Not to lose my religion

May 3, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, 3rd May, 2016

Not to lose my religion

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Gozo diocese is once again in the news. Not for any special religious teaching or matters of faith, but because of a commercial application, endorsed by the Minster for Gozo, to the new Planning Authority. The PA is being asked to approve a car park instead of a historical building.

It is a building described by many professionals as an elegant house by the renowned architect in the early 1950s, Ġuże Damato, who designed many parish churches.

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The elegant historical house which the Gozo Cathedral Chapter wants to make way for a car-park. Photo Daniel Cilia

Among the many who have objected to the demolition are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, and Architect Conrad Thake from the University. An online petition garnered over  3,750 signatures objecting to such ‘barbaric destruction’.  An official objection was also submitted by FAA to the Planning Authority.

The Gozo cathedral chapter insists that “its needs should be considered too”, “there are no adverse reactions to the final proposal”, and that “the need for better accessibility to the Gozo citadel far outweighs the need to conserve a house of dubious historical significance”. The house is the property of the Gozo Curia, and the Curia want to demolish the property for the benefit of its parishioners. This is all being done to help the parishioners gain better access to their parish, as the Curia’s architect said.

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“the need for better accessibility to the Gozo citadel far outweighs the need to conserve a house of dubious historical significance”. Photo Daniel Cilia

Some years ago I was on the Gozo cathedral parvis and decided to visit the cathedral. A tourist also wanted to enter but was asked for a ticket at the door.

“What ticket?” he asked surprised, “I only want to pray.” He was not allowed in because he did not pay. We both withdrew from the house of prayer, and ever since I did not set foot on that parvis.

It seems that the Gozo diocese does not want to hear or to learn of its social and environmental responsibilities arising out of the Church’s spiritual teachings. It has already been in the driving seat of the cemetery at Wied il-Qasab in Gozo, a project which ruined a historical and natural hydrological system. It drove farmers to despair, to the extent that there is a court case for yearly damages caused by the building of the cemetery.

And now the same diocese is at the helm of a project which if approved will eliminate a historic building to build a car park “for the benefit of parishioners”.

This reminds me of the Isis mentality which destroys historical monuments in the name of their god.

Is it possible that Laudato Si is yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?

Is it possible that the ripples of the worldwide impact of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si have not yet reached the Gozo diocese, enclosed in their fortified citadel?

Is it possible that Laudato Si, which was applauded even by atheists for its social, environmental and spiritual vision, has yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?

Is it possible that the pro-business vision which has infected the Maltese mentality has also contaminated the Gozo diocese?

The teachings by Pope Francis in his ecumenical letter are very clear. Laudato Si shows the need for new and more appropriate forms to think biblically in spiritual guidance. A new approach needed which goes beyond decisions that are not sustainable.

Laudato Si teaches that not everything can be accepted in the discernment of spiritual guidance. The Church achieves more genuine and effective spiritual guidance when it is willing and ready to deprive itself from the right to acquire more common riches.

These are the teachings of Pope Francis, unless of course the Gozo diocese has declared complete independence from the Vatican.

If the Gozo cathedral chapter really wants to “help the parishioners gain better access to their parish”, it can easily sponsor a shuttle service from it-Tokk bus terminus or from near the local council offices.

papa-franġisku

This can take them to the front door of the church, and in so doing, save resources, contribute to a smaller carbon dioxide emission footprint, avoid traffic congestions adjacent to the citadel, and help in the conservation of historical buildings.

If it is believed that Pope Francis is not up to the level to understand the needs and aims of the Gozitan cathedral chapter, then perhaps the latter should refer to the Bible and ruminate on verses 12 and 13 in Matthew’s chapter 21.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all that sold and bought in the temple… He said to them, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’.”

This is what the Church teaches, or rather, is expected to teach, even in Gozo.

If this is not digestible to the Cathedral chapter, then I believe the Archbishop should intervene and put his foot down and file for an injunction like he boldly did against the Carmelites in St. Julian’s. In this miniscule country, there cannot be two gods, one for each island.

If this fails too, not to lose my religion, as I am sure many others feel, it would be appropriate for me to disassociate myself with this kind of tribal religion based on papier mache gilted with gold, bells, books and candles… and ‘parking places for parishiners’.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related readings

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/a-vision-buried-at-nadur-cemetery/

 

 

 

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It never rains, it pours

March 26, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 26th March 2016

It never rains, it pours
Alfred E. Baldacchino

The lack of rain this winter has become a great concern for many social leaders. Parched valleys, dried cisterns, empty wells, wilted vegetation, worried farmers, are just a harbinger of things to come during the coming hottest months of the year. This acute drought is making some leaders, whether political or religious, feel a little bit wet under the collar.

Seemingly as a last resort, I would say more for convenience sake to appease their faithful, these social leaders are either reverting to PR exercises instead of working on the long overdue water management plans, or praying the Creator, asking Him for His intervention to send us some of the much needed rain. What an embarrassment!

TOM photo

Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier – Times of Malta.

The Lord has always given us rain water for free during the years. He has also given us intelligence. One can see the results of such intelligence in past engineering works with regards to water harvesting. One can find and see the professional management of such a rare natural resource dating back to the times before Christ. Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. In fact the

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta. photo Keith Buhagiar

Maltese islands are dotted with historical professional engineering projects with the sole aim that not a drop of water is wasted. This has seen the population of these islands go through two world wars without having any problems with water, which the Lord sends us for free.

But in the last 50 years, when we took over the management of our Country, we became affluent, like affluent rats, and we boast about it. This has led us to put a price to everything, and discard natural resources which are given to us for free. We are convinced that we have complete control over the ecosystem. Free assets, such as water, are regarded as having no commercial, economic, social or environmental value, and these can be exploited whenever and however we want to.

Today we live for the day, and exploit everything that we lay our eyes and hands on. Mainly, with endemic political intelligence, we ruined, and are still in the process of doing, whole historical engineering networks which contribute to the storing of such a rare natural resource.

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How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

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Professional legislation with regards to the management and conservation of water was adulterated, to accommodate speculators, with an eye on votes. We lost sight of this natural resource to the extent that official entities, like MEPA, that notorious environmental watchdog, prefers planning to store cars instead of planning to catch and store every drop of the rare resource of free rain water.

In our desperate greed, we contributed to the flooding of inhabited areas where the relatively poor reside, besides neglecting the water table with regards to its replenishment, its conservation, its abuse, and the enforcement of legal protection.

But the endemic political acumen, came out with a solution. This led to the asking for help from the new milking cow. Approximately €57 million were used to dig an underground tunnel so that all the free rain water which we are gifted with, could be swept to the sea. Such a scenario emerged from the uncontrolled development and lack of planning as a result of which water could not seep into the aquifer. A pain in the neck when rain water floods our street because of such mismanagement.

If we made use of the intelligence the Almighty gave us, as our ancestors did, we would have restored all the historic cisterns and wells, build new ones to capture and collect all the water, and not ask school children to catch a drop, and throw millions of gallons out to sea. Imagine if the historic professional water management systems were appreciated, cared for, renovated and kept in a good shape. There would not be any reason to pray for rain. Imagine if large cisterns were built in all the school yards, of which there are so many.

Wouldn’t the €57 million have been well spent and such harvested natural resource be so beneficial in this time of drought? But such common sense was not so common with the planning authority, or else these were regarded as whitebait not palatable and attractive enough to the sharks!

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

The cemetery built in Nadur Gozo, disrupted and ruined the natural hydrological system and the professional engineering built by the Knights of Malta.

The religious authorities did not bat an eyelid for such waste of resources either. Not only so, but some had also a finger in the pie in the mismanagement of such a natural scarce resource. With MEPA’s blessing, they chose the largest water catchment area in Gozo where to build a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery consisting of 600 graves for the dead at the expense of the living. An appropriate adequate grave for present day intelligence.

In the process, a historical engineering system, which was used to catch free rain water and harvest it in various cisterns, was ruined. This system used to ensure enough adequate water for agricultural needs of the farmers along Wied il-Qasab during the long hot summer months. But because of such mismanagement and lack of professional planning, today when it rains, not only is the water not collected for agricultural use, it now floods the fields further down the valley. The result of the approved plans, by you know who, which interfered with the flow of water through the geological strata. And the cemetery was blessed too!

eco-1This is why I feel embarrassed to pray for rain. I am surprised at the audacity some have, especially those who believe that they are closer to the Lord than any other. Why should the Lord listen to us when a great percentage of such free rain water would be swept to the sea as unwanted, undesired and useless water. And it also floods agricultural land because of land mismanagement and land abuse. What an embarrassment to man’s intelligence. How shameful!

And in the meantime, despite such a drought, large expanses of turf are still being sprinkled (during the darkness of night) with the Minister for Landscaping’s blessings.

If I had to pen a tentative reply to such prayers, I would say: “Be blessed, go and repent.” And remember that “Water is the driving force of all nature” (Leonardo da Vinci).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Additional reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/dezert-niexef-nixfa-ta-ideat/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/l-immaniggar-tal-ilma-fmalta/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/in-nixfa-tax-xitwa-u-s-sigra-tal-lewz/

 https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/an-official-water-policy/


L-­ISPEĊI INVAŻIVI… u l­-Mepa

April 14, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 14 ta’ April, 2014

L-­ISPEĊI INVAŻIVI… u l­-Mepa

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

  F’kumment ieħor rajna kif is­-siġra tal­-Akaċja tal-Ħarir, jew Albizia tista’ jkollha impatt ferm negattiv fuq il­-biodiversità Maltija. Dan minkejja l-­linji gwida fil-­pubblikazzjonijiet kollha tal-MEPA. Pjanta oħra li ddaħħlet f’pajjiżna u qed tagħmel il-­ħsara hija l-­Pjuma, jew Peniżetum (Penisetum setaceum) li matul dawn l­-aħħar snin tħawlet bi kwantità fit-toroq wara li ġiet importata minn barra. Wieħed jista’ jaraha fid­-dwawar fit­-toroq (roundabouts ­- ftit hemm minnhom  fejn ma ssibhiex) u f’kull roqgħa art matul it-toroq prinċipali. Quddiem il-Knisja ta’ San Lawrenz fil-Birgu hemm medda twila mhux ħażin minnha.

Il-Peniżetum jikber fil-Birgu.

Il-Peniżetum jikber il-Birgu.

Din il-pjanta tikber f’pajjiżi li ma għandhomx xitwa kiefra, u ma tiddejjaq xejn tikber fid-dell. Tant hija b’saħħitha li anki jekk tinħaraq tikber b’aktar ħerqa. In­-nar jgħinha biex tikkompeti ma’ pjanti indiġeni u tbiddel l-ekoloġija tal-post, tfaqqar l-ambjent mill-ispeċi indiġeni, tbiddel l­-ekoloġija tal-ħamrija, u anki tbiddel il-kompożizzjoni tal­-fawna u n­-numru tagħhom. Il-Peniżetum jew il­-Pjuma tkun bil-fjuri kważi s-sena kollha. Hija tista’ tgħix għal madwar 20 sena. Iż­-żerriegħa tagħha tinfirex bir-riħ, bil­-karozzi, permess tal-bniedem, bl­-ilma, bl-annimali li jġorruha meta teħel mal-pil tagħhom, u anki bil-għajnuna tal-għasafar. Il-karozzi u l-annimali jistgħu jeħduha distanzi twal.

Il-karozzi jgħinu biex iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum tinferrex 'l bogħod fil-madwar

Il-karozzi jgħinu biex iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum titferrex ‘l bogħod fil-madwar

Iż-żerriegħa tal­-Peniżetum tikber fejn hemm biżżejjed umdità u b’hekk mill-ewwel tiksi nħawi imqallba fejn ma jkunx hemm xita spissa. Hija tadatta malajr għall-ambjenti differenti.

Il-Peniżetum tikber kull fejn issib ftit umdità

Il-Peniżetum tikber kull fejn issib ftit umdità.

Din hija pjanta indiġena tal-Afrika u l-Lvant Nofsani. Fil­-pajjiżi fejn hija indiġena tikber f’ambjent nieqes mill-ilma. Infatti f’pajjiżha hija aktar rari milli fil-partijiet oħra tad­-dinja fejn ġiet imdaħħla u fejn invadiet. L-inħawi li tinvadi, fost oħrajn, jinkludu ambjenti naturali u mħarbta, għaram ramel, mal-ġnub tat­-toroq, f’kull xaqq fil-blat jew taħt il­-bankini. Biex namluhiela aktar faċli hawn Malta, fid­-dwawar fit-toroq u partijiet oħra fit-toroq inbexxuha bl­-ilma. Naturalment iħallas il­-poplu u l-ambjent.

Il-viżjoni pollitika u uffiċjali tal-MEPA

Il-viżjoni politika u uffiċjali tal-MEPA. U l-poplu u l-ambjent iħallsu.

Kif rajna f’artikli oħra, il-MEPA hija l-Awtorità Kompetenti responsabbli, għall-anqas fuq il-karta, biex tara, fost oħrajn, li l­biodiversità ta’ pajjiżna tkun imħarsa. F’wieħed mill-pubblikazzjonijiet tagħha l­-MEPA tgħid litagħraf il-fatt li l­-pjanti ornamentali huma magħrufa bħala r-raġuni ewlenija tal-pjanti invażivi fil-gżejjer Maltin. U għalhekk wieħed għandu jara li qabel ma jintroduċi speċi ġodda fil­-villaggi, bliet jew inkella jħawwilhom fuq skala kbira, wieħed għandu jikkonsulta l-linja gwida tal­-MEPA. Il-pubblikazzjoni tal-MEPA jgħidu li l­-firxa ta’ dawn l-ispeċi nvażivi qed tkun ta’ tħassib ambjentali. Tant illi huwa aċċetat li l-ewwel pass huwa li titwaqqaf id-dħul ta’ speċi invażivi. Iżda hemm bżonn li tittieħed azzjoni minħabba li l­-firxa  u l-impatti ta’ dawn l-ispeċi invażivi qed timmina sforzi għaddejjin biex tiġi mħarsa l­-biodiversità tal-gżejjer Maltin, tgħid il-MEPA! Tgħid ukoll li speċi ġodda qed jagħmlu ħsara kbira fl­-ambjent tagħna, kif ukoll huma ta’ tħassib għal Malta.

Ir-riżultat tal-użu ta' pjanti invażivi mingħajr ebda ħsieb ħlief dak ta' qligħ ta' flus.

Ir-riżultat tal-użu ta’ pjanti invażivi mingħajr ebda ħsieb ħlief dak ta’ qligħ ta’ flus.

Mill-kliem għall-fatti hemm baħar jikkumbatti jgħid il­-Malti. Il-MEPA hija magħrufa li qatt ma kellha qalbha taħraq għall-ħarsien tal-ambjent. U wara li d-dipartiment tal­-ambjent fl­-2002 tqiegħed f’ħoġorha, mill-ewwel ħakmithu, libsithu sarima, u għamlithu s­-Sindirella tagħha. Illum dan jinstab orfni fil-limbu tal­-MEPA. U llum il­-MEPA qed tistenna bil­-ħerqa kollha biex l-ambjent jitneħha minn ħdanha għax taħseb li hekk ma tħossx aktar il-piż tal-qerda tal-ambjent tal-gżejjer Maltin li hija qed tħalli jsir. Jekk wieħed iħares lejn il-proposti tagħha għall­-bdil fil-politika tal-ODZ (Żvilupp fiż­-Żoni barra l-Iżvilupp), dawk tal-iSPED (Pjan Strutturali għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp), il-proposti għat­-twaqqif tal-Awtorità għall­-Iżvilupp tal-Ippjanar, u deċiżjonijiet meħuda mill­-MEPA, bħal fost ħafna oħra, ngħidu aħna d­-deċiżjoni tal-bini taċ­-ċimiterju tan-Nadur f’Għawdex, u l­-permessi tal-bini mostruż fil­-Mistra bl­-impatt ta’ ħsara kbira soċjali u ambjentali, wieħed jara kif u kemm il­-MEPA falliet fil-qadi ta’ dmirijietha lejn il­-ħarsien tal­-ambjent ekoloġiku u lejn is-soċjetà Maltija. Dan minkejja li l-poplu qed iħallasha biex tħarislu l­-ambjent tiegħu. Ara x’ġej meta ssir Awtorità tal­-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp! Sfortunatament l­-ambjent xejn ma hu fuq quddiem fuq l­-agenda politika tal­-partiti. Dan jidher ukoll mill­-fatt li llum l-hekk imsejjaħ landscaping li hija attività b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità, qiegħed taħt ir-responsabbiltà tal-Ministeru tat-Transport u l-Infrastruttura. U dan, mingħajr l­-għajnuna professjonali fil-qasam tal-biodiversità, u bil-MEPA ma tara, ma tisma’, u ma tgħid xejn, il-Ministeru japprova dan kollu, u l-poplu u l­-ambjent iħallsu.

Iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum lesta biex tissiefaħ 'l bogħod u tikber fejn taqa' - dejjem bil-barka tal-MEPA

Iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum lesta biex tissiefaħ ‘l bogħod u tikber fejn taqa’ – dejjem bil-barka tal-MEPA.

Huwa għalhekk li kull darba li ngħaddi mit-toroq fejn ikun hemm il­-Peniżetum tikber (fost pjanti invażivi oħrajn), kemm fid­-dwawar fit-toroq, kif ukoll taħt il-bankini, xagħri, wesgħat imqallba u postijiet oħra fejn ħarbet, inkompli nsaħħaħ il­-fehma tiegħi li l-MEPA falliet bis-sħiħ. U ma għandniex xi ngħidu l­-falliment tal-MEPA jkaxkar miegħu l­-falliment tal-politikanti responsabbli minnha. Dan minkejja liġijiet Maltin u dawk internazzjonali, inklużi dawk tal­-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan sejjer jagħmilna l­-aħjar fl-Ewropa għal mod kif niġu naqgħu u nqumu mill­-obbligj u viżjoni tal-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-impatt soċjali. U filwaqt li kulħadd jgħajjat bid­-drittijiet tal-minoranzi, mid­-dehra il­-maġġoranza ma għandha l­-ebda dritt. Bla dubju Malta hija tagħna lkoll, imma nħoss li l­-viżjoni soċjali u ambjentali qiegħdin taħt muntanja ta’ flus. Illum naraw li huma l-ftit li qed jiddettaw u jistagħnaw għas-spejjeż tal-ħafna. Bħalma qed jagħmlu l­-ispeċi invażivi li qed jerdgħu kull roqgħa ta’ pajjiżna, bil-barka tal­-MEPA.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com  


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


Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

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

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


Let’s hide our face in shame following further news on trees – 1

November 20, 2012

            Let’s hide our face in shame following further news on trees – 1

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Two recent articles published in the Times during November are clearly in line with the above quote by philosopher Schopenhauer. Two articles penned by two MEPA officials: the Director of the Environment Protection Directorate and an eminent gentlemen on the MEPA’s board.

The number of letters appearing in the media and on various blogs  complaining, criticising and disapproving  the mismanagement of trees, to put it mildly, embarrassed the Minister and his watchdog responsible for the protection,  communication, education and public awareness, to the extent that they have become almost isolated.  So MEPA have gone to the front line to dispel such complaints and belittle such criticism.

The first article Further notes on trees by MEPA’s  Director of the Environment Protection Directorate  was published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 (see article on link below).

Conservationists and environmentalists were advised that “Overly high-pitched reactions to any discussion about trees could have the longer-term undesirable effect of discouraging some people from planting more trees on their properties”. Could this perhaps refer to the Nadur Cemetery which is threatening the livelihood of a community of farmers who cultivate hundreds of citrus trees in Wied il-Qasab because of MEPA’s approval for the construction of a cemetery?  Could it be a reference to MEPA’s postponement and postponement of an appeal’s decision while the building of the cemetery is still going on nearing completion? Or could it be  a reference to MEPA’s approval of the uprooting (except for 3) of all the trees in the Mdina Ditch including an 80+ year old olive tree, a dozen of  Cyprus trees, and nearly all the citrus trees and the indigenous wild ivy? Or perhaps to the latest MEPA permit for the building in part of an old garden in Villa Meckrech – Tas-Sinjura,  Għaxaq? Or perhaps due to the lack of public consultations with regards to the present mismanagemnt of trees in the islands?

The appeal regarding this developmend has been postponed and postponed and postponed by MEPA.
In the meantime works at the cemterey have continued. Not only so but during November 2012, the cemtery has been surrounded by a wall. Is it possible that MEPA has issued a permit for such a development? And if not, why has it not taken any action?

 Readers were also informed that  “the overall total amount of trees in Malta has increased significantly over the last decades” and “Trees were mainly planted in walled gardens, orchards, fields and some hunting grounds. It was during the British period that trees began to be planted more widely in urban public spaces and along roads.”  Which of these trees can be considered safe today under the present MEPA’s policy, vision of development and the shallow understanding of ecosystems? The above three examples clearly indicate that none  are safe.

 “Afforestation projects carried out by both the government and environmental NGOs have planted thousands of trees in recent years.”  Very true but what kind of trees are being planted, and how were these planted? The 34U campaign has come to  mean more a Tree for Uprooting considering that the aim is more to boast about the quantity of trees (as highlighted in the quote above) rather than the quality and professionalism used. These have been planted so close to each other that they need to be thinned out if they are to grow and form a canopy.  Some of them have to be uprooted. Besides what kind of trees are being planted? Most of them are imported, some are  exotic and even invasive, to the extent that the number of aliens species being imported is alarming. This despite the fact that MEPA is the  authority responsible to ensure that this should  not happen.

With regards to the criticism  regarding the uprooting of Paola square trees, MEPA said that “In this case, the final decision on whether the Paola trees will be uprooted now rests with the local council.” Does this mean that a permit will be issued by MEPA for uprooting these trees if the Paola Local Council decides so? Has MEPA renounced its responsibility for the protection of trees in Malta?

With regards to the Mdina Ditch fiasco, MEPA’s official wrote that “The cultural heritage experts advising on the project gave priority to enhancing the view of the historic bastions and ditch, which are unique, rather than the citrus trees which are far from unique and can be moved. On the other hand, other persons gave more importance to the citrus trees growing in the ditch, which have no relevance to the historic bastions but which have been there for some time and which people had become accustomed to enjoying. An outcry ensued. It was a question of perspective.”

 I am sorry to say that this is side-tracking the whole issue.  The citrus trees were not the main concern.  The greatest concerns were the uprooting of protected olive trees, one more than 80 years old (with MEPA’s endorsement), the destruction of the ecological habitat formed by the ivy growing on the side of the Howard Gardens, the amount of turf which will be planted, the amount of water which this will take, the dancing water fountains (which have no relevance to the historic bastions), the excavation of water cisterns which do not figure in the MEPA permit for the works in the ditch. All this with MEPA approval? A question of perspective or an overly high-pitched reaction!

“Ficus nitida can however be inconvenient when situated very close to benches and popular recreational spots, due to their small dark fruit which covers the ground in certain seasons, and their attraction to birds which can lead to a considerable amount of bird droppings – as seen, for instance, in the square outside the Gozo Ministry in Rabat.”

porofessional management

Dingli Local Council’s solution –
the birds can poo to their heart’s content; the tree can shed its leaves without concern, and the people can sit and gossip all day and all night long.
MEPA’s solution – chop the tree down and  the bill will be paid from public funds.

Established trees form part of an ecosystem and IF there is a problem this is not solved by cutting down the trees to keep the birds away. Why not move the   benches in the first place, for example?  Such a statement coming from MEPA vindicates those who maintain that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should never be together because MEPA still does not understand what an ecosystem means.  Some local council have managed to solve this problem which MEPA, for some reason or other, has not even dreamt of.

The article concluded by a reference to the National Environment Policy emphasising that

“Its implementation requires no less than a gradual cultural shift, across the board.”

So very true. Such a cultural shift is desperately and urgently needed especially by MEPA who has been entrusted with the protection of the natural heritage, as obliged by the various international conventions, not least those of the EU, and also by a  number of national legislation. This is urgently needed if the Government’s and MEPA’s nicely coloured publications, including the National Environment Policy, were not published  just to adorn the bookshelves of history. And unfortunately this and the other article referred to (which I will comment on in another post) do not guarantee that such a cultural shift is in site at all by the authority who has been entrusted to protect such a heritage in the people’s name.

MEPA’s  online article in The Times  can be accessed on:

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

OTHER RELATED READINGS:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%E2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/?preview=true&preview_id=374&preview_nonce=df7e841c61

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-mdina-ditch-trees-is-the-eu-really-involved/?preview=true&preview_id=1050&preview_nonce=3835a76b71

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/?preview=true&preview_id=1375&preview_nonce=5e0a18cf49

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/?preview=true&preview_id=1182&preview_nonce=a98051a563

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/?preview=true&preview_id=1266&preview_nonce=9544b7e2f7

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/?preview=true&preview_id=1138&preview_nonce=7ada24a171

 


Iċ-Cimiterju f’Għajn Qasab, in-Nadur Għawdex

November 1, 2012

Iċ-Cimiterju f’Għajn Qasab, in-Nadur Għawdex

Alfred E. Baldacchino

L-Erbgħa, 31 ta’ Ottubru, 2012

Il-kontroversja taċ-ċimiterju f’Għajn Qasab, in-Nadur Għawdex ilha għaddejja issa mhux ħażin. Saħansitra sar appell lill-MEPA dwar il-permess li din ħarġet lill-Arċipriet tal-Knisja tan-Nadur. Il-MEPA ilha issa mhux ħażin tistudja u tistudja, u tistudja u tistudja dan l-appell u tipposponi u tipposponi d-deċiżjoni tagħha minn xahar għal xahar.  Sadanittant, ix-xogħol fuq dan iċ-ċimiterju għadu għaddej. Forsi xi ħadd għandu xi pjan biex ix-xogħol fuq dan iċ-ċimiterju jilħaq jispiċċa u d-deċiżjoni tal-Bord tal-Appell tal-MEPA tkun tista’, mal-ftuħ uffiċjali ta’ dan iċ-ċimiterju, tagħmel l-ewwel difna fih billi tidfen id-deċiżjoni tal-appell.

Għelieqi u x-xagħri jinbidlu f’ċimiterju waqt li x-xogħol u l-appell għaddejin id f’id!

Sadanittant, il-bdiewa li jiddependu mill-ilma li kienet tilqa’ l-art li tħaffret biex jinbena dan iċ-ċimiterju, u lil kien jintua biex isaqqu l-uċuħ tar-raba’ tagħhom, fejn hemm mijiet tas-siġar taċ-ċitru, għadhom imħassba għal dan id-dewmien ta’ deċiżjoni li qed taffettwalhom xogħolhom u l-għixien tagħhom.

Illum deher artiklu fuq il-blog tal-Perit Carmel Cacopardo dwar dan iċ-ċimiterju, liema rapport qiegħed ninkludu hawn, flimkien ma’ xi kummenti li dehru.

Il-Kappillan jagħtiha għall-business

Carmel Cacopardo – 31 10 2012

F’Għajn Qasab limiti tan-Nadur Għawdex l-inkwiet għadu għaddej. L-Kappillan tan-Nadur qed jagħmel biċċa business bl-oqbra. Business li wiret mill-Kappillan ta’ qablu. Qaluli li hu speċi ta’ timeshare bl-oqbra.

Ix-xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni għaddej u l-ħsara lill-biedja fl-inħawi m’hiex żgħira. Is-sistema ta’ irrigazzjoni li ilha taħdem minn żmien il-kavallieri ġiet imħarbta biex il-Kappillan jagħmel il-business bl-oqbra. Sa minn żmien il-kavallieri missierijietna kienu għaqlin biżżejjed biex fasslu sistema li iżżomm l-ilma u titilqgħu ftit ftit. Hekk li meta tagħmel ix-xita l-ilma jinħażen u matul is-sena sa Awwissu u anke Settembru titlaq dan l-ilma ftit ftit. Dan l-ilma għal dawn l-aħħar tlett mitt sena intuża biex f’Għajn Qasab hemm qasam kbir mimli siġar taċ-ċitru. Issa l-ilma naqas. Jiġi f’daqqa malli tagħmel ix-xita u wara ftit li xejn.

L-effetti fuq il-bdiewa ġja bdew. Raba’ mingħajr ilma matul is-sena bil-fors tnaqqas il-frott li trodd.

Il-Kappillan inkwetat. Mhux għall-bdiewa u l-għixien tagħhom li hu mhedded. Hu inkwetat li l-appell fil-MEPA kontra l-bini taċ-ċimiterju għadu għaddej u ma jafx meta ser ilesti. Min tah il-flus għall-oqbra qed igorr.

Jiena infurmat li din il-ġimgħa dawk viċin il-kappillan bdew jiġbru l-firem. Lin-nies qalulhom li dwar il-permessi għad hemm il-problemi. Imma li l-business tal-Kappillan qed jagħmel il-ħsara lill-bdiewa ħadd ma qalilhom xejn dwaru.

Dwar dan messu jitkellem Dun Mario!

http://carmelcacopardo.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/il-kappillan-jaghtiha-ghall-business/?replytocom=1779#respond

2 responses

 Mario Xerri 31 10 2012 (19:21:05) :

Din hija s-sena tal-FIDI ghalina l-INSARA. Din il-fidi f’ALLA qieghda tigi mtappna b’hafna skandli madwar id-dinja specjalment gewwa l-EWROPA. Il-hasra hi li l-knisja kattolika kellha sehem ukoll. Dan li qieghed jigri go GHAWDEX ma jghinx! Il-bniedem jitwieled b’xejn minn guf ommu……fl-ahhar ta’ hajtu ma jiehu xejn mieghu.

Baldacchino Alfred E.    31 10 2012 (20:16:01) :

APPARTMENTI GĦALL-MEJTIN

Prosit Carm, tajba ħafna.

Immisna nibdew petizzjoni aħna wkoll u niġbru l-firem biex nibgħatuhom kemm lill-Knisja, lill-Gvern, lill-Opposizzjoni u anki lill-Vatikan. Jidher li fejn jidħlu l-flus hawn Malta mhemm l-ebda kuxjneza soċjali u ekoloġika, sfortunatament lanqas fil-Knisja. It-twemmin nisrani jiġi wara.

Darba kont ktibt li għad jiġi żmien meta l-mejtin għad jisħtu l-ħajjin dwar iċ-ċimiterju tan-Nadur f’Għawdex. Nixtieq nara minn sejjer inaqqax ismu fuq l-irħama meta jinfetaħ dan iċ-ċimiterju. Naħseb li jrid ikun hemm irħana kbira mhux ħażin għaliex dawk li taw sehomhom huma ħafna bħal ngħidu aħna, id-djoċesi ta’ Għawdex, Il-Gvern, l-Oppożizzjoni, il-Mepa, dawk li tħallsu biex għamlu r-rappport li jiġġustifika dan l-isfreġju tal-ambjent. U mhux biss l-isem tal-entitajiet fejn warajhom jinħbew in-nies responsabbli, imma ismijiet ta’ minn huma dawn in-nies. Il-Kappillan tan-Nadur naħseb li jikkwalifika biex ikun fuq ras il-lista.

Wasalna fi stat redikolu issa li qed nibnu appartamenti għall-mejtin u l-ħsara ta’ deċiżjonijiet bħal dawn iħallsuhom is-socjetà u l-ambjent.

Lapida li tixraq lil dan iċ-ċimiterju f’Wied il-Qasab, in-Nadur Għawdex.

Ara l-artiklu tiegħi hawn

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%E2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/