Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

December 14, 2010

Tuesday, 14th December 2010

Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I  must admit that Eco-Gozo was a brilliant idea. The launching of this bright idea, however, lacked adequate communication, education and public awareness and cannot be said to be that brilliant.  Stakeholders did not have enough chance to meet to discuss, to suggest and to feel part of this concept. Public consultations lacked any brilliancy. All subsequent development, in its widest sense, does not necessarily dovetail in this concept and is indeed bizarre, to say the least.

Gozo is a small island, endowed with a topography and a geology that make it a unique ecological gem. But, because of its smallness, every mismanaged and short-sighted development has drastic effects on its ecosystem, defying the whole Eco-Gozo concept.

Just a few examples would suffice to show how this concept is unfortunately being torpedoed, with the official blessing of the same authority that should be in the forefront to stop them.

Wied il-Qasab, meandering from Nadur to Ramla l-Ħamra, is fed by natural springs, originating from the upper garigue. The water percolates down through the strata to the valley bed, sustaining both the valley ecosystem and cultivated fields. A short-sighted permit issued against all technical advice saw the excavation of the water source, devastating historical planning techniques dating back to the times of the Knights, shattering bell-shaped wells that stored precious water resources, eventually cutting off one of the valley springs, while negatively impacting the others. All for the sake of a cemetery, where the dead, directly and indirectly, will now contribute to the destruction of this part of Eco- Gozo.

Dwejra is one of the landmarks of Eco-Gozo.  Looking through the azure window reveals the Mediterranean culture, biodiversity and history. Dwejra is a special area of conservation, part of the EU Natura 2000 network, also proposed as an International Heritage Site. A few weeks ago, Dwejra was made to play prostitute in exchange for economic gain. Tom, Dick and Harry were officially assured that there was no ecosystem in this part of the SAC. They were also lectured on the fact that if the economy does well, the environment usually does better. A couple of horses were eventually filmed trotting on the quarry-sand covering the fossil-rich rocks, with the azure window in the background. The covering of sand sent the eco-sensitive public in a rage, seeing the authority who should have ensured that this did not happen, giving its official blessings. Another under-the-belt blow for Eco-Gozo.

This is the International Year of Biodiversity. Someone, a few weeks back, had another “brilliant” idea for this eco-island – to clean the valleys. With myopic ingenuity, devoid of any ecological sensitivity, and of any environmental management, the Marsalforn Valley was bulldozed.  By all means, let the valleys be cleaned to be in a better position to hold more water, as they used to do in the distant past. But for heaven’s sake this is not the way: descending on valleys and destroying all ecosystems in the bulldozers’ path. The end does not justify the means. The valleys have been neglected, abused and mismanaged for so long.

The bottom line again was the economic gain – time-wise at the expense of social and ecological expense. Who would think of using a bulldozer in St John’s Co-Cathedral to clean the accumulated dust in every nook and cranny and so save on time and expense?

eco-scars and eco-wounds

The extant indigenous protected mature trees in the said valley show the scars and wounds left behind, some with exposed and mutilated roots, in a bed now devoid of species that once flourished in the valley ecosystem. The saplings are all gone. Once, there was an authority that used to protect the environment and would have issued permits with conditions regarding such work in delicate ecosystems.  It also used to monitor the works to ensure no damage was done.

It would not be surprising if Tom, Dick and Harry are again informed that, if the economy does well, the environment will do better and there was no ecosystem in the path of bulldozers.  From the economic short-term point of view, the aim might have been achieved but the social and environmental accounts now show an alarming deficit. Another Eco-Gozo concept sunk beneath the waves. Another case of missing the wood for the trees.

The next step towards the concept of Eco-Gozo now seems to be the proposed development of that idyllic place Ħondoq ir-Rummien. Will the authority that used to protect the environment be taken in by the great financial glitter and dismiss the fragile, little understood and uncared for social and environmental unique values?  Will Tom Dick and Harry be told again such a financial economic weight will raise the social and environmental (deficit) sky-high, which will definitely contribute to the Eco-Gozo myth?

The brilliant idea of an ecological island seems to be slowly but surely fading away into extinction, like so many indigenous species. Eco-Gozo can only bear fruit if the entities that cannot and do not want to take into consideration the social and environmental wealth keep their hands off Gozo.

One is now bound to ask:  Is it Eco-Gozo … or Ecce Gozo?

aebaldacchino@gmail.

 

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The Nadur cemetery – where the dead will haunt and curse the living

June 21, 2010

Sunday 08 February 2009

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On 6 November 2006, Mepa approved the development of the Nadur cemetery (PA 2407/04) despite the repeated advice of its own technical and professional officials that such a project was objectionable in principle. Some wrongly believe that it was the technical and professional staff who recommended such a project. Mepa also waived the study of an environment impact assessment (EIA), despite the fact that this is an ODZ (Outside Development Zone) development, and based its decision on a hydrology report by a geologist, on the grounds that the project is unlikely to have any adverse impact on these resources. In so doing, Mepa thus completely ignored the precautionary principle adopted by the Environment Protection Act 2001 as a guiding principle.

The Malta Resources Authority, through its Water Directorate, did not object to this development either. Work started in summer 2007. An appeal was lodged according to the provision of the Development Planning Act. The sittings for the hearing of such an appeal were convened on 9 January 2008, on 12 March 2008, 2 April 2008, 18 June 2008, 24 September 2008, 29 October 2008, 3 December 2008 and lately postponed to 4 March 2009. Despite the deliberations that were made and the documents presented, no decision was ever taken.

In the meantime, work on the site continued unhindered, the footprint was excavated, foundations laid and building progressed. Protected carob trees were uprooted this year and “planted” elsewhere (see photo). One would have thought that this would never have been possible considering that the environment is one of the pillars of the government of the day, and considering the negative impact that this project is having on the economic, social and ecological environment. Could this possibly be a subtle strategy to enable the finalisation of the development before the appeal is decided? And can anyone be blamed for concluding that this is an insult to the intelligence of the people.

No public consultation was ever made on this ODZ development. Yet a number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister, who is also responsible for the environment. A number of social entities, and members of the general public have expressed their disapproval, both on this development and on the way it is being handled. Maltese farmers have also publicly supported the Gozitan farmers in their efforts to save their livelihood. The national authorities, whether political, administrative or religious are completely numb, which can also make one conclude that these are four square behind such an unsustainable project with all the resulting negative impacts also pointed out publicly. Such an absurd situation has to be urgently addressed in Mepa’s promised reform, not only with regard to this particular issue, but also to other issues where an appeal is lodged. It must be assured that when an appeal is made against a development where the damage would be irreversible, work on the project has to be immediately frozen until the appeal is decided. This would benefit the social, economic and ecological environment in toto.

When the dust settles and the Nadur cemetery opens its door to its permanent residents (I am convinced that the appeal would still not have been decided – irreparable damage has already been done), the damage would not only be irreversible but also persistent. Who will then stand up and publicly say that he is accountable for such a scenario? Will it be the Diocese for Gozo, one of whose officials is the applicant? Will it be the minister responsible for MRA who has not lifted a finger to protect and save the irreplaceable priceless aquifer and the lives and ecosystem it sustains? Will it be the minister responsible for agriculture who is responsible for the well being of agriculture and the community dependent on it, which is already being affected by what has been partially done so far? Will it be the minister responsible for Mepa who has ignored inside technical and professional advice and issued the permit?

The bending over backwards to accommodate the dead at the expense of the living is indeed unbelievable! “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). That is why the Nadur cemetery will deliver financially to the very, very few, in the name of the dead at the expense of the social, economic, and ecological environment. And those who will be laid to rest at the Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.