The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

Beating the storm

Francis Zammit Dimech Sunday, 3 March 2019, 09:06 Last update: about 16 days ago

Last weekend, Malta and Gozo bore witness to the forces of nature. 

Record breaking wind speeds and heavy rainfall made headlines.  Trees where pulled to the ground, fish sprung out of water into the streets and greenhouse sheds and equipment were severely damaged. Maltese farmers suffered a huge blow, losing their agricultural products, whilst some shepherds' livestock went adrift. Gale force winds also reported damages to properties, businesses, vehicles as well as boats.  The Egmont Hall in Fort St Angelo, a historic site, suffered a considerable amount of damage.  The prehistoric site at tas-Silg has also been impacted, with part of the boundary wall crumbling.  Thankfully, the storm spared our prehistoric temples from any harm, except for the Visitors' Centre which did suffer some external damage.  Restaurant owners were not freed from the storm's rage damaging tables and kiosks.  The storm destroyed one carnival float and damaged others, just one-week away from the start of Carnival activities. 

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With so many people affected in different ways, I took the initiative to visit these people and show my solidarity towards fellow Maltese citizens whilst listening to what they went through. 

Last Monday, I visited two of the most heavily impacted zones - one of them being my home town - St Julian's and the other, Sliema.  It was a sad state of affairs as people recalled what they went through and voiced their concerns as to whether or not they will be compensated for the damage they suffered.  This is where the EU's role comes in.  Typically, we think of the EU as being a political union, yet it has a much wider role than that.  The EU embraces various values and when a country experiences hefty losses and damages, that Member State can turn to the European Union for assistance. This reflects the value of solidarity, one of the building blocks that defines the EU.  In fact in 2002 the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), was set up to respond to major natural disasters.  Since its creation, it has been used for 80 disasters involving floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought. In a most recent case we have taken a vote to help Latvia following floods in 2017. Malta has already benefited from this solidarity fund, incidentally during  the EU accession period, when in 2003, one million euro were given as a result of damages caused by yet another storm.  Naturally, one has to evaluate whether the damage caused by last weekend's storm would 'qualify' us for the solidarity funds according to the stipulated law.  Initially, we have to first quantify the total amount of damages, so that we could then see whether Malta and Gozo could make use of such funds to compensate for all those damages mentioned earlier.  As already pledged,  as Nationalist Members of the European Parliament, we are  offering all our assistance for Malta to be granted these funds.  We also need to  be on the lookout for any other possible EU funding such as structural and investment funds and specific funds for the agricultural sector. This indicates how crucial it is for us to ensure that EU legislation always takes into consideration our  geographic limitations to ensure that as a country, our scale and size will not prevent us from reaping all benefits of the EU.

Several localities around Malta and Gozo have also been impacted because of the storm. From pavements to public gardens, the impact has been tremendous. In an ever-rising concern on the lack of adequate funding by local councils, the Government must not only aid the  local councils  concerned financially but also ensure that the relevant government departments provide necessary support.

Carnival this weekend

Later throughout the week I met volunteers working on the final preparations and fixing damages on carnival floats. They  recounted how they suffered the complete destruction of one carnival float and several damages to many others.  While it is well and good that the Government will compensate for these damages, it is also necessary to di sine forward planning for  similar future incidences such as what we went through this year.

We should be making sure to provide more secure places where to house the carnival floats. One particular warehouse ended up without part of its roof and a tent shelter was completely shattered. Maltese Carnival is  an integral part of our culture and tradition and  our most talented volunteers deserve adequate warehouses.  The Marsa Carnival Village project which will be co-financed by the European Union  is meant to provide carnival enthusiasts  with a space where they can creatively express their ideas and store their floats. This is a positive initiative and the Government needs to ensure that such project is completed without delays, as carnival enthusiasts have received far too many promises over the past years.

This project is  another example of how the EU is supporting the cultural sector in Malta.

Il-Karnival ta' Malta which is one of the oldest historical festivals in Malta is something one should not miss. Festivals are important events that bring people together to experience culture. They are a uniting force that has a positive impact on society, citizenship, economy, cultural heritage and external development.  Through the New European Agenda for Culture being proposed by the European Commission, I have pushed for more funding for small festivals even through though the Creative Europe Programme . I would like to see such programmes becoming more accessible to small organisations. This is one more way how we can support our cultural sector in Malta.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a Nationalist MEP


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