Malta: Focus on Moviment ghall-Ambjent
an interview with martin galea de giovanni, agriculture campaigner
"Moviment ghall-Ambjent, FoE Malta, formerly 'Zghazagh ghall-Ambjent', has been active in the environmental field since 1985. The group was first set up as an umbrella organization with representatives from various youth and environmental groups, but soon developed into a committee of activists.
"This newly formed organization gained popularity and increased media coverage following an incident in November 1985 when members of the group were attacked during a protest against developments on the beaches and in the countryside. Since then a series of eye catching activities have been organized in order to inform the public of environmental threats. In 1991, Moviment ghall-Ambjent became part of FoE International.
"Joining FoE International has enabled us to share environmental expertise and experience with other members of the network. We are also active in the MedNet subgroup of FoE and have recently taken part in some very interesting research on local agro-biodiversity. Together with other Mediterranean partners we will soon use this research to increase environmental awareness amongst local communities.
"Foe Malta has concentrated its energies on the issues of land use, energy, pollution and waste. The group has been successful in opposing many major developments that threatened to damage Malta's countryside and coast.
"For the past two years I have been an active member of FoE Malta. During this time I have been responsible for the issues relating to agriculture, biodiversity and pollution. My lifelong interest in astronomy has made me conscious of how precious our little planet is. This planet is rare, perhaps unique, in being a living planet. The imprint of life is everywhere; including the air we breath, which has acquired its rich oxygen content as a result of millions of years of acclivity by living organisms. Yet, what has been built up over this huge timescale is now being destroyed in a matter of years by humans driven by the motivation of profit.
"Just as our planet forms only a tiny part of the universe, Malta, as a small island nation, forms only a tiny part of our planet. However with a population of 382,000 (1990) it is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. This has tremendous effects and places immense pressure on the Maltese natural environment.
Over the last 50 years, large tracts of countryside have been sacrificed for tourism and housing developments. Agricultural land is scarce and the country only grows enough food to feed 17 percent of the population.
"FoE Malta has been busy battling one golf course proposal after another, most of them planned for areas of agricultural importance or scenic beauty. Developers have been known to threaten farmers in order to persuade them to sell their agricultural land and the government has relied on decisions made by planning bodies with heavy input from the tourism industry and no participation by environmentalists.
"One current proposal is to construct an 18-hole golf course, country club and luxury hotel on prime agricultural land that has been farmed for hundreds of years and provides 98 farmers with their livelihoods.
"The golf course is an environmental nightmare: it will infringe the EU's Habitats Directive and will eventually consume as much water as 11,000 Maltese people. To date, Malta's Department of Agriculture has remained silent about the project. The coalition to stop the golf course - campaigning under the motto "Agriculture, Not Golf" - is broad, encompassing some 1,000 farmers as well as politicians, environmentalists and students.
"Another major issue that is of great importance to Malta is waste and recycling. Unfortunately, local authorities have previously neglected this problem and as a result we have landfill of mountainous proportions.
"Recently FoE Malta played a major role in influencing the outcome of 'A Solid Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands'. We argued for a system of waste separation at source and opposed use of incineration as a way of dealing with waste. We were able to show that proponents of incineration were basing their claims on false assumptions. As a result, incineration was omitted as an option (at least for the next eight years). I consider this to be a big victory for FoE Malta.
"Although local environmentalists have been active for more than 20 years trying to protect the Maltese environment, it is only recently that the general public and the authorities have started to understand the importance of such issues. These environmental issues are now featuring much more prominently in political agendas. Whilst we still have much to do I am of an optimistic nature and I think that things are moving, albeit rather slowly, in the right direction. This is better than in the past decades ..."