An official water policy!

July 4, 2011

An official water policy!

Alfred E Baldacchino

On Friday, 1 st July, while driving from Rabat toward Valletta at 11.30am, I noticed that the turf at the  roundabout along the Rabat Road (intersecting with Zebbug/Mtarfa bypass) was being watered with sprinklers. Some of the

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sprinklers were simply watering the adjacent road, to the extent that any driver who was so thirsty could simply put his head out of the car’s window and have a sip. Those who wanted to clean one side of the car could also go round twice or thrice and have their car’s right-hand side cleaned.  Naturally the  water spread on the road, cars splashing in it , eventually finding  its way along the Zebbug bypass. The couple of photos I took can give an idea of such a waste of resources, more acute if one adds the energy used to activate this.

Now this is not the first time I have seen this, and not only at this particular roundabout.   Many others have also commented in the media. In a  week in March, on a rainy day, yes in March, and I had the car wipers busy cleaning the rain water from my windscreen, the sprinklers at the Santa Lucia roundabout were busy watering the turf at that roundabout.  As usual a couple of these were sprinkling the road and not the turf, perhaps an ingenious computerised way of diverting water from the turf this  having been saturated with the sprinklers’ water and the rain water.  And this leads me to ask a  number of questions that I find great difficulty in answering:

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  1. Hasn’t water been declared a rare resource in the Maltese Islands and great efforts are being made to properly manage, monitor and prevent waste?
  2. Hasn’t it been made ample clear that in our country with such high temperatures and such a lack of water supply, turf is not the best plant to use for landscaping, as has been pointed time and time again in the various Environment Impact Assessments where the use of turf was  suggested?
  3. Isn’t such “embellishment” (sic) projects – heavily paid by public funds to the tune of  a minimum 7 milliom Euros  (LM3 million of our old money) a year – not sustainable and a great misuse of resources ?
  4. Who is paying for such a waste of resources? Please do not tell me that the people are paying for such waste.  we all know it.
  5. Has the Ministry abdicated all responsibility and is giving  blank cheques as long as business is carried out, irrespective of  negative impacts on society and on the environment?
  6. Isn’t the Ministry responsible for monitoring, enforcing and planning such ‘landscaping’ the same Ministry who is responsible for National Resources, including water?  If it was two different Ministries, say one planning to make Bisazza Street a pedestrian zone, and the other planning new bus routes through it, then perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, each  could point a finger to each other.  But this is the same Ministry!!
  7. Does the Ministry have any qualified personnel in a responsible executive position to check such misuses and mismanagement of resources in such planning initiatives? Or does it have a rubber stamp to endorse all polices and expenses presented to it, as long as it is related to ‘business’?
  8. Is it the Government’s  policy  ” that where the economy stutters, the environment is the first to suffer”, a statement that we have also heard in connection with the Dwejra filming  amateurish handling?
  9. Doesn’t this country, one of the 27 EU member states, deserve much better than all this bullshit in the name of the national interest?

The Adam and Eve guilty feeling

Even the stone statue in the middle of the said roundabout were so denuded of reasons to justify what they were seeing, that they had a look of a guilty feeling.  They looked so ashamed and embarrassed at such greed  that they could not even look each other in the eye.  Reminded me of the guilty feeling Adam and Eve might have had after the biblical apple-affair!  So they preferred to look at the people as if to support them and pity them for the misuse and mismanagement  of their resources!  But I suppose those who are gifted with more wisdom that I  (politically that is)  will tell me that politicians are made of much more precious stuff than stone – they cannot possibly have such guilty feelings!

The closest answer I could possibly  find  to all  my questions is incorporated in an article by Martin Scicluna  in the Malta Independent on Sunday of the 3rd July 2011, as per attached link:

http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=128140

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Landscaping with native flowers

May 19, 2011

Landscaping with native flowers

Thursday, May 19, 2011 ,

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Over the last few weeks, nature regal­ed us with its wonders, richness and colours of native spring wild flowers: fields covered with red carpets of poppies, lavish yellow crown daisies and perennial wall rocket, white borders of sweet alison and white mustard, mauve patches of mallow, wild artichoke and the dappled bear’s breech, different sizes and colours of bindweeds, some red-listed, among many, many others. All for free: no fees charged for sowing; for watering or weeding.

Crown Daisy - Lellux

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating and encouraging nature’s free gifts, the government’s official policy seems to be to decimate and eliminate them. Masked clothed men can be seen spraying herbicide at every wild native flower that dares raise its head and bloom within a stone’s throw of the urban environment, eliminating also the ecological niche and all the other flora and fauna depending directly or indirectly on such a niche.

Year after year sizeable patches of Bindweed along the Imriehel bypass, were shaved to the ground untill they finally succumb.

Such government policy is contributing to the disappearance of a number of native species like, for example, butterflies and moths. If it isn’t for the migratory butterflies, the dash of colours of the native ones would be so sparse. Some, like the small copper, have already hung up their wings. Others, like the meadow brown, are not far from following suit.

When have you seen your last 7-spot Ladybird?

Once, the red seven-spotted ladybird was as common as all the exotic flowers being planted along traffic islands and highways today. It controlled and preyed on aphids taken from plants and trees – just for free! But the government policy of spraying insecticide and herbicides along roads and streets is also drastically eliminating natural predators.

Today, the harmful alien red palm weevil can be more plentiful than the once common helpful ladybird. And, naturally, this policy is also affecting pollinators, such as the honey bees.

Financial and human resources are available to embellish the country in a sustainable way, without any externalities, that is, without any hidden costs borne by society in general, and by biodiversity in particular. Unfortunately, the myopic policy in using such resources shows a glaring lack of biodiversity conservation and social consideration concepts, though strong profit motives.

Mallow - Ħubbejż - did not escape the herbicide or shaving either.

Such official policy also approves the clearing of native wild flowers to make way for exotic species, contributing to the establishment of invasive alien species, such as the South African Hottentot fig, which is also so declared by the State of the Environment Report for the Maltese Islands.

The dreaded invasive alien species, Hottentot Fig, which despite competing with endangered indigenous species, is being planted, with government funds.

A handbook published by Daisie (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventory for Europe), funded by the European Commission, listed the Hottentot fig as one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Suggestions made include its restricted sale, public awareness of its negative impacts, encouraging its proper removal and disposal and promotion of native species.

The wild Sweet Alison (Buttuniera) does not look so sweet for the commercial landscapers.

The EU Habitats Directive also obliges member states to take measures to ensure that any introduction of a non-native species does not prejudice the natural fauna and flora by regulating or prohibiting the importation of non-native species. But the government is making available public funds to replace native wild flora with such invasive species, in this case the Hottentot fig.

A short drive by the roundabout leading to Malta International Airport, to the verges past the Blata l-Bajda Museum chapel and to the roads leading to Mater Dei Hospital, among many others, will show this planted invasive alien species.

The plant is established on sea cliffs and on sand dunes, competing with local rare indigenous cliff and dune vegetation, even endemics listed in the EU Habitats Directive annexes. A look from the belvedere overlooking the Blue Grotto in Żurrieq can reveal some areas where it has established itself.

In Gozo, it is found growing wild in the now famous Dwejra special area of conservation (or should I say special area of convenience). I find it very, very difficult to understand how the government not only allows this to happen but also contributes through public funds.

More than a decade ago there used to be a Ministry for the Environment, which used to address such obligations. It seems the government, despite having the environment as one of its main pillars (to be corrected if I am wrong), never seems to learn and does not want to know and to listen.

Through the government policy mentioned above, a number of invasive alien species have already established themselves in the Maltese islands. Naturally, the public and the local biodiversity bear the hidden financial costs of such policy.

Who has not had the misfortune to bear costs in connection with the damage done by the red palm weevil, the geranium butterfly, the Asian long-horned beetle, the tomato leaf miner and the Bedriaga’s frog, among others? Definitely not the Maltese biodiversity, despite Malta’s commitment to control biological loss by 2010.

The Wild Artichoke (Qaqoċċ salvagg)

The government can indeed turn a blind eye to such hidden costs. It can also continue with such a blinkered policy driven by the now familiar and usual short economic returns. But no blind eye can ever fail to see the political responsibility of those who are in a position to avert such damage and miserably fail to do so.

Writing on invasive alien species, Jeanine Pfeiffer, research director for social sciences at Earthwatch Institute said: “We can’t afford to be culturally ignorant any longer.” It seems the government strongly begs to differ!

Following the publication of the above article, a reader kindly sent me this photo showing what nature can give for free, which unfortunately is not appreciated at all.