Activists call for immediate closure and remote sensing of illegal boreholes

Proposals included in a report on a seminar organised by Friends of the Earth Malta and Front Harsien ODZ cover five major areas affecting citizenship participation in environmental issues

'Closure of boreholes could help solve Malta's agricultaral water problems'
'Closure of boreholes could help solve Malta's agricultaral water problems'

Illegal boreholes need to be immediately identified and closed down, remote sensing installed and heavy fines imposed in case of infringements, according to two members of the Malta Water Association.

Marco Cremona and Brian Restall’s proposals were featured in a report published by Friends of the Earth Malta and Front Harsien ODZ, following a seminar, entitled ‘Right to Nature’, that the two NGOs organised earlier this year.

The seminar was organised in a bid to inspire active citizenship by starting a discussion on the main issues in the environmental sphere and extracting ways and means to tackle these issues by concerned citizens.

Restall and Cremona, who addressed a workshop on water management during the seminar, said that wastewater reuse could be one of the major solutions to agricultural water problems in Malta, but only if coupled with the closure of both legal and illegal boreholes.

“Legal boreholes should be metred and a decent price allocated to any water use, related to the amount and intention of water use in question,” they said.

One solution would be invest in large-scale water catchment of rainwater, similar to the government’s flood-relief initiative, but directed towards restocking the freshwater lens.

“A holistic plan for water management is needed, and this needs to be created in line with agricultural policy, since the sector is the largest stakeholder on the issue,” they said.

“Working with farmers, rather than against them, is necessary to safeguard our water resources and the agricultural sector.”

Paul Gauci, head of the Department of Spatial Planning and Infrastructure at the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta, said that the Planning Authority’s strategic plan for the environment and development – though vague and generic – was at least a first step towards a true guideline to Malta’s development in the coming years.

“All aspects of the document need to be explored for a true holistic view of the future,” he said. “And the seven local plans are still in use and need to be updated to fit under SPED.”

He said that increased resources and funding for research could speed up the process of planning for Malta

Bjorn Bonello, former member of the Environmental Planning

Commission until 2014, said that the political influence in the now-defunct Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) processes had – and still will have – too much weight on development issues.

“The legislation is crafted in such a way that an overarching view of planning and

development in Malta was not present until SPED was created,” he said.

“Planning will always be a political issue; it is the allocation of land amongst competing uses while the paramount objective is the sustainable allocation of those uses.”

He said that SPED in itself left much to be desired as there were blatant loopholes allowing large-scale developments in ODZ land when these were in the ‘public interest’.

Bonello bemoaned the little attention given to small-scale developments, and the fact that the impact of small buildings in ODZ land was often ignored, when the impact could be substantial.

“There are many tools for proper planning, but it’s up to the people in charge to apply those policies rightly within planning applications and processes,” he said. “The text and spirit of the policies should always follow the concept of sustainability”.

Malcolm Borg, who leads a a vocational education agricultural centre, addressed the relationship between sustainable agriculture

and rural development.

He recommended that minimum land pocket size limits be introduced, and that incentives should be offered for the development of community kitchen gardens, exchange systems and urban agriculture.

Borg said farmers should be helped to learn and implement agricultural best practices, such as water use reduction and the advantages of hydroponics, a soil-less system which uses 80% less water and eradicates nitrate leaching.

He said government should consider offering professional advisory services to farms growing organic produce, especially since the formation of cooperatives was necessary since farm holdings were too small and close to one another to leave an adequate buffer space between them and conventional agricultural land.

Monique Agius, co-founder of Front Harsien ODZ, called for the participation of local councils in managing ecologically-sensitive areas in their communities, helping bestow a sense of ownership and pride back to the community.

She said a complete ban on ODZ development would have a beneficial spillover effect on areas with other specific designations and that introducing a strict “polluter pays principle would be a good deterrent for harmful activities in natural areas.

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