The Malta Independent on Sunday, 2nd November 2008, by Michael Carabott
Malta’s Blue Water reserves are under severe stress, with the highest usage and non-replenishment of natural water sources at 117 per cent, far outstripping other EU and non-EU nations, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2008.

The document contends that the world’s demands on natural resources overreach what the earth can sustain by almost a third, sending us hurtling towards another kind of crunch, one caused by repeated depletion of the world’s natural resources. Malta’s water footprint for the period 1997-2001 was very worrying indeed. The water footprint is made up of three types of water uses – blue, green and grey. The green water footprint is the volume of rainwater stored in the soil that evaporates from crop fields. The blue water footprint is the volume of freshwater drawn from water bodies that is used and not retuned. The grey water footprint is the volume of water polluted as a result of production processes. Malta’s total water footprint of production stood at 0.11 km3 per year. Of this, 0.05 km3 were classed as green water while 0.01km3 were classed as blue water.

However, what is extremely worrying is that the percentage stress on blue water resources stood at 117.22 per cent. That is the highest rate in Europe with the next highest figure percentage belonging to Bulgaria with 54.72 per cent, and Spain and Germany with 32.08 per cent and 30.32 per cent respectively. Cyprus, with a climate and topography similar to Malta’s registered 29.98 per cent. This means that Malta is the only country in Europe that is sucking up water from its natural reserves quicker than it is being replenished. The usage has been termed as being one that is causing severe stress.
The total water consumption of Malta in metres cubed, per person, per year stands at 1,916. Malta is the six highest water user in the EU per capita. The list is headed by Greece (2,389m3 pp/py), Italy (2,332m3 pp/py), Spain (2,325m3 pp/py), Portugal (2,264m3 pp/py), Cyprus (2,208m3 pp/py) and Malta with 1,916 me pp/py. The report’s figures are taken from measurements between 1997-2001. What is even more worrying is that the government has only started trying to clamp down on illegal use of the aquifer and illegal bore holes a couple of months ago. This could mean that the present state of affairs is much worse than what is being mentioned in the said report.

The report says that more than three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries where consumption levels are outstripping environmental renewal.

This makes them “ecological debtors”, meaning that they are drawing – and often overdrawing – on the agricultural land, forests, seas and resources of other countries to sustain them. The report concludes that the reckless consumption of “natural capital” is endangering the world’s future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy. The report also states that the ecological ‘credit crunch’ which is set to hit in the future will dwarf the current financial crisis.

The countries with the biggest impact on the planet are the US and China, which together account for some 40 per cent of the global footprint.

Researchers who contributed to the report said the more than $2 trillion lost on stocks and shares was dwarfed by the up to $4.5 trillion worth of resources destroyed forever each year.

The report’s Living Planet Index, which is an attempt to measure the health of worldwide biodiversity, showed an average decline of about 30 per cent from 1970 to 2005 in 3,309 populations of 1,235 species.