The Malta Independent 26 March 2019, Tuesday

Focus: Illegal Dumping - Gozo’s silent killer

Malta Independent Friday, 18 January 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

On a recent trip to Gozo, Francesca Vella discovered that some formerly undisturbed stretches of land may have been ruined forever. Rampant illegal dumping, particularly dumping of construction waste, is not only proving to unashamedly destroy the island’s natural beauty; it is ruining natural habitats like garigue and contaminating the water table.

My first stop was at a little café cum bar, better known as a hanut tat-te’, in Qala’s main square, and meeting villagers there, I was immediately reminded that Gozo was different.

The hustle and bustle of city life in Malta does not exist there; most Gozitans, particularly those I met on this particular visit, do not really have a care in the world other than their own little rural world that is Gozo and they can be at one with nature, so you do not blame those angered at the destruction of the natural beauty they feel they own.

Possibly due to its size and insularity, Gozo has a few power-hungry contractors who seem to do whatever they please. I am told that this is sadly complemented by a sense of stagnation, the lack of want for change and a classic attitude of silence – which is bad news for the environment unless proper enforcement is in place.

I start my trip from Qala and take a walk down to Hondoq ir-Rummien and then on to Tal-Halfa beach.

The beautiful views of Comino from this point were overwhelming until I come across two skips in the middle of the countryside, construction waste dumped along the hillside, a heap of cement blocks with bits of metal netting jutting out, in the middle of a field, more construction waste along the way and even two abandoned vans, one of which was dabbed with green paint to blend in with the prickly pear trees in the background.

We got to Hondoq ir-Rummien and I learnt that the big building a few metres from the beach was used as a distillery 20 years ago. Even though it is now out of use, a person is still employed to guard the building.

Considering the huge potential of this area as a tourist attraction, it is certainly a pity that it is not exploited to the full. The old distillery and another small abandoned room in the area could go to good use, particularly considering their vicinity to one of Gozo’s most popular beaches.

Further west along the coast I came to Tal-Halfa rock. Legend has it that following a raid on the Maltese islands Ottoman Dragut was sailing past the coast of Gozo when he saw extensive vineyards on this part of the coast.

Yearning for some grapes, he asked if any of his sailors would volunteer and swim to the shore for a bunch of grapes. One of his sons obliged. On his return to the vessel he presented his father with a bunch of grapes, complete with leaves and the roots he had plucked out of the fertile soil.

Dragut had no choice: he had to sentence his son to death, for it was forbidden for a Muslim to take the roots of a vine. Saddened, Dragut swore he would never eat a grape in his lifetime again.

Halfa Point is not far from a few abandoned prehistoric ruins of the Mother Goddess that few may know about, but which again, could serve as an attraction in their own right for locals and tourists alike.

If only the natural value of such sites were not underestimated; if only the authorities would start making the most of the country’s natural and historic assets as a means of giving ourselves added value as a tourist destination. If only proper enforcement and a decent system of waste management were in place.

I spoke to a contractor, who preferred to remain anonymous. He explained that construction waste is meant to be disposed of in designated quarries. However, only certain material can be disposed of when it is raining.

The contractor I spoke to explained that he has no other option but to cease to operate during the rainy months.

However, many others would dispose of material elsewhere, even in illegal quarries. As to where they dispose of it, I was sadly starting to learn from this visit.

Because sadly, it appears that illegal dumping of construction waste was not only happening on land, but also at sea, as can be seen from some areas where the sea is turning turquoise. Whatever next...

Well, what I saw next was even more disturbing – Xewkija.

I met a resident, who showed me round some marvellous sites with some very old remains – cart ruts, absurdly dotted with used firearm cartridges, and what seemed like troughs formerly used as some form of wine or olive press. Again, huge potential to serve as an attraction, but...

As I passed through an area in Xewkija known as Tal-Kus, I was shocked to see, not only more dumped construction waste, but all sorts of other waste littered all over the place, again, in the middle of the countryside.

This was no landfill, the whole area was a dump and it reeked of dead animals and all sorts of toxic waste, all seeping into the water table. To add insult to injury, this whole dump was close to Lambert Borehole. The water pumped up from there must be ever so healthy!

In total disgust, I set off for Nadur and stopped at a bakery to buy a ftira Ghawdxija (a traditional Gozitan pizza). I enjoyed the view of Ramla l-Hamra for a while, before I met two farmers who lived and worked in the area.

They were evidently angered and saddened at the fact that construction material was being dumped all over the place. They said they believed the perpetrators were dumping the waste at night; it was easy considering that this was a practically uninhabited area.

One particular stretch of garigue overlooking Ramla l-Hamra has been covered up in a layer (about a foot and a half high) of construction waste, which has in turn been covered in a layer of soil.

According to the website of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa), garigue is an ecosystem that develops on large expanses of limestone bearing numerous depressions and fissures.

Garigue is particularly characterised by dense, low-growing shrubs, often aromatic, such as Mediterranean thyme (saghtar), Mediterranean heath, geramander, white hedge nettle and Maltese spurge. Several types of garigue exist, each characterised by the different dominant plant species.

And yet nothing is being done to protect habitats such as this. Granted, it is far from easy to bring the perpetrators to justice, particularly considering that construction waste is normally dumped in total darkness, when nobody is around.

There has to be some form of system where responsibility is shared and certainly a campaign to educate people about having a sense of pride in their surroundings and the environment that future generations will not be able to enjoy unless we care for it ourselves.

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