National hobby of butchering trees

May 11, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 11th June 2016

National hobby of butchering trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Since the first day when the tree protection regulations of 2001 were amended in 2011, the future of trees in Malta was open to the whims and fancies of developers and so called ‘landscapers’ who butcher them to their hearts’ content.

butchered tree 3

A common sight of the trail left behind by Maltese landscapers, who now seem to have also been accepted by the University, unless one hears to the contrary.

Through these years, the environmental NGOs, or some of them, have protested and protested against such butchering of trees paid out of public funds. And the conscientious and intelligent general public also kept on protesting ad nauseam. But nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to hear and nobody seems to listen. Nobody is conscious about the environmental and social damage. And the butchering goes on and on and on.

It would do no harm if one is reminded of the Government’s ‘Malta Tagħna lkoll’ electoral manifesto with regards to trees and woodland:

We will constantly protect existing trees in the Maltese towns and villages, and we will encourage the planting of more trees, especially indigenous trees. page 101, article 56.

butchered tree 7

seems that this is the official accepted professional  protection and encouragement of trees in Malta

The government has been involved in a Private Public Partnership for the last 14 years. The total amount paid for this so called landscaping, for which there is no official regulator from the biodiversity and social aspects, is approximately €112 million, or €8 million each year. And what has the country got to show for it. Invasive species and exotic trees, imported species for such landscaping, even imported indigenous specimens, to the detriment of Maltese biodiversity and to society, and planting of annual flowers which are ploughed and uprooted after a couple of weeks.

Despite the number of national and international obligations including EU obligations, with regards to the control of invasive species, such ‘landscaping’ goes on without any consideration for them.

Furthermore, the use of expanses of turf gulping the scare resource of water with the use of added herbicides seems to be the cherry on the commercial cake of this private public agreement. To the extent that the Minister responsible for landscaping still persists in keeping this public agreement confidential, and endorses €8 million annually.

Why? What is there to be ashamed of, unless of course this mismanagement is not in line with the public contract?

In the meantime the Minster for Environment looks as if environment is not his responsibility.

butchered tree 5

One of the many olive trees which have been ‘professionally pruned’ on the University of Malta campus. If this ecological vandalism is accepted by the University of Malta, then I am sorry to say that the University has been taken for a ride. Twice. The University deserves much much better than this.

Such gross mismanagement and waste of public resources lacking any scientific and professional basis, ignoring international and EU obligations, to the detriment of society and the environment, now seems to have also infected, penetrated and hijacked the University of Malta.

The Times of Malta (May 7) produced photos of butchered trees in the precincts of the University of Malta –  66 mature olive trees. The institution, one would presume, is aware of the public outcry regarding the mismanagement of trees in the Maltese Islands for the last decade or so.

Who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees?

There are qualified professional staff at University who, I am sure, if they had been consulted would have strongly objected to such nonsensical, unprofessional butchering of trees.

The more so since during this time of the year the trees are in flower and are beneficial to pollinators, including bees. So who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees, especially when olive tree wood is so much in demand? Who is paying whom for such mismanagement? Who is going to pay for the damages done?

One wonders why such butchering was allowed on the University campus. Has it been an internal decision or was it an imposed decision from outside?

Civil society looks at University as the source from where trained professionals find their place in society and be involved in the professional running of the country. Civil society also pays to achieve this too. But the butchering of trees on the campus does not reflect any success of trained professionals in the field.

On the contrary such mismanagement officially approved on the campus, look more like a failure on the part of the University. One can add that lack of qualifications of self-proclaimed landscapers in the management of trees, has completely taken over any professional management one would expect from a University.

uom poster

picture says it all

Could this be the result that the educational system where each and every faculty is just concerned only in its narrow specialties, not caring a finger on the externalities or responsibilities that the decisions taken by their eventually qualified students on the wider social and environmental fabric of the island?

One can only hope and wait that one day, possibly yesterday, Malta too would have qualified professionals having a wider vision of social and environmental responsibilities, who are also accepted and involved in the governance of the country. The butchering of mature trees on the campus if anything, has severely dented the professionalism at University in this field. And everyone expects a strong reaction to address this mediocrity which now has been going on for far too long without anybody taking any responsibility for it.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further reading on this national hobby of butchering trrees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/maltese-trees-conserving-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/is-sigra-nazzjonali-u-l%c2%ad-politikanti-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/2-%c2%ad-is-%c2%adsigar-barranin-l%c2%ad-impatt-dirett-taghhom/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/sigar-maltin-u-sigar-mhux-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-sigar-fil-bliet-u-fl-irhula-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/hello-world/

 

 

Advertisements

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.

LN-376-of-2012

How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

page-1

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/


God and landscaping

January 9, 2015

God and landscaping

Friday, 9th January 2015.

with addenda by Alfred E. Baldacchino

Among the many exchanges of jokes and comments over the net, I received one such ‘joke’ from a friend of mine. Seems that Maltese environmentalists and their blogging have also managed to reach the Patron Saint of biodiversity, St. Francis. I thought it would be useful if I shared this with readers of my blog, always thanks to my friend Victor. And it was a bit too much of a temptation not to include some more details for the information of our Patron Saint.

GOD to ST. FRANCIS:    Frank,   …  You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS:    It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:    Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colourful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:    The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:    They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay

St. FRANCIS:    Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:    They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. FRANCIS:    No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:    Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. FRANCIS:    Yes, Sir.

GOD:    These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. FRANCIS:    You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:    What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

St. FRANCIS:    You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:    No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. FRANCIS:    After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:    And where do they get this mulch?

St. FRANCIS:    They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:    Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. CATHERINE:    ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about… ………………….. .

GOD:    Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

For the attention of St. Francis for his next meeting with the Lord.

In Malta, a barren rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, a member of the European Union, the elected representatives of the natives, have set up a Public Private Partnership (PPP) responsible for landscaping in the Malta, with a motto Making Malta and Gozo Greener. This has been done through a contract between the Minister of Finance representing the natives and five eminent businessmen. 8 million euros are made available per year, for seven years, to undertake, amongst others, all that you have listed above. There are no limits to the destruction and elimination of wild flora and trees, to green the island.

No further details are available because this contract, despite being made on behalf of the natives, is kept secret and guarded under lock and key. Whether this secrecy is kept because it embarrasses the signatories, or because there are other obligations which are not in the interest of the natives, one cannot say as yet.

2011.07.01 - wasting water resources - 1

Although the Lord can see their work wonders from up there, the attached photo would not do any harm as evidence and to confirm what you said.  If only I could send you their publications to see the rectangles, squares and circles of green!

Furthermore, if you can perhaps speak to the Lord to illuminate the intelligence of the leaders of this Country to help them appreciate the wonders of His creation, and the better use of resources be they natural or financial, it would be of great help.

PS. I thought you would also be interested to know that besides regarding wild flora NO,-NO,-NO,-NO-this-is-not-Seville.-It-is-the-professional-expert-pruning-and-lanscaping-in-Malta-approved-by-governmentas weeds, they do not appreciate your ‘stroke of genius’ in creating trees either. Look at the way they manage them. They say that trees attract birds (the few that are not shot that is), and the birds dirty the benches beneath. Trees shed their leaves and these dirty the pavements. Trees also damage the pavements and houses, they say. Lately I have heard that the swaying of leaves outsides schools distract the students inside. And most of the trees  finish as logs and mulch, as you said. Please ask the Lord to illuminate them with urgency. My impression is that they all believe in Him, or so they say.

 

 


Environmentalists argue weakness of governments on environmental issues

December 26, 2014

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Environmentalists argue weakness of governments

on environmental issues

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Kevin Schembri Orland

“The environment is nothing but a buzzword for politicians on both sides, a buzzword used by them to sound nice and be popular”, Environment photographer Guido Bonett told The Malta Independent.”There has been a gradual degradation of the environment. This is due to a number of things, one of which is the mentality, where they believe that if it doesn’t vote or make money then it is useless. The development boom over the past 30 years has been a real back-breaker as far as the environment is concerned”.

Swallowtail butterfly - Farfett tal-bużbież

Swallowtail butterfly – Farfett tal-bużbież

Roads also disrupt habitats. “I don’t even want to imagine what kind of damage works around the Salina Coast road has caused”. “One thing that really worries me is the state of insect life on the island. Take butterflies for example, we have already lost a number of species and this comes down to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. If we were to use insects as a thermometer for the wellbeing of the environment then it becomes obvious that we are in trouble. When I was younger, turning over a stone one would find a number of insects and arachnids, from scorpions to centipedes while today one would be lucky to find a couple of snails”.

As an example of species lost, Mr Bonnet said that the small copper butterfly hasn’t been sighted for over ten years. Turning to plants, he said we are losing species of plants just as we are losing species of insects.” One must look at nature as a guidocircle. If part of it is cut, then ripple effects will occur and man is part of this chain”.

Turning to marine life, he said that people who want to dispose of certain rubbish just chuck them into the sea. “The amount of sea pollution is staggering. When scouts hold a clean-up session at a beach, they collect around 50 sacks of garbage in a single morning”. Mr Bonett had a message to politicians, telling them to take the environment more seriously and not encroach on virgin land. “Decision makers need to realise that people who care about the environment have as many votes as those who don’t”.

Lack of appreciation a result of greed

“The fact that we are a small island means that developmental impacts on natural habitats are multiplied. In addition there is a lack of professional management with regard to such developments that leads to the loss of other resources. Take water for example, today we are no longer concerned with storing water when it rains, but rather pay a lot of money to funnel it out to sea. This affects wildlife as all species rely on water. There is also no professional planning when it coms to utilising such a scarce resource.

Landscaping is another problem, as it brings żringabout exotic invasive species of plants that contribute to the further destruction of the Maltese environment. If species being destroyed by development are utilised within the development, at least we would see some of what was taken given back to the eco-system”. “The ecosystem is like a web with everything intertwined. Without bees, for example, pollination would not occur, and thus flowers will not be able to multiply. If one is aware of such beneficial use of all living things, one would realise the importance of protecting such things as without them man wouldn’t be able to survive”.

Mr Baldacchino explained that insects provide food for other species, so aside from directly helping man, they help sustain other species thus creating a balance. Due to education and the availability of mass communication there is a strong awareness to the importance of our environment, he said. “We do tend to push the need to educate our children on the environment and while this is important it would take these children 25 years to really begin to contribute to society”. This shows a failure on the part of current generations who are trying to educate but not lead by example, he said.

Turning to the ‘Save the Countryside’ campaign launched by Din L-Art Helwa, Mr Bonett said; “I am very happy that Din L-Art Helwa took the initiative, which has seen many people showing interest in the environment”.  Mr Baldacchino said that the campaign focusses on saving wild species around the Maltese islands and the environment. “It is useless to protect species without protecting their habitats. This campaign is aimed at creating awareness and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the general public. The campaign is very stimulating and opens doors for future similar campaigns to help communicate and educate the public. It goes without saying that in a couple of years’ time, society and the eco-system will begin to pay the price for such neglect”.

“Membership in the EU means that we are obliged to transpose European legislation into local legislation and on paper, environmental legislation is sufficient. The main concern is, however, that nobody takes care of such legislation. It is not enforced, not administered and it is an open secret that nobody is eager to help the environment and everyone is just washing their hands of it. This is another failure of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility belongs to every Ministry and every person on this island whether he is a man off the street, the Minister of aebEnvironment, the Minister of Health or a member of the clergy. Without this delicate ecological balance, life cannot be sustained. Man is part of the eco-system,” Mr Baldacchino concluded.

“Considering the islands are relatively small, Malta has a large amount of species of flora. In the past they were used for traditional medicine and currently there is growing international awareness to the contribution that wild flora can give in medicine. In fact this movement is so great that many are turning back to traditional medicine”.

Everything is intertwined

“Pollution shows that man doesn’t care for tomorrow, that we are just living for today. We exploit what we can today and tomorrow, should the need arise, we would think about solving the problem. The idea that the earth has been loaned to us by future generations has been completely disregarded.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino believes that the lack of appreciation for the Maltese eco-system, resulting in extensive development, is a result of greed for materialistic items.

“On a positive note, we have seen great leaps in sewage treatment in Malta”, he said.

Loss of species

“I was brought up in Birkirkara, and from Valley road up to Farsons not a single house was built back then. What really scares me is the possibility of even more development”. Mentioning Ta Cenc, “It is one of the few areas people like me can go and relax in nature, where it is nice and quite, yet every time I’m there the possibility that this area could be built up creeps into my mind”.

Milky Orchid - Orkida tat-tikki

Milky Orchid – Orkida tat-tikki

Mr Bonett believes that Malta has very much become a consumer-based society and because of this, production continues to grow thus making the situation worse. “40 years ago the word environment did not even exist, so slight improvements have been seen. Over the past few months, however, we have gone backwards”.

“In my opinion, we have never had a single decent Minister for the environment, and none of them have an idea of what they are talking about. To these people, a piece of land filled with rocks and wildflowers is nothing more than an unproductive piece of land,” he said.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Plight of livestock breeders

June 16, 2014

 times of malta

Monday, June 16, 2014

Plight of livestock breeders

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

The media recently reported on cases of spraying slurry on agriculture land. Some questions remain unanswered. Earlier this month, I attended  a conference on the infonitrates project funded by the EU Life+ to see for myself what is being and what is not being said on the matter.

brochure

The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and animal rights welcomed participants, emphasising the importance of nitrate in agriculture,
the need to control such use and abuse and the need for the correct management, which can have an impact on water resources and
biodiversity.
Information was given on the work done with regard to communication, education and awareness among farmers and livestock breeders. Very
important, much needed and beneficial efforts.

The Water Services Corporation representative, before leaving, dwelt on the importance of ground water, the fact that Malta has the lowest water supply accessibility, which makes the country face chronic water scarcity and suffering drought. The worst impact on groundwater are nitrates resulting from sewage, manure from animal husbandry, salinity and sea water seepage in sewers in coastal areas.

cow-1

The obligations imposed by EU directives, control, legal measures and the establishment of a nitrate committee were also outlined. And this is how it should be, though it is not fair that conditions are only imposed on the ones who register.

An expert from the German Chamber of Agriculture and another from the Israeli Agriculture Research Organisation showed the professional way forward, something the local technocrats can digest within a couple of days but, unfortunately, this can take a generation to be politically accepted and implemented.

The best part of the conference was when the participants took the floor. If only the accountable political entities were all present. No politician from either side of the House was there. Admittedly, this was not the place for such comments but breeders saw this as an opportunity to make their point, expressing the desperate state they are in. Their frustrations were loud and clear: lack of adequate water for their fields and livestock while complaining that good water was taken for free and sold to swimming pools and hotels; pains regarding the lack of additional infrastructure to manage manure; worries about the bursting storage of solid and liquid manure because of lack of adequate disposal.

One of the breeders said they are not allowed to use slurry on their fields even during the dry season.

A comment from the head table that there are plans to install bio-digesters had a quick reaction from the floor, asking whether breeders were expected to stop feeding their livestock so that they will not excrete until the bio-digesters are in place. In short, it was all about bulls, woes and moos.

pigs

It has to be a pig to nonchalantly display the place from where processed undigested waste food is excreted out of the body. But this is only natural and it applies to all animals who have to eat. If not properly managed (and livestock cannot do it on their own) it can have a great negative impact on biodiversity.

Livestock manure is a resource that can generate enough energy to make the farm completely independent of fossil fuel. It can also contribute to the production of compost, thus decreasing overhead costs. Yet…

hen-1

 

 

 

Other official stakeholders were conspicuous by their absence. Mepa, one of the regulators for the water framework and the nitrates directives was not present. No surprise, though. Neither was the ministry responsible for the conservation of water and now also for health.

The WSC was present only momentarily for the brief presentation on the precarious water situation and the negative impact of nitrates. Neither was there anybody from the health directorate to listen to problems raised.

Considering the lack of coordination and mismanagement of the subject since accession to the EU, it felt more like shooting the bull.

If only the accountable political entities

were all present

A breeder told me that they had been given a concession to empty liquid waste in the sewer despite problems caused to the treatment of sewage water and notwithstanding the fact that, in their area, the sewers were old, lacking any pipes but hewn in the bedrock. Problem solved, well, at least, no one can see it.

rabbit

I pitied the agriculture official on the head table who not only was forsaken but was literally deserted. He could somehow manage technical questions but in no way could he give political answers or explain the duties of other government entities.

The lack of coordination hit one in the face. The absence of technocrats from other entities to help livestock breeders with their difficulties was an indication that these did not have any political backing or vision to do so.

Admittedly, this is not an easy task. The management of animal waste cannot be solved by one isolated government entity. Past mismanagement and lack of proper planning do not help either.

This community of legal livestock breeders does not seem to qualify as a minority deserving political backing despite the stiff competition from
overseas, the adverse economies of scale, its 24/7 commitment to the livestock, the adverse climatic conditions and the risks taken to make ends meet.

On the other hand, the fact that this community does not have any representative who can handle not only the technical aspects of their labour but also legal, social and ecological matters is not beneficial to breeders either.

manure-2

Having heard cries of pain from those who aired their voice, I left the conference not convinced at all that there is a clear vision of how to take the bull by the horns.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Water harvesting culture

April 28, 2014

times of malta

Monday, 28th April, 2014

Water harvesting culture

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

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

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

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

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

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

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta (photo Keith Buhagiar)

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

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

water-harvetingnetwork-beneaththe-city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://blogmwa.wordpress.com

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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


The greener it can get

November 29, 2013

times

The greener it can get

Friday, November 29, 2013, 

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which will eventually be submitted to the European Commission for funding, was discussed at a public consultation earlier this month.

Consulttion Document cover

The synopsis presented contains positive ideas. The full report was not available being ‘a long and detailed document’ and ‘not easy to use for public consultation’. This greatly hindered more indepth suggestions and comments. Could it not have been uploaded on the department’s website?

The synopsis is based on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of rural development based on five themes, with objectives and activities for funding.

Theme 1 deals with water, wastes and energy.
Can water be managed in the absence of a national water policy? The present fragmented ‘management’ reveals a ministry digging a tunnel to channel rain water directly to the sea. Another purifying sewage water and dumping it in the sea. A corporation managing and distributing potable water while a secretariat is trying to plug holes and mend cracks in water reservoirs and cisterns.

Such lack of coordination and waste of financial resources, most of which are coming from the EU, does not augur well. This was also pointed out by the representative of the Malta Water Association during the public consultation, adding that lack of access to the original draft report restricts discussions.

Activities suggest investment “in water management, abstraction…” Does this mean that abstraction will be funded when this is being tackled by another ministry trying to control and regulate it?

Theme 2 deals with Maltese quality produce, highlighting the need for quality assurance, poor enforcement of regulations and support for adding value as the major opportunities. The GMOs Pandora’s Box that farmers and consumers are being offered and possibly swallowing and the ever-increasing public rejection of GMOs can be capitalised upon by the farming community. Not only was this not even referred to but a farmer’s representative was heard saying that farmers cannot do without GMOs!

Theme 3 refers to sustainable livestock.
A positive item under activities to be funded is the support “for activities that reduce livestock farms’ impact on the climate and environment”. This can perhaps address the issue of past EU funds used to build such livestock farms on sensitive water table areas, rendering the water so nutrient rich and unusable.

Theme 4 deals with landscape and the environment.
The objectives are great and the wording is even nicer. But this is another subject where fragmentation reigns supreme.

Landscaping is under the responsibility of the Ministry for Transport where the main driving force is devoid of any ecological input. Mepa is the competent authority (on paper) under the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office. It is no secret that Mepa has rarely raised a finger to protect any tree and often turns a blind eye to all mutilation, uprooting, chemically-killed trees and introduction of alien species.

Local councils, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, go on a rampage ‘pruning’ trees with no questions asked.

The reply to my question as to who will be the regulator in such landscaping was no reply at all, sending shivers down my spine. The sanest political, technical, administrative, ecological, economical, legal way forward is that the regulator has to be the Minister for the Environment. This will ensure that there will not be any cow itch trees, fountain grass, flame trees et al. or turf growing in rural areas. And EU funds will be used in line with EU obligations, not as has happened in the past.

The economic bias of such a
report completely dwarfs the
sensitive ecological obligations

The funding of “new skills and knowledge (that) will be required in terms of landscape management, ecological understanding, conservation and practical skills” is a good idea if well managed and executed professionally.

The maintenance and restoration of rubble walls brought a rumble of disappointments by many who have been waiting for five and more years to restore the breach in their rubble walls. Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea. Cannot photos and videos record such breaches to allow their immediate restoration and then farmers be reimbursed by the RDP?

rubble wall builder - The Times

Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea (Photo: The Times)

A one day’s wait, especially during the rainy season, is too long for this fragile environment, resulting in ecological and additional expenses.

The wider rural economy and quality of life are addressed under theme 5
Among the objectives listed is the development of bed-and-breakfast business, which is also a good objective. However, if its implementation does not encompass the ecological impact it can be bizarre in such a small island State, the more so when experts and representatives involved in such activity omit biodiversity experts and the Ministry for the Environment, whether by conviction or for convenience.

The unnumbered delivery section outlines other actions, including ‘valley management/landscape management partnerships’ and a ‘rural resource hub’.

The first is urgently necessary even from an ecological point of view but, God forbid, if this is executed on the lines of past years without any holistic professional input but just by bulldozing earth to temporarily please the eye and inflict ecological damage.

The ‘rural resource hub’ is also welcome and can fill the void and neglect so conspicuous during the last decade. The once beneficial government experimental farm has, during the last years, been used more by domestic cats, dogs and pets. The once experimental farm can help educate, train, give technical knowledge advice and hands-on experience to all stakeholders in rural development.

These are but a few reflections and suggestions on the abridged consultation document, without having access to the original draft and keeping in mind that “precise details may well change over the next year, as discussions and agreement are still being developed in Brussels”.

Unfortunately, the economic bias of such a report completely dwarfs the sensitive ecological obligations. The outline nonetheless contains important and useful points that can contribute to rural development and Maltese biodiversity with some dotting of the i’s and crossing of thet t’s.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com
Alfred E. Baldacchino is a former assistant director at Mepa’s environment directorate.