Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

The news of the restoration of Wied il-Qlejgħa, alias Chadwick lakes, is good news. Not least because the ‘cleaning of valleys’ has been put to bed.

The largest dam at Wied il-Qlejgħa in all its glory

The measures highlighted in the media for such restoration are also something to look forward to, namely: restoration of dilapidated rubble walls; removal of the playing area; removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna; removal of accumulated sediment behind dams; restoration and utilisation of the Fiddien pumping station; and the planning of walking trails.

Dilapidated rubble walls – not an uncommon site after some heavy rainfall

Valleys in the Maltese islands are a sensitive ecological areas – much ignored, unappreciated and abused. These have been abandoned and mismanaged for years, making their restoration more delicate. They are dried river beds, once adorned with dwarf hippopotamus and endemic swan. Climate change reduced these rich fresh water habitats to what they are today.

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.

 

Dilapidated rubble walls is the first item that should be addressed, thus stopping soil erosion, one of the main culprits for the filling up of the dams.

The use of gabbjuni (big cages) to repair/replace rubble walls should not even be considered. A look at the 30-year-old gabbjuni installed along the valley, shows how barren they are. Not even the tenacious invasive cape sorell (l-ingliża) has managed to colonise any of them.

The play area in the midst of willow trees. Now who would have thought of this?

The removal of the playing area in the midst of the valley is a sine qua non. I wonder who was the architect who conceived this idea in the middle of one of the largest valley in the Maltese Islands!

Alien invasive eucalyptus trees dominate the valley. One might have to tread careful here because these can be protected by the latest tree protection regulations issued by ERA.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and  fauna is another step in the right direction.

No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour. It is not just bulldozing them on the lines of how the Ministry of Transport bulldozes trees. The invasive species of flora have to be gradually removed  in some areas, while being replaced by indigenous species.

Invasive species growing in Wied il-Qlejgħa include: she oak (less than a dozen), castor oil trees (less than 100), acacias and eucalyptus (more than a score and twenty of each species).

Their removal has to be professional so as not to contribute further to their dispersal. This applies mainly to the castor oil tree which has to be uprooted, and burned on site thus eliminating the possibility of giving it a free ride and opportunity to its seeds to germinate on new reclaimed grounds.

Furthermore, indigenous species which grow in the valley, such as poplar trees, willows, almond trees, lentisks, olive trees, chaste trees,  should not be mistaken for invasive species and removed. Not a far-fetched concern.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna is another step in the right direction. No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour

On the other hand, the notorious lately introduced red swamp crayfish also abounds in the valley, detrimental to any fresh aquatic life such as indigenous painted frog and its tadpole, dragonflies and water beetles larvae. The person who introduced such alien species, should be chained to a poplar tree until the last crayfish is collected.

The indigenous poplar tree – adorns its natural habitat. No it is not dead.

On the other hand indigenous trees adapted to such a riverine habitat include the poplar tree, already established in the valley, willow (two species also established), chaste tree (of which there is half a dozen) and rare species of ash and elm.

AmbjentMalta can start propagating them immediately so that they will be readily available for planting as standard trees as soon as a parcel of the valley has been restored.

There are also a number of indigenous flora, some  rare and scarce aquatic species, such as water cress, sanicle-leaved water crowfoot, and bulbous buttercup. Others not so rare are greater plantain, creeping cinquefoil, rushes and sedges.

Rare and scarce aquatic plants whose seeds aestivate in the sediment. (Photos by Stephen Mifsud).

 

Another delicate exercise is the removal of debris, and sediment accumulated behind the two main water dams. Presumably, one would think, this would be undertaken during the hot summer months when the cisterns are dry. This means that the top layer of the sediment will be full of seeds and ova of species frequenting the aquatic habitat. The collecting of approximately 15 cm of scraped surface sediment to be redeposited in the restored parts, would contribute to the survival of these rare species.

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

The valley bottom is constantly being abused by off-roading motorbikes as one can see from the erosion of footpaths and fresh tyre marks.

One of the shallow dams closest to Fiddien has also been damaged to make easier access.

Modern environment friendly public access gate

So the suggestions for walking trails is another positive approach, especially if these are somewhat raised from the ground, for the convenience of wild fauna.

Furthermore, public access gates can be installed along the way, as a measure for controlling bikes – motor or manual.

I know that if Dr Daniel Micallef, one of the few politicians with environment at heart, could see this, I am sure he would send some people to hell.

The Fiddien box, which was restored during the time when Daniel Micallef was Minister for Education and Environment, has long been vandalised and the heavy water pump has seemingly disappeared – hopefully taken by the Water Services Corporation for safe keeping?

The plans for their restoration and educational use is also another positive step.

The second dam, needing some structural repairs, still contributes its best for the storage of water, before it passes it to Wied tal-Isperanza.

Once restoration works are completed, the valley has to be monitored and managed. Traffic management tops the list.

This will ensure that the number of vehicles frequently jamming the area on public holidays and Sundays will not bring such restoration to naught by their haphazard parking. So it would be beneficial to one and all if the road through the valley is made one way: from Imtarfa to Mosta.

The farming community can have an identification permit displayed on car windscreens, to allow them to use it both ways during working days.

The proof of this EU funded pudding is in the eating.

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/xqed-naghmlu-bl-ilma-tax-xita/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/water-harvesting-culture/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/aghmel-xita-aghmel-2/

 

 

 

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IL-BAĦRIJA TA’ RAS IL-MEWT

November 8, 2015

Il-baħrija ta’ ras il-mewt

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Novembru 2015

ġewnah

Ħarsa mill-qrib ħafna tal-qxur fuq il-ġwienaħ tal-friefet u l-baħrijiet.

L-insetti huma l-akbar grupp fis-saltna tal-annimali. U fost dan il-grupp kbir ta’ insetti, insibu l-friefet u l-baħrijiet. Dawn huma miġbura f’ordni magħrufa bħala Lepidoptera: kelma li ġejja mill-grieg u li tfisser ġwienaħ bil-qxur. U m’għandiex xi ngħidu li f’pajjiżna wkoll insibu kemm friefet kif ukoll baħrijiet, minkejja li n-numru tagħhom dejjem qiegħed jonqos minħabba l-aġir tal-bniedem, l-aktar minħabba l-bexx bla rażan.

Fost il-baħrjiet insibu l-baħrija ta’ ras il-mewt. L-isem tagħha ġej mix-xbieha ta’ ras ta’ mewt li din il-baħrija għandha fuq daharha. Din ix-xbieha fuq daharha wasslet biex din tiġi marbuta mal-ħażen u mas-sopranaturali. Barra minn hekk il-karatteristika ta’ din il-baħrija li meta tkun mhedda twerżaq qisha ġurdien, xejn ma għinitha lanqas. Dan wassal biex meta din il-baħrija tittajjar u tidħol f’xi dar kien jingħad li din kienet tħabbar inkwiet, mard, ġuħ u anki mewt tal-bniedem jew tal-bhejjem tiegħu.

il-ba]rija

Il-baħrija ta’ ras il-mewt

Meta kont għadni żgħir kien ikolli xi waħda jew tnejn minn dawn il-baħrijiet, kemm bħala xagħat jew bħala baħrija magħmula. Kont nissaħħar bil-ġmiel tagħhom u nitgħallem fuq il-mirakli tan-natura. Niftakar lil nanti Karmena Mangani, Alla jtiha t-tgawdija tal-ġenna, li minħabba dawn il-baħrijiet, kienet tbaħħar, b’weraq taż-żebbuġ imbierek, li kienet tqabbad ġo xi taġen u titlob waqt li ddur mad-dar. U żgur kien hemm oħrajn li jagħmlu bħala.

Kont ili ma nara waħda minn dawn il-baħrijiet jew ix-xagħat tagħha għal dawn l-aħħar tletin sena, sakemm ħmistax ilu ħbieb tiegħi ġabuli tliet xgħat tagħha.

bajda

Il-bajda li tbid il-mara

Il-baħrija ta’ ras il-mewt tibda’ il-ħajja tagħha bħala bajda li l-mara tbid waħda waħda taħt il-weraq qodma tal-pjanti li tagħżel. Din il-bajda żgħira tkun ħadra jew inkella griża tagħti fil-blu u tkun fiha minn 1.5 sa 1.2 mm. Din tinbidel f’lewn dehbi matt ftit qabel tfaqqas.

Fost il-pjanti li l-mara tbid fuqhom insibu l-patata, l-għawseġ tal-Mediterran, il-mammażejża, l-għeneb id-dib iswed, it-tabakk tas-swar u l-leblieb tal-werqa tleqq (kollha mill-familja Solanaceae); is-siġret il-virgi, il-ġiżimina (mill-familja tal-Verbenaceae) kif ukoll is-siġra taż-żebbuġ  u l-fraxxnu (Oleaceae) u kultant fuq il-qarn il-mogħża tal-Afrika t’isfel,  is-siġra tad-difel, it-tuffieħ, il-lanġas, u s-sebuqa selvaġġa.

Acherontia-atropos-052---studjo-30.10.15

Ix-xagħat tal-baħrija ta’ ras il-mewt

Mill-bajda jfaqqas xagħat li fuq wara tiegħu jkollu bħal denb forma ta’ qarn. Ix-xagħat jista’ jkun ta’ lewn aħdar, kannella, jew isfar, imma kollha jkollhom daqqiet sbieħ ikkuluriti fuq ġenbhom b’tikkek fuq darhom.

Ix-xagħat li jfaqas ikun fih 6 mm. L-ewwel ħaġa li jagħmel hu li jiekol il-qoxra tal-bajda. Fin-natura xejn ma jinħela. Meta jkun għadu żgħir id-denb-qarn ikun iswed u kemmxejn twil.

ras-ponn

Ix-xagħat li jifforma qisu ponn biex ibeżża’

Ix-xagħat iqatta’ il-ħin kollu jiekol u ma tantx jiċċaqlaq. Meta jkun għadu żgħir joqgħod fuq xi vina taħt xi werqa, jiekol mit-tarf tal-werqa fejn jagħmel qatgħat żgħar. Meta jikber ftit aktar jistrieh fuq xi magħseb ta’ xi werqa jew fuq xi qadib (zokk żgħir) tal-pjanta, fejn il-kuluri tiegħu jgħinuh jintilef qalb il-weraq. Imma jekk iħossu mhedded ikebbeb il-parti ta’ quddiem tiegħu f-forma ta’ ponn biex ibeżża’, u xi kultant ifaqqa’ ħalqu u anki jipprova jigdem.

Fil-gżejjer Maltin instab li hemm dubbiena parassita li tbid il-bajd tagħha fix-xagħat.

Diptera-001--Attard-30.10.15

Id-dubbiena parassita li tbid fix-xagħat

denb-qarn

Dehra tad-denb-qarn mill-qrib

Ix-xagħat ibiddel il-ġilda tiegħu erba’ darbiet. Wara kull bidla l-ilwien jidhru isbaħ: tikkek vjola skuri jiksulu dahru, filwaqt li d-denb-qarn isir isfar. Meta jkun kiel kemm għandu jiekol, il-kuluri tiegħu jiskuraw. Huwa jindilek kollu kemm hu bi bżieq li jagħmlu jidher aktar skur. Imbagħad iħaffer fil-ħamrija f’fond ta’ minn 15 sa 40 ċm, u hemm minn xagħat jinbidel f’fosdqa.

pupa-2

Il-fosdqa jew pupa tal-baħrija: kemm kemm akbar minn sulfarina.

Il-fosdqa jew pupa, tkun lixxa u tleqq, u jkun fiha minn 75 sa 80 mm ta’ lewn kannella kulur il-kewba. Uħud jistgħu jgħixu matul ix-xitwa u wara joħorġu f’baħrija magħmula.

Il-baħrija hija sabiħa ħafna u din tidher bejn Lulju u Ottubru. Bħall-insetti l-oħra kollha jkollha erba’ ġwienaħ, ta’ quddiem li jkunu akbar u li jagħttu lil ta’ wara meta jkunu magħluqa f’għamla ta’ tinda fuq żaqq il-baħrija. Il-fetħa tal-ġwienaħ tkun fiha bejn 90 u 130 mm. Dawk ta’ quddiem ikunu dbabar skuri, qishom irħamati, li jgħinhuha biex meta tkun qiegħda fuq xi zokk jew fuq il-ħaxix fuq l-art tintilef mal-kuluri tal-ambjent. Hija tidher ittir minn xħin jidlam sa wara nofsillejl, jew biex issoff l-ikel mill-fjuri bl-ilsien twil tagħha, jew inkella tfittex sieħeb jew sieħba.

Hija xena sabiħa ħafna meta tinzerta par minn dawn il-baħrijiet fl-art meta jkunu qed jgħatu mħabbithom lil xulxin. Dawn jistgħu jinstabu minn tard filgħaxija sa kmieni filgħodu.

Mill-banda l-oħra il-ġwieneaħ iżgħar ta’ wara huma sbieh f’mod ieħor. Meta tikxifhom jidhru sofor kargi b’żewġ faxxex madwarhom, li żgur jaħsdu lil minn ikun fil-qrib. Il-baħrija twerżaq jekk tħossha mhedda. Dan tagħmlu billi timbotta l-arja mill-farinġi, u fl-istess hin tikxef il-ġwienaħ sofor jgħajtu ta’ wara biex taħsad lil xi predatur.

baħrija

Kif jidhru l-ilwien tal-baħrija waqt li tkun qed ittir.

Id-dahar minn fuq ikun ukoll skur u fuqu jkollu r-ras ta’ mewt, li tat l-isem lil din il-baħrija, għalkemm uħud ixebbħuh ma’ ras ta’ naħla. L-ilsien twil tagħha ma jkunx itwal mit-tarf tad-dahar, imma jkun oħxon u muswaf.

L-antenni tagħha jkunu tal-istess ħxuna u fit-tarf tagħhom ikollhom ganċ irqiq.

Iż-żaqq tkun safra karga, kulur il-ġwienaħ ta’ wara, u b’marki madwarha. Fil-qasba tas-sieq ta’ wara jkollha par xpruni.

Din hija waħda mill-baħrijiet li turi l-kobor, is-sbuħija u l-mirakli tan-nisġa tan-natura. Wieħed ma għandux jibża’ minnha, imma għandu juri rispett lejn dawn il-ħlejjaq li l-Ħallieq tana biex iżejnu l-ġnien li poġġina fih u li qed naqsmu magħhom.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Speċi li jssemmew f

 


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

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

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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…”