The Caper at Couvre Porte

November 7, 2013

times

Thursday November 7th, 2013. 

The Caper at Couvre Porte

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

2013.10.22---Birgu-flag

Citta Vittoriosa flag

The Birgu Local Council deserves warm congratulations for the way they organised the Birgu Fest especially the candle­lit night which showed the splendour of the city: the overpowering majestic bastions, the Maltese workmanship, the architecture, the intricate sculptures, the winding streets, the renovated old buildings, and the growing public awareness of such a historical heritage.  Unfortunately this cannot be said for the way the Birgu environs are being landscaped.

2013.10.22---couvre-port-gate

Couvre Porte Gate

I entered through Couvre Porte, the  magnificent covered  gateway, admiring  the surroundings. I crossed the bridge  over the ditch, still in total darkness as to its future, at least from a public point of view. I wonder why no public consultations were ever held on such projects. Perhaps the present Minister would consider this before the works are done and public money spent and not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Once through the main entrance of Couvre Porte, I climbed the 10 cm or so high steps leading to the top of the bastions. I could almost re­live the moments of such a historical architectural heritage left to us by the Knights of St. John.

There, on the highest part of the bastions something caught my eye: it was a caper (kappara) growing on one of the cordons, so soon on the freshly restored bastions, with defiance and a sense of victory. In the dim light, I could see the silhouettes of other indigenous plants which had also set foot on the fortifications: indigenous species which colonised these islands before man set foot on them.

2013.10.22---kappar-mas-swar

The caper on the bastions

The indigenous plants on the bastions echoed Rużar Briffa’s Jum ir­-Rebħ “Jien Maltija! Miskin min ikasbarni, miskin min jidħak bija” (I am Maltese! Pity the one who disgraces me, pity the one who mocks me”).

As I looked towards the Vittoriosa water front, the historic bastion rose as a background to a number of recently imported alien, toxic and some invasive trees. The never conquered Citta Vittoriosa, lied at the mercy of these introduced foreign species, some also invasive, politically approved and publicly funded. How could one accept the fact that there at the foot of the bastions exotic species had taken over the beds of the indigenous Maltese species, through the political apathy still accepting foreign colours to the indigenous splendour.

I slowly descended the steps, seemingly so much higher now, and mingled with the crowds till I found my way in front of the St. Lawrence Parish Church. Towering in front of the Church on my left was the Għolja tal­Ħelsien monument, a reminder of the last foreign power which had a foot in Malta. But even in the semi­darkness I could see the monument invaded with more than half a dozen exotic species, two or three invasive. Two palm trees on the monument seemed to have succumbed to the Red Palm Weevil, an introduced alien invasive species.  On my right along the waterfront leading to dock 1, I could see other exotic species, some invasive, introduced from around the world, including the now ubiquitous fountain grass. Could it be possible that the exit of the foreign powers opened the doors to the exotic alien flora and fauna to set foot on the Islands even growing on the very monument itself?

2013.10.22---għolja-tal-ħelsien

Three exotic alien species surround the fanfare of the departure of the last foreign soldier.

Landscapers equipped with a can of chemicals will no doubt be sent by their political master, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, to spray the indigenous caper and allies to oblivion, something in which I must admit, they are very good at. But these are wild species and do not fatten anybody’s pockets. I am sure that the indigenous species will rise again, and again, and again in protest with the same determination, as one or two have already done at the newly renovated Mdina bastions, made more to resemble Windsor Castle rising out of an expanse of turf, so artificial and unnatural to a Mediterranean fortification rising out of garigue vegetation. As long as the people and the EU pay, who cares? Who would be that Minister who,  during whose tenure, approved the introduction of the most exotic alien species, not excluding invasives, in the Maltese Islands at the expense of local indigenous species, in the name of landscaping? The wisdom of some politicians knows no bounds despite national and international obligations, and should I add electoral promises!

2013.10.22---inula-chritmoides

The Golden Samphire on the restored Vittoriosa bastions. It can easily replace the introduced exotic invasive species of Fountain Grass occupying the flower beds on the waterfront.

I walked heavily to where my car was parked close to St. Helena Bastions ­ another jewel of the Knights of St. John. Another gem of a historical heritage so conspicuous by its neglected and abandoned state.  If only the funds coming from the European Union and public funds lavishly spent on the importation, advice, planting and profits made on the exotic trees, went to the restoration of such other gem at Bormla (Cospicua) they would have been much better spent.

2013,10,22---fountain-grass

The now ubiquitous introduced alien invasvie Fountain Grass, in the shadow of alien trees, competing and taking over from indigenous flora.

It was a relief to drive back home. But not before driving through a breach in the Cottonera bastion lines leading from San Ġwann t’Għuxa to Għajn Dwieli. The mismanagement, lack of planning and financial driving force in landscaping with its negative social, historical and ecological impact had ruined the enjoyable candle­lit evening at the historical city of Birgu. The good thing about it was that the candle­lit environment had hidden the look of disappointment on my face: the lack of considerations for local biodiversity makes me feel ashamed that I am Maltese, when this is appreciated more by the foreigners than by the local politicians. When money grows on trees and it talks, there is nobody ready to listen.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

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A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

April 6, 2013

times

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Archpriest of Nadur applied for the development of a cemetery on May 20, 2002. An outline development permit was issued on January 28, 2004 and a full development permit, valid for five years, was granted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on May 31, 2007. An appeal was submitted by Nature Trust on July 16, 2007 and works on the cemetery started in summer of that same year.

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

Work in progress on the cemetery while the appeal board deliberated

The following documented data was made available to the Appeals Board: The development is in an ODZ (outside development zone).

There never was any public consultation.

EU Water Framework Directive obligations regarding ground water were not taken in consideration.

The locality is designated as an area of high landscape sensitivity and a land of agricultural value according to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Technical staff at Mepa repeatedly recommended a refusal for such development.

Refusal was also recommended by the planning authority’s Heritage Advisory Board.

The proposed cemetery lies within the catchment area of one tributary that feeds Wied Għajn Qasab, one of the most important in Gozo.

This 6,500-square-metre cemetery footprint is on upper coralline limestone (garigue), overlying blue clay that contributes to a perched aquifer covering 5.6 square kilometres, “filtering on a good rainy season 16,000 gallons (73,000 litres) of potable natural water daily at Għajn Qasab springs”.

It is estimated that the recharge of water through percolation or infiltration amounts to 785,109 cubic metres annually.

The water catchment area around the cemetery covers 33,000 square metres.

The rock formation contains various faults, crevices and fissures, which channel rainwater to the farmers’ cisterns.

The fields dependent on the aquifer have been used for agricultural purposes for hundreds of years.

The engineering works regarding water use and storage, including bell shaped wells, galleries, channels and cisterns, date back to the time of the Knights of St John. Such network has been physically destroyed or rendered nearly useless by the cemetery.

The report by the geologist appointed by the developer, indicated that the project is unlikely to have an adverse impact on the water resources.

No hydrologist’s report was ever submitted.

The precautionary principle, a guiding principle in the EPA 2011, was completely ignored. The developer reports that the cemetery plans to cater for 643 graves, despite the fact that only 50 persons die annually in Nadur, some of whom are buried in the old cemetery.

The commercial value of the cemetery’s footprint estimates each grave at €4,000 at the time of the submisison of the appeal in 2007, showing the commercial vision of the project.

A number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister and to the minister responsible for the environment.

A number of social entities, farmers and the public expressed disapproval both of this development and of the way it was being handled.

The appeal case was heard and postponed for 19 times and, finally, a decision date was appointed for September 27, 2012, only to be postponed again.

The legal representative of the farming community wrote to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, emphasising that postponing the decision was jeopardising the interests of the farmers.

A hydrological report by Marco Cremona was eventually presented to the Appeals Tribunal. The study clearly states that there is no doubt about the direct hydraulic connection between the site of the cemetery and the farmers’ water source.

Affidavits by affected farmers show that, before the work on the cemetery, they had enough water for their fields. However, when the works got under way, they had to buy water for their fields and products decreased in quantity and quality.

On March 15, 2013 – the ides of March and six days after the last election – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal informed the objectors that the original permit dated May 31, 2007 was superseded by another permit dated July 23, 2012, where the applicant presented an amended application to the original permit.

Since there was no appeal to the latter permit, the original one was now exhausted, having been superseded by the latter. Because of this, the tribunal abstained from taking further notice of the appeal.

Mepa’s vision “is to pass onto our children a better country than we inherited. It is for this very reason that we (Mepa) compare our environment to a treasure, something we dedicate our energies to, to protect, care for and improve. The environment encompasses all – nature, cultural and architectural heritage, towns and villages, the countryside, the seas and air. We (Mepa) believe that together we should carefully plan so that our heritage, this gem that we treasure, will not fade away.”

Who can possibly believe this when Mepa buried its vision at the Nadur cemetery?

2009.02.00 - The remains of a protected carob tree

The water catchment area of garigue which replenished the perched aquifer feeding and supplying water to the farming community and the valley ecosystem – BEFORE the approved rape of the ecosystem started.

Was this cemetery, to be run on a time­share basis, really needed in Nadur? Why was the precautionary principle not applied in such a sensitive and delicate ecological area with such a rare natural resource? Why where the above social and ecological negative impacts all cast aside, importance being given only to economic aspects? Was ‘the hand of god’ coerced to give the green light for such an injustice?

Jesus once entered the temple area and drove out all traders and shoppers. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. What would He have done had He found the selling of graves in His name? It is easier to deliver 10 sermons than to live one.

“Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter”…“and, in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King).

2009.06.01 water from the acquifer

The murky water feeding the farmers’ cisterns after the work started – definitely not the clear pure potable water they were used to use before.

The dead at Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.

For God’s sake, remove environmental matters from Mepa before the social and ecological fabric of these islands is completely destroyed.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

The original article in The Times, with comments posted by readers, can be seen at the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130406/opinion/A-vision-buried-at-Nadur-cemetery.464394


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…”