A water policy for political hope

This evening I attended a talk about the situation of the fresh water supply in this country. I will not go into technical details, but believe me the situation is dire. Malta is blessed with an aquifer.

Basically, thanks to the fact that our country’s bedrock is limestone, deep underground, beneath our feet, lie caverns and hollows full of fresh water, or at least they were once full. For several decades, we have been sucking this aquifer dry through overuse, unlicensed bore holes and over irrigation of agricultural land. As a result of this, the water level in the aquifer has reached critical levels and the quality of water left is substandard.

This did not happen overnight, successive governments have been fully aware of the situation, and have implemented stop-gap measures to rectify things such as reverse osmosis plants. Yet they have not been enough. The demands of a growing population, an expanding tourism industry and increasingly intensive farming have resulted in demand far outstripping supply.

To compound the problem, due to over-development most of our rain water simply runs off into the sea.

And to further complicate matters, Malta is obliged to replenish an aquifer we seem determined to drain dry within a certain timeframe, by an EU directive, or face some very hefty fines.

Solutions are available. I am not a water engineer, I am a doctor of medicine, I will not deign to override people far better qualified than myself in proposing those solutions. There are several reasons, however, why neither of the major political parties have moved to implement them, despite being aware they exist for many years.

Firstly, the subject of water is not sexy, it does not grab attention or inspire the imagination, we take it for granted. Politicians like sound bites and boring, mundane, everyday things don’t give them that.

Secondly, the solutions to the water problem, although they may be necessary, will probably prove unpopular to certain sections of society, and we all know politicians hate anything that risks losing votes.

Thirdly, governments work on election cycles.  Water management, however, does not. The solution to our fresh water problem will not take one election cycle to implement, probably not even two, but much more than that.

For these reasons, neither major party have been willing to address the water supply situation in the way it deserves.

Driving home, I began thinking. Solutions to the problem exist and are known to the people who run our country. Yet, politicians are in the business of being elected. They don’t like taking decisions and implementing measures which may be necessary, but also risk losing them an election. How to overcome that hurdle?

Then it struck me. If no one party felt it could take the political risk of addressing our water problem, how about all of them? This is a collective issue, it needs to be tackled collectively. If all parties, large and small, worked together to come out with a long-term policy document on water management, agreed upon by all, the responsibility shared by all, then the political hit to all would be negated.

For once our politicians would be perceived to be working, not for themselves, not for their party, but for the benefit of our country. Trust in the current political class is at an all-time low, this is one of the reasons PartitDemokratiku was formed. What I am proposing may actually be construed as working against the interest of my own party. But, you see, we are not in this to gain power, we are in this for the good of the country.

If all the political parties in this country could work together toward a long-term solution for this issue, could it be far-fetched to hope the same template could be used on other problems of similar magnitude facing this country?

Could we finally address other serious concerns like transport, land management, a living wage, sustainable development, good governance? Could our politicians stop being politicians and start being statesmen? Could a national Water Policy give us political hope?

Anthony Buttigieg

Deputy Leader