by Petra Caruana Dingli

Hundreds of people gathered in Valletta yesterday to demonstrate their concerns about the future of the environment in Malta. The main fears are relentless over-development and the resulting air pollution, and the loss of the countryside.

This event is no trivial matter. Street protests do not take place often in Malta. There are many reasons why people may be hesitant to appear in a public rally, especially in such a small country. Anyone trying to minimize its significance by peddling the view that yesterday’s rally was just a tiny bunch of crackpot radicals who are ‘against everything’, is wrong. It was attended by people from all ends of the social, economic and political spectrum.

One of the triggers for this rally was the government’s apparent haste to push through a whole range of new policies which will clearly result in more construction all over the islands, especially in the countryside. Like land reclamation, these policies are being conjured up without any strategy or supporting studies to explain that they are sustainable and necessary. What will be the end result? ‘Sustainable development’ is evaporating into a buzzword with no substance.

Through this rally, the government has been requested to slow down these new policies, and to carry out and publish the required studies before anything is finalised. Has this request been accepted?

So far the government has not given its reply and all we have heard is a promise that ODZ enforcement will be stepped up. This was never very convincing, and even less so after the botched attempt to clamp down on the Polidano site at Hal-Farrug last week, announced with bravado but which already appears to have smoothly slipped into ‘discussions’ with no clear end in sight.