The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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Malta is one of world’s most water-stressed countries, with a 92% rating

Friday, 24 April 2015, 09:35 Last update: about 10 years ago

A report published by a non-government organisation – The Today Public Policy Institute – has found that Malta is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world and the most highly-stressed for indigenous water sources in the EU.

Malta has a 92 per cent rating, followed by Kuwait with a 90 per cent rating.

The report – seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday and whose lead authors are World Bank expert Lee Roberts, hydrologist Marco Cremona and retired Royal Dutch Shell geologist Gordon J. Knox – is entitled Why Malta’s national water plan requires an analytical policy framework.

The report also states that Malta has never had a comprehensive integrated water policy or plan, therefore efforts to address the depletion of aquifers have been patchy and have not changed the rate of groundwater depletion.

The report also insisted that the public is largely unaware of the water problem and its dimensions.

“Even within government, there is a dearth of reliable data and facts relating to the water situation. This was recognised before the last election by the three political parties who all pledged to produce a national water plan.

“It must be said from the outset that Malta cannot, in the near future, be self-sufficient in water at an economically affordable rate. This would be so even if the two most important sources are better managed, namely the restoration and preservation of its aquifers, and the effective harvesting of rainwater.

“Malta is an island city state with a dense population, limited hinterland and a very low per capita ground water availability of around 50 to 60 cubic metres per person per year,” the report says.

It suggests that consumption from various sources far exceeds this availability, and has to be supplemented by reverse osmosis desalination.

Flood relief project: 700,000cm3 water reserve top-up a ‘paltry’ volume

Water usually makes the headlines when intense storms bring flooding to Malta’s urban heartland. This has resulted in the €56 million National Flood Relief Project (NFRP), which a PN government described as the “largest engineering project ever to be launched in Malta”.

It did not take long before a challenge arose to the assertion that, in addition to bringing welcome relief from flooding, the NFRP would also “top up the national water reserves with a further 700,000 cubic metres of water”. According to the report, to date no definitive or convincing explanation has been offered as to how this volume of rainwater will be captured. 

“Even if the figure is valid, it is a paltry volume amounting only to one per cent of the total annual indigenous water needs. The reality is that most of the rainwater that flows through the NFRP will be dumped into the sea and lost,” according to the report.

Inescapable realities

Governments (not just in Malta) are inclined to announce the formation of long-term plans without regard to the fact that such plans are almost certainly not going to be implemented as stated. In the case of Malta, the only long-term water “plan” that can be realistically produced at this stage will be of such a general nature that significant analysis will have to be done at the stage of implementing individual projects.

Because the remainder of the sector will largely not be analysed, it will be almost certain that such projects will become stand-alone initiatives, unconnected to the rest of the water sector and other key sectors. Such item-by-item implementation inevitably results in missed opportunities and non-rational outcomes. That is why the analysis has to be done prior to the plan being drawn up, and before major water projects (or non-water projects having a major impact on the water sector) are approved. The analysis provides the basis for the plan.

In a nutshell, the report states that there’s a dire need for expert policy analysis on the sector as a whole.


The agricultural sector: the main water user

The analytical report states that, because agriculture is the main user of water in Malta, it will be impossible to produce a sound water plan for the country without being able to answer some key questions about the agricultural sector and its role in the economy. The government has the responsibility, to everyone, for ensuring that a scarce national resource, such as water, is both efficiently and effectively used.

It is therefore impossible for the government to plan the future management of water without a full analysis of all the major users of water, but particularly the agricultural sector. Water is a collectively owned resource, and therefore the economics of major users must be analysed and understood. In a general way, the comments that follow on the agricultural sector also apply to other sectors.

The future of agriculture in Malta is a sensitive challenge for any government to manage, precisely because there is such a dearth of information and analysis on the sector and such powerful vested interests.

Malta needs a water plan, public poorly informed about water-related issues

While it has been publicly acknowledged that Malta needs a Water Plan, the

public remains poorly informed and educated on the issues, the report read.

Public consultation does not replace policy analysis

The report goes on to say that, as the government is there to serve the people, it goes without saying that an essential preparatory requirement is to consult the electorate as to what they would like to see happen, and on what they would like their taxes to be spent.

Public consultation, and consultation with special groups that have a strong interest in the outcome, are obviously part of the necessary analysis. However, there is a need to understand what consultation can achieve and its limitations.

“Consultation is a vital parallel step, but it does not replace policy analysis.”

Water charges include uncalculated and hidden subsidies

“Ultimately, the issue that most requires a proper macro-analysis of water and its value, is that of water charges. There are many problems with existing water charges. They contain a number of uncalculated and hidden subsidies. Their justification based on an economic value of water has not been publicly demonstrated. The differentiation between household and commercial charges is unrelated to the extent to which water contributes to commercial profit. Additionally, the division of the household tariff between a water charge and a consumption charge does not appear rational, especially as government says it is committed to reduce water usage.

“There are a number of considerations involved in rethinking and re-calculating water charges.

“Firstly, when the value of water is calculated in terms of its contribution to income, and social value is more systematically determined, these should be reflected in water charges. Secondly, charges need to reflect all economic costs, including the environmental costs of using fossil fuel electricity to produce reverse osmosis (RO) water and distribute the Water Services Corporation (WSC)/RO/groundwater mix, as well the environmental cost of groundwater pumped from over-exploited aquifers by the public utility and private boreholes,” the report continued.

Widely shared perception is that water problem has been resolved

There remains a widely shared perception that, because the country no longer suffers from prolonged water cuts, the water problem has been resolved. Although RO has gone a long way towards alleviating the issue of water supply, the country still faces an acute crisis of water sustainability. Among European countries, Malta is the most highly stressed for indigenous water sources.

The institute’s board members

The voluntary members of The Today Public Policy Institute’s board are Martin Scicluna (director-general), Michael Bonello, Sina Bugeja, Stephen Calleya, Juanito Camilleri, Petra Caruana Dingli, John Cassar White, George Debono, Mark Anthony Falzon, Michael Frendo, Martin Galea, Joseph Sammut, Joseph V. Tabone, Patrick Tabone, Clare Vassallo, John Vassallo and Joseph F.X. Zahra.


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