kemm dawk storiċi kif ukoll dawk ekoloġiċi, u dan wara li jisma’ l-opinjoni pubblika fuq dan ix-xogħol li jkun jixtieq jagħmel. Wara li jġib il-permessi meħtieġa mingħand l-Awtorità Kompetenti f’dan il-qasam – jiġifieri l-MEPA – irid joqgħod għall-kundizzjoni li din tagħmel. Wieħed jistenna li min kien responsabbli mill-ħarisen tal-ambjent u anki responsabbli mill-MEPA jimxi ma’ dawn l-obbligi kelma b’kelma, anki jekk biex jagħti eżempju tal-għarfien tal-obbligi li l-pajjiż għandu fl-oqsma internazzjonali u l-kondizjnijiet mitluba mill-MEPA. Imma…

Meta beda x-xogħol fuq il-Buskett fl-2005, kien hemm reazzjoni qawwija ħafna mill-pubbliku u anki fil-gazzetti kontra dan ix-xogħol. In-NatureTrust, fit-23 ta’ Lulju tal-2005 fil-gazzetta The Times ħarġet stqarrija fejn uriet id-diżappunt tagħha għax-xogħol insensittiv għall-ekoloġija tal-Buskett, li kompla minkejja l-protesti tagħhom fejn saħansitra staqsew jekk dan kellux il-permessi meħtieġa skont il-liġi, u fejn ukoll taw indikazzjoni li kien qed jintuża l-erbiċida biex toqtol ilveġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar. Fl-istess ħarġa ta’ The Times il-Birdlife ġibdu l-attenzjoni li kien qed isir żbir ta’ siġar u tqaxxir tal-liedna minn mal-ħitan u kien qed ikun hemm ħsara irreparabbli lillambjent tal-masġar. Kien hemm akkużi oħra mill-għaqdiet ambjentali dwar il-qerda ta’ nebbiet ta’ numru ta’ siġar, kemm tal-Ballut, kif ukoll tad-Deru, kollha siġar imħarsa bil-liġi. Dan kollu f’sit li huwa parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea fejn xejn minn dan ma jista’ jsir.

James Debono fil-Malta Today tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005 kiteb li l-konsorzju, li minnu kien responsabbli l-Ministru Pullicino, kien qed jimmaniġġja l-Buskett bħallikieku dan kien xi roundabout. Kelliema għan-NatureTrust, fl-istess ħarġa tal-MaltaToday, qalet “kif nistgħu nkomplu nedukaw lill-pubbliku u t-tfal tal-iskola li jżuru l-Buskett, meta ma hemm l-ebda ħarsien tal-post mill-awtoritajiet infushom?”

Fil-Malta Today ukoll tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005, Saviour Balzan kiteb li l-premju tax-xahar imur għallkonsorzju li għamel mandra (mess) fil-Buskett u qal li l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino għandu joħroġhom minn hemm MINNUFIH. Saviour Balzan donnu kien profeta għax il-konsorzju ngħata premju kmieni din is-sena.

Wara l-kummenti, suġġerimenti u pariri tiegħi dwar din il-ħsara, meta kont għadni fis-servizz pubbliku, kont ġejt infurmat li l-Buskett ma baqax aktar taħt ir-responsabbiltà tiegħi. Kważi tliet snin wara li beda xogħol fil-Buskett fl-2005, u jien kont ili li rtirajt kważi sena, il-Ministru Pullicino ħareġ stqarrija li dehret fl-Independent on Sunday fl-24 ta’ Frar 2008, fejn qal li “ix-xogħol li l- Ministeru kellu ħsieb jagħmel (fil-Buskett) kien imwaqqaf mill-MEPA li sostniet li x-xogħol proġettat seta’ jagħmel ħsara lill-ekosistema.” Dan ifisser li x-xogħol li sar u dak li kien hemm maħsub li jsir ma kellux il-permessi meħtieġa, kemm mingħand id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent kif ukoll mingħand dak tal-Ippjanar tal-MEPA.

Fis-6 ta’ Ġunju tal-2008, (wara aktar minn sena rtirat) kont mitlub mill-Ministeru biex nagħmel rapport fuq il-Buskett fejn fih ikun hemm emfasi dwar il-miżuri li huma meħtieġa fil-Buskett. Dan wassaltu b’idejja fil-31 ta’ Awwissu 2008. Għaddew kważi sena u nofs, u xorta waħda għadu ma sar xejn. Sinċerament ma nafx xi jrid il-Ministru: forsi stenna li se ngħidlu biex iħawwel il-pensjeri u s-sardinell madwar is-siġar fil-Buskett! Li għamilt, għamiltu biex insalva l-biodiversità mhedda Maltija, u biex Malta ma tiffaċċax problemi mill-Unjoni Ewropea dwar ksur tad-Direttiva tal-Habitats. Dawn jista’ jkollhom konsegwenzi finanzjarji, ekonomiċi, u politiċi koroh fuq il-pajjiż. Dan għarfitu wkoll il-MEPA għax ma ħarġitx il-permessi għax-xogħol li ried jagħmel il-Ministru Pullicino u waqqfet il-ħerba li kienet qiegħda ssir, minkejja li jien ma bqajtx responsabbli mill-Buskett u ma kontx għadni fis-servizz pubbliku.

Il-prinċipji tiegħi dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali minn dejjem kienu, għadhom, u jibqgħu l-istess, u huma bħal dawk li hemm fid-Direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea, minkejja kull attentat li hemm jew li jista’ jkun hemm minn xi ħadd biex jgħatti xturu u jipprova joskurani.

Kif tixhed l-istqarrija tal-Ministru Pullicino, fit-TORĊA tal-Ħadd 10 ta’ Jannar 2010, ma nistax nemmen u ma nistax nifhem għaliex qed iħares daqshekk lura fiż-żmien. Irrifjuta u għadu qed jirrifjuta kull parir, u kull għajnuna minn dawk li jridu u li huma lesti li jgħinuh. Iżda naqbel miegħu perfettament meta f’din l-is-tqarrija qal li “… nistenna li kulħadd jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà tal-pożizzjonijiet li jieħu.”

F’kull qasam l-akbar responsabbiltà hija ta’ dawk li kienu fdati mill-poplu biex jieħdu ħsieb lambjent naturali Malti, li aħna ssellifna mingħand uliedna, u mingħand ulied uliedna. Il-Buskett qed jibki għall-pjan ta’ azzjoni professjonali u skont l-obbligi legali li l-pajjiż għandu. U m’hemm xejn xi jżomm lill-Ministru li jagħmel dan fl-interess tal-pajjiż mingħajr ħela ta’ enerġija u kritika partiġġjana.

Il-pariri tiegħi fuq il-Buskett ilhom għandu s-snin, u l-għajnuna tiegħi professjonali għall-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali Malti ntiha lil kull min jixtieqha, hu min hu.


In search of tiger’s documents

January 11, 2010

Tuesday, 15th September 2009

Talking Point

In search of tiger’s documents

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the red palm weevil, the Geranium bronze butterfly and other alien species, which got a foothold on these islands, now a Bengal tiger has surfaced on a rooftop! Without doubt, this felid was brought to Malta, either imported from a country outside the European Union or transported from one of the EU member states.

The Bengal tiger hunts medium to large prey such as wild pigs, deer, antelopes and buffalo. This second largest wild big cat can reach a length of three metres from head to tail and weigh about 250 kilogrammes. It can jump a horizontal leap of 10 metres and a vertical jump of five metres. It is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 wild Bengal tigers, each having a minimum territory of 20 square kilometres.

Because of widespread illegal trade in wild animals and plants, which, incidentally, is second only to international drug trafficking, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) came into force in 1973. The Bengal tiger is listed in the convention’s Appendix I, which includes the most endangered animals and plants threatened with extinction. International trade in such species is prohibited. In exceptional cases trade may take place provided it is authorised by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit. This means that:

If the Bengal tiger was legally imported from outside the EU, the Maltese Cites management authority, which is Mepa, had to issue an import permit after the scientific authority had given its advice that the import will not be detrimental to the species involved. An importation and export permit from country of origin had to be surrendered to Mepa.

If the Bengal tiger was transported to Malta from within the EU, then two EU wildlife trade regulations, (EC) 338 of 1997 and (EC) 865 of 2006, which implement the provision of Cites, come in play. The object of these regulations is to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to guarantee their conservation by regulation trade therein. The introduction into the Community of specimens of the species listed in Cites Appendix I is subject to the completion of the necessary checks and the prior presentation of documents at the border Customs office at the point of introduction, which member states have designated and notified the EU and Cites secretariat accordingly.

If the Bengal tiger was imported legally, then Mepa, which is the management authority both for Cites and also for the EU regulations, should have all the documents at its finger tips. If it does not have any, then the Bengal tiger was imported into Malta, and into the EU, illegally.

The importation and exportation of wild flora and fauna is not just the responsibility of Mepa, which is just concerned with the ecological aspect. Nonetheless, the importation of living species can have a social and an economical negative impact, something the local administrative entitles are finding it so difficult to apprehend. Poisonous species like snakes and spiders are of concern to the Ministry for Social Policy, responsible for health. Dangerous animals, like felids, chimpanzees and also reptiles, also fall within the wing of the ministry responsible for veterinary services.

The Veterinary Service Act designates a “border inspection post” for carrying out veterinary inspections by veterinary officers on imported live animals. The EU and Cites both have been notified of these specific posts. This means that the Bengal tiger had to enter Malta through one of these designated posts, accompanied not only by the Cites/EU documentation but also by a veterinary health certificate issued by the country of origin. The Animal Welfare Act, administered by the veterinary services within the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, is also responsible for the monitoring of ill treatment of animals and aggressive animals that may present a danger to the safety of man or other animals and which are classified as such by the minister. These animals shall not be bred, imported or sold in Malta.

In another section of the press, the Director of Animal Welfare is reported as having said that the Bengal tiger is being taken good care of, has an air-conditioned room, is fed chickens and there are no indications that it has bothered anyone from the surroundings. Yet, no mention has been made of any veterinary health certificate that had to be surrendered to the veterinary services at the border inspection post, more important as felids are included in the Fourth Schedule of the Veterinary Service Act.

So while a search for the importation and veterinary documents is being conducted, the Bengal tiger is comfortably in an airconditioned room, eating chickens. And during such search for the legal documents, will it come of age and start searching for a mate? Will it do the Houdini act? When pigs can fly in Malta, why cannot their predator fly too? Will it be infected by some endemic virus and be eaten by rats overnight? Time will tell. In the meantime, the search from all sides goes on. But the most important question, considering the above legal provisions, is: But how on earth did such a blessed tiger manage to surface on an urban rooftop?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


MEPA’s reform and the environment

January 9, 2010

 Saturday, 1st August 2009

 Mepa’s reform and the environment

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform identifies four pillars to achieve such an aim. This was awaited by many who yearn for the real, honest and professional protection of the Maltese environment. How far does this blueprint succeed in ensuring such a vision?

A number of functions were regarded as not being core to Mepa’s mandate and, as such, they were assigned to the responsibilities of other government entities. Yet, the most important functions that should have been assigned outside Mepa is environment protection. Perusal of the reform document leads to the conclusion that Mepa is regarded as just dealing with development and the issuing of development permits. The environment, on the other hand, is just an appendix to give its views, when asked, or when convenient.

As emphasised in my letter (The Times, June 30), because of its international responsibilities and obligations, the environment has no place in an uthority whose first and only importance is development. This does not mean that the environment has to be a new authority; it can be merged with the Malta Resource Authority. There are a number of reasons which justify this, even in the Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform itself:

1. The second sentence on the first page states that Mepa, as it is known today, resulted from the former Planning Authority being given the role of competent authority for environmental protection under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) in 2001. This is a totally incorrect statement because Mepa is formed by the former Planning Authority and the former Environment Protection Department. These are two different directorates. Whether this statement is a lapsus or whether the cat has been accidentally let out of the bag only the drafters of the report can say. But it vindicates those who say that the PA and the EPD never merged but the latter was taken over by the former. And when such a report is drawn on this assumption, than the whole reform is derailed.

2. In outlining the duties of the EPD, the report adds: This directorate formulates strategies, regulations and guidelines, monitors their adherence and regulates activities that may negatively impact the environment through a licensing and permitting system. This is also not completely correct. These are but a mild fraction of the duties of the EPD. The international duties such as those arising from international conventions and those of the European Union are but a few others. Far from just an input to development planning.

3. The Prime Minister said he definitely does not agree that the environment becomes a separate authority because: If the environment and the planning authorities do not agree, who would be the Solomon to decide. Shall we bring in a third authority? And this is the very reason why the environment and the planning authority should be different and separate. Every time the environment and the planning directorates do not agree it is always the development function that has the upper hand. This is even highlighted in the Mepa auditor’s Baħrija report dated July 20, 2009, which clearly states that the DCC did not even consult the EPD, despite the fact that the two Directorates are within one authority, again vindicating my reasoning in my contribution to The Times of April 22, 2008. No Solomon was needed to solve this issue: the EPD was just bypassed. And I am sure this is not what the Prime Ministers means and wants, yet, it is what is often being done.

4. The Prime Minister also stated that there is no point in Mepa having a minerals section when this is a resource and this is now being transferred to the MRA. I am also sure that the Prime Minister fully agrees that biodiversity (species and their natural habitat) are a very important national resource. With the same reasoning, shouldn’t this also be under the responsibility of the MRA?

5. The Planning Authority never had any international experience or responsibilities especially in environmental matters. After eight years of being exposed to such international responsibilities through the Environment Protection Directorate, the Planning Directorate is still very sceptical and still has not grasped the onus of such responsibilities. The authors of the Mepa reform report seem to be more familiar with planning and development matters than with environmental responsibilities. The proposed amalgamation of the Environment Protection Act with the Development Planning Act would mean laying environmental matters, with all the international and EU responsibilities, at the feet of development planning. Such a concern has already been expressed by the EU in one of its reports regarding the unhappy situation of the Environment Protection Directorate within Mepa. This proposal would be very costly, from a human resource, financial and political viewpoint.

6. The aura that surrounds the Mepa reform is mainly based on the economic aspect, leaving the social and ecological aspects aside and it is easy to see that the reform is only directed towards the old Planning Authority – development. The Cinderella at Mepa is fading into history books. Such a scenario would completely eliminate any basis for sustainability. I am sure and I honestly believe that the Prime Minister will take these points into consideration.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com