Water harvesting culture

April 28, 2014

times of malta

Monday, 28th April, 2014

Water harvesting culture

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Our capital city Valletta will be celebrating the European Cultural Capital in 2018. Definitely, this will contribute to the economic and social fabric not only of Valletta but also of the country at large. It can, however, also contribute to ecological aspects as well.

Valletta is what it is today because of good planning and environmental management by its builders – the Knights of Malta. Not only was the architectural aspect taken into consideration, but also the ecological characteristics of the islands.

They specifically planned the harvesting of rainwater so that such a fortified city could resist any siege with adequate supply of such a scarce natural resource. Such culture and strategic thinking kept us going through the centuries, making the best of whatever nature provided, for free.

The Malta Water Association (MWA) is proposing that such an asset be included and highlighted together with the cultural and historical characteristics of Valletta. It is thanks to the rainwater harvesting culture that Valletta became unique and what it is today. This is part of the hidden culture and history of Valletta too.

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

There is a cistern in Valletta under almost every building. The Knights enforced a law requiring each house to have a cistern to collect and re-use rainwater, and be self-sufficient in such a life saving resource. And it was such water harvesting combined with the use of water from the springs in the perched aquifer, brought to Valletta through the Wignacourt aqueduct, that was instrumental in providing such a scarce and much needed resource during the sieges that Valletta and Malta went through.

Today most of these cisterns are damaged, unused, unappreciated and neglected. It would only be wise and positive planning if these are referred to in the V18 festivities to mark the richness of Valletta as the European Cultural Capital city.

Such a professionally planned and engineered water supply system in Valletta can compete with any world water management plans

Besides being an historic and educational exercise, this strategic move could contribute substantially to re-establishing the culture of rainfall harvesting, which was instrumental in maintaining Malta’s prosperity throughout the centuries. Such a professionally planned and engineered water supply system in Valletta can compete with any world water management plans. The reintroduction of such a culture can come to our aid again as a centre of excellence in water management.

Besides these water planning and management feats, the sewerage system in Valletta built in the 17th century was the most advanced in the world at the time. There exists a fantastic maze of water reservoirs, tunnels and other networks underneath the city. These are part of the historic and architectural heritage and can also provide and attract interest and attention (after renovation, maintenance and adaptations) both from the locals and from the many tourists who are fascinated by the fortified old city of Valletta. I am sure the EU would offer a helping hand in such a sustainable water resource management project.

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta (photo Keith Buhagiar)

No doubt about it, Malta is facing severe problems of water sustainability. It is a known fact that Malta has the least amount of water in Europe on a per capita basis. The aquifers have been severely over­exploited in the last decades and this is rendering their services to nought. Seawater desalination is not considered as a sustainable practice, considering the high energy consumption also contributing to emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The revival and reuse of the water harvesting network in Valletta is recommended by the Water Policy 2012, and also by recent EU water policies: rainwater harvesting, as a sustainable practice, must be introduced or reintroduced.

water-harvetingnetwork-beneaththe-city

water harvesting network beneath the City (Photo: Keith Buhagiar)

The Malta Water Association’s proposal is to incorporate in the Valletta City of Culture 2018 the re-activation of Valletta’s (and Malta’s) unique rainwater harvesting culture and put it back on the world map for social, ecological and economic benefits to be reaped.

This can be achieved by identifying disused rainwater cisterns and rehabilitating them, so that they can reduce the stress on our groundwater resources and reduce the financial burden of desalination. Indeed some of these cisterns are within palaces and museums which are already contributing to Malta socially, ecologically and economically. Awareness and accessibility of these assets will further enhance both local and foreign visitors’ experience.

Such measures can be augmented by surveys and questionnaires to assess Malta’s rainwater harvesting potential and opportunities for providing more. Technical guidelines can be drawn up to ensure the maximisation of Malta’s rainwater harvesting potential, and the safe use of the harvested water.

Communication, education and public awareness campaigns are a must to instil awareness about Malta’s water problems, and promote rainwater harvesting as a ‘rediscovered technology’.

The precautionary principle regarding the sole dependency on desalinated water is another factor which justifies use and reuse of a rain water harvesting engineered network as a back-up to national security.

The urgency of such a measure can be appreciated when considering that a possible oil spill or any other issues with regard to the supply of fossil fuel in the Mediterranean will lead to a very limited availability of potable water.

The Malta Water Association feels that there would be great satisfaction and reason to celebrate the uniqueness of Valletta if such water harvesting measures were taken on board.

This would be an evolving project requiring ambition and flexibility crowning the V18.

http://blogmwa.wordpress.com

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino is a member of the Malta Water Association’s executive committee.

Advertisements

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: 

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb
http://wp.me/pL6Mk-62
http://wp.me/pL6Mk-nw

When the rain sets in

September 19, 2013

times of malta

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When valuable rain sets in

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The faintest smell of rain tends to make some feel wet under the collar. This trauma automatically triggers the urge to swoop on valleys ‘to clean’ them, as if valleys are some kind of water closet.

Valleys are dried river beds, which have been transformed to this state by climate and environmental changes, but still harvest rain water. The Knights of Jerusalem reluctantly settled in these islands – one of the top 10 arid countries in the world. In 1530 they planned, engineered and managed such a rare resource to serve the islands and its people and to defend them in difficult times. Later the British enhanced, and continued to manage such a rare resource.

When the foreigners left, they took with them their acumen in planning and management, but they left behind a wealth of their works, without which Malta would not be what it is today.

The indigenous then took over the management and planning. Since that time, rain water management is close to nonexistent.

Old underground water cisterns and networks all over the islands lie cracked and dry, even in the capital city. Others were destroyed to make way for streets and roads. Old  bell­shaped water cisterns were bulldozed to make way for underground garages. An engineered network was obliterated so that the Gozo Church could build a monument for the dead in Nadur.

The MEPA approved development not only deprived the area from accumulating rain water, but also intercepted the undergreound veins which fed the Knight's engineed system to water the fields. Ironically the developer it is the Gozo Church which has build a momument for the dead at the expense of the living.

The MEPA approved development not only deprived the area from harvesting rain water in the aquifer, but also intercepted the undergreound veins which fed the Knight’s engineed system to water the fields.
Ironically the developer is the Gozo Church which has build a momument for the dead at the expense of the living. May the Lord forgive them.

An 1854 regulation obliging every dwelling to have a well to collect rain water was completely ignored and rain water collected by buildings was channelled, illegally, to the sewers or let loose in the streets.

In 2012 the gruesome political intelligence (GPI) repealed this regulation enabling rain water to be directed to the sewers, in the interest of development. Sewers used to empty their load out at sea, till treatment plants were built. Again the GPI saw that these were built close to the coast, to dispose treated water in the sea. Politicians boasted that Malta was the first EU Member State to do so.

Malta will remain the one and only country in this field because no sane political intelligence would throw treated water (which with a little bit of more planning and management could have even become potable water) in the sea, only for it to be pumped up again a couple of meter further away to be distilled by energy-intensive desalination plants and redirected back to households and industries.

New buildings mushroomed with increasing momentum, to the extent that today there are more than 70,000 vacant buildings (and still counting), equivalent to 9 times the number of all households at Birkirkara. Footprints of these buildings used to absorb rain water nourishing the water table.

Water is today managed either by letting it run in the streets or by connecting it with the sewers. Sewers have a limited carrying capacity and they show the first signs of stress when water fountains sprout from the inspection holes; a replica of the dancing water fountains in St. George’s Square Valletta, opposite Parliament House, as a gentile reminder perhaps.

Mismanagement par excellance - polluted street waters, mixed with overflowing sewer water, dumping the resource in the valleys.

Mismanagement par excellance – polluted street waters, mixed with overflowing sewer water carrying chemicals, dumped in the valleys. Some politician must have been accountable for this planning!

More water, added pressure, increased momentum, eventually lifts the sewer’s inspection hole covers, throwing up excess water in the streets, carrying solid and liquid wastes, some toxic. Such ‘rivulets’ combine with water running the streets, gather momentum, increase volume, and roar their way to the lowest part of the nearby land ­ – valleys.

“If the Grand Masters
were to judge
the management of rain water today,
they would impose
years of rowing on
the Order’s galleons
on those concerned.”

No wonder the water table needs protection from seeping chemicals. And the environmental watchdog, MEPA, and its predecessor, approve and endorse such plans and mismanagement, perhaps with some political help!

All along valleys were neglected, though always rising to their natural role to deal with rain water. But even valleys have their maximum carrying capacity. If they are fed excessive water the level rises more than they can handle. This will dislodge rubble walls, erode soil and uproot trees. When the GPI ‘clean’ valley

slehiet-2

A breach in a rubble wall at Chadwick Lakes immediately after the valley was ‘cleaned’ last year.

courses, water momentum can then play with cars and houses like toys. The GPI has invested millions, including EU funds, to dig tunnels to direct such rain water to the sea. Foreigners used to dig such tunnels to fill cisterns and recharge the water table.

The result of the 'cleaning' of vallyes, making it easier for an increase in momentum, and the destruction even of infrastucture.

The result of the ‘cleaning’ of vallyes, giving water additional momentum. One has now to clean or patchup the infrastructure.

If the Grand Masters were to assess, evaluate, examine, and judge the planning and management of rain water today, they would undoubtedly impose years of rowing on the Order’s galleons to those concerned. So different from today’s democracy where nobody seems to be accountable, and society and the environment pays for such life­-threatening mistakes.

When street become rivers, valleys become destructive.

When street become rivers,
valleys are rendered destructive.

Traffic signs of the future

Traffic signs of the future

Why not go and experience such mismanagement when it rains? Do not take any boots or umbrellas; they would be more of a hazard.

And if one can go with an amphibian it would be better than a car. Be careful too because traffic signs designed for future use have yet to be installed, drawing attention to crossing coffins, of all shapes and sizes, both literally and metaphorically. One will then understand how the GPI let loose its reins, such that when it rains, cats and dogs reign supreme.

The postponement and accumulation of mismanagement problems in this wet business make the people hot beneath the collar, though seemingly happy to swim with the current.

PS – Photos and graphics were inserted after the publication of the original article

see also:

http://wp.me/sL6Mk-water

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-nw

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-62


Let’s hide our face in shame following more information on trees – 2

December 22, 2012

times

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of trees and fortified cities

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Last month was not a good one for trees, not so kindly handled by three contributions to The Times. The director of Mepa’s environment protection directorate was the harbinger (November 13), followed by Mepa board member Giovanni Bonello (November 18), with a past Minister for the Environment completely missing the wood for the trees (November 25).
Bonello’s well-researched, in-depth contribution emphasised the need for better appreciation of fortifications. A very admirable work, though I feel the need to dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
During the Great Siege, the Knights, while defending this barren island, were not in the best of moods to plant trees. It is understandable that paintings of battles do not show any trees in the vicinity of fortifications.
One has to admit that some of the trees, more than 50 years old today, are growing in the vicinity or inside fortifications and some can be of concern. However, one has to accept that such old trees now form part of an ecosystem and one cannot bulldoze the natural heritage to solve an aesthetic problem, creating a more sensitive ecological one.
I would never have planted the Ficus nitida trees in front of the law courts, for example. When the area was dug up, it showed the beautiful hidden magnificent underground arched passages. Today, these accommodate the city’s hidden sewers and priceless, neglected, damaged water cisterns. Some tree roots have also crept in.
Over the years, these trees have become the roost for white wagtails wintering in the Maltese islands. It is an opportunity for a scientific study of such a roost (unless they sought refuge in a walled fortified city for protection). Only a professional plan of action can contribute to a solution, certainly not heavy machinery with men wielding chainsaws. It has to be done gradually with the input of all stakeholders, no matter how “philistine” or “ignoramus” they are in the cultural heritage.
It is indeed surprising how the Ministry for the Environment and its entourage, past and present, are so good at coining adjectives for those who have the environment at heart, the main stakeholders. The November contributions refer to “treehuggers’, “chorus of tree-huggers”, “fifty shades of philistine”, “complete ignoramus on cultural heritage”, “crass ignorance and crasser arrogance of self proclaimed DIY environmentalists”, and “self-anointed custodians of the heritage kingdom”. I know a couple more, not coined this November  (for some other varied coined adjectives please see: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121209/opinion/Trees-and-the-fortifications.448816). If the Ministry for the Environment and its chorus were as good at protecting the environment as they are in coining such adjectives, Malta’s environment would be heaven on earth. Such adjectives, though, are of great satisfaction for environmentalists. Drowning men clutch at straws and shun stakeholders’ altruistic hands.
The strongest points of Bonello’s contribution regarding fortifications make me feel very sad, even though historical fortifications are not my battle horse.
“Nowhere in the world are fortifications more extensive, more impressive, more outstanding than they are in Malta.” “It is to be self-evident, that if a nation has something really precious to boast of, it would want its treasures seen, and seen to their best advantage.” “…people would do their utmost to enhance the visibility of anything inestimable.” “Those who still have them, flaunt them, enhance them, try to squeeze every cent of added value from them.” I feel as strongly as Bonello does regarding such a priceless, unique heritage.
“Over the past two centuries many conspired to debase them.” Yes, not even two World Wars managed to indent such majestic fortifications despite the fact that warfare became much more sophisticated. But after Malta gained independence, the jewel in the crown of our majestic walled fortifications was the first to bite the dust. King Carnival (KC) was helped by Maltese politicians to win the fortified city with just one stroke of a pen! One has to be genuinely demented to inherit the works of the best architect who constructed a monumental façade, and replace it with a garage door to let KC go through without a fight. If only the fortified Valletta gate was hidden behind some trees, KC would not have gone through!

vallettagate

Even the past colonisers realised the importance of Malta’s historical past. When Malta gained Independence in 1964 the responsibility of historical protection passed to Maltese Politicians. It did not take them long to replace this with a garage door (see below)

800px-Valletta_City_Gate

The garage door built  after independence, replacing the Valletta City Gate. It makes it easier for King Carnival with his carnival floats to pass through

A one-in-a-million chance of rehabilitating the fortified Valletta gate was lost when Mepa, the environment watchdog, decided to send such a gate to the photographic album of history, endorsing an €80 million government project.

Borrowing another quote from the learned judge, “Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” Many will walk through such a joke, be they ignoramuses, tree huggers, DIY environmentalists, all shades of philistines, historians, researchers, politicians, clergy or men in the street. It will be the extension of the king carnival joke, with piano music in the background. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

66dfb482b95fc5e5d67279ae159512681882420801-1346759704-5045ec18-360x251

“Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” (Giovanni Bonello). The plans for the City Gate Project approved by MEPA in 2010. Undoubtedly taking in considration that King Carnival can still pass through with ease. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

Who can now dethrone King Carnival from Valletta, the magnificent fortified walled city? If only KC was a tree, the magnificent Valletta’s fortification gate could still be seen!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
Alfred Baldacchino was assistant director responsible for the protection of biodiversity within Mepa.

Original article

Of trees and fortified cities – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121222/opinion/Of-trees-and-fortified-cities.450506

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121113/opinion/Further-notes-on-trees.445157

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121118/life-features/Let-s-hide-the-majestic-bastions.445894


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.


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…”


Water

May 21, 2010

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Water – ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO

The international scenario – Today there is quite a healthy awareness of global environmental problems such as climate change, global food   crisis, the spiralling cost of fossil fuel, and the melting Arctic ice cap. However, one can rightfully conclude that these global crises have somewhat overshadowed the water crisis, despite the fact that water is a central resource, both directly and indirectly related to all the others. This may be due to the fact that global concerns have been tackled separately rather than in a holistic way. It is therefore not surprising that a serious management approach for such a scarce resource has dwindled due to the lack of, or weakened, strategy. This despite the fact that at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002, it was agreed that countries should integrate water-resource management and water-efficiency plans by 2005. One can understand that tackling such a complex subject differs from one country to another so it is not that easy to formulate a generic “roadmap”.

The Maltese scenario – Malta is one of the top 10 arid countries in the world. It has always been so. This was one of the main reasons why the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem were not at all keen on setting up house in Malta. It was Hobson’s choice that established them here in 1530. With regard to the supply and availability of water, the Order’s professional tailor-made management plans are still valid and still serve the islands and its people. This despite the fact that today some of their management measures are neglected, while others have been abused or completely eliminated in the very recent past. The legal obligation that every dwelling should have a well to collect rainwater was a very intelligent measure; it still is and still serves the inhabitants who are fortunate enough to have such a system. Still in force today although hardly enforced, if at all: “Every house shall also have a cistern in good condition, of a capacity of at least three cubic metres, for every five square metres of the surface of the floor of each room of such house.” (Chapter 10 of the Laws of Malta – Code of Police Laws).

The affluent world we live in today could tempt some to convince themselves that Malta does not have any particular water problem, because the islands are surrounded by sea, has unlimited water access, and so can never run out of water. Try drinking a drop of such water! One can, but only after it has been processed by energy-intensive desalination plants, which contribute to climate change as well as to the food crisis that is demanding more water. And, God forbid, what if there is an oil spill or other toxic leaks in the vicinity of the desalination plants? The Mediterranean is one of the most frequented seas in the world, and European news speak with alarming enthusiasm about the nuclear plants being planned around the Mediterranean coast.

A management plan – Sadly, the word “management” is one word that seems very difficult for us to comprehend, to administer, enforce and implement. We are more accustomed to mismanagement with crisis management being our rule of thumb. The water management plans drafted and implemented by the Knights of Malta are barely implemented or strengthened, despite the fact that the demand for such a precious resource has increased substantially. The consequences of centuries of neglect are now becoming evident. To be able to have a sustainable management plan one must have the necessary data, besides the necessary tools, to consistently monitor and enforce. Some points to address for data gathering are:

  • Water tables:  both the perched and the lower water tables have contributed substantially, and still do, to the welfare of the Maltese community, both from an economical, social and ecological point of view. The ever increasing demand for water and the availability of mechanical and technological facilities have made it much easier to access, and also have an negative impact on such a resource. The number of bore holes, legal and illegal, all reach deep down and pump up this water. The legal and illegal use of pesticides, herbicides, natural and artificial fertilisers, can, and some do, finish in the aquifers. The state of the environment indicators for 2007 published by Mepa, clearly show that the increase of nitrate levels in the aquifers exceeds EU standards. How long will the ground water be available and be potable?
  • Protection of sensitive springs:  dried river beds, known as valleys (widien), traverse the islands from west to east. Today we are more familiar with springs (għejjun) that feed precious water to the surroundings, some a sorry reminder of their glorious past. Some springs are behind closed and chained doors, others have been sucked dry, while others still laboriously function, without doubt carrying the hidden chemicals of “progressive” farming and landscaping. Others, managed as a whole network of planed tunnels and culverts ensuring that not a drop of water is wasted, engineered by the Knights of Malta, have watered hundreds of trees and vegetables for centuries. Yet some of these networks have been cut off from their source, like the ones at Nadur, which have been extensively damaged to make way for a glorified place for the dead – a cemetery. Progressive planning for our future demand for graves perhaps!
  • Afforestation:  it is not only denuding the land of its vegetation that has an impact on water resources, but also the choice of species that are planted. The thousands of alien Eucalyptus trees planted in valleys, on garigue, in fields, in abandoned fields, and in urban areas, do have a tremendous negative impact on water resources. The fact that these trees are used to drain marshes will help one conclude that they contribute to the waste of ground water. A relatively recent trend is the laying of open spaces with turf, some even in roundabouts. Aesthetically they are pleasing. They are however irrigated by electrically powered sprinklers, which at times water even the roads. In the context of the local environment, it is like filling a valley with ice where one can go skating in summer. Not impossible, but at what cost! Thank God that plans for golf courses seem to have been shelved.
  • Urban planning:  every footprint of any building has its impact on water. This was fully understood by the planners and professional resource managers of the Knights of Malta. They ensured that every drop of water that fell on buildings was meticulously saved. In today’s technological era, it is ensured that every drop of water that falls on such buildings is mechanically channelled into the streets so that it can find its own natural and at-no-cost way to the sea. The amount of water going to waste is unbelievable. It does not have to rain cats and dogs: just a shower, like the Birkirkara and Qormi residents, among others, can attest. Due to the aridity of the islands, the Maltese have always prayed for rain. Today, the more rain God sends us, the more water will flood the streets on its way to the open sea. We desperately need to pray to God to illuminate our planners and resource managers and help them get to grips with the management of such a scarce resource similar to the management plans implemented by the Knights of St John 400 years ago.
  • Wise use:  this waste of water is the result of our acceptance and dependence on energy consuming desalination plants, despite their fragility and financial cost. We are so obsessed with desalination plants that the precious second-class water, which according to the EU is being produced from sewage treatment plants, has been officially declared as water of “no economic value”, and is being discharged into the sea. Only for the RO plants a couple of metres away to take it up again with more concentrated salinity, to be processed into potable water. Even if such plants were to use wind or solar energy, it would still be a waste of energy and resources and lacking any management plan.

Conclusion – We are treading on very, very thin ice, and if no urgent attention is given to implement a professional management plan for such a fragile, delicate, and rare resource, we could find ourselves in very deep waters, ironically enough without the possibility of having a drop to drink. Such a management plan has to be part of a holistic national sustainable development plan, having the input of all other entities which directly or indirectly use or have an impact on water resources, incorporating health, agriculture, industry, waste, tourism, finance and the environment. Everyone has to play his part for a real sustainable future. Procrastination is the thief of time. Where there is water there is life. There is no life where there is no water.