The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

Malta’s overpopulation: a ticking time-bomb?

Sunday, 13 June 2021, 08:34 Last update: about 3 months ago

Mark Said

In recent years, we might have been feeling a Malta more crowded than it used to. Indeed, there is a valid and well founded reason for this, supported by reliable statistics.

By the end of 2018, Malta’s population growth was the largest in the EU and in the preceding years, up to 2012, it placed either first, second or third in the EU list of population growth. By the end of last year, the total population in Malta was estimated at 0.5 million people and it is estimated that it will keep on growing at a fast rate for the years to come.

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Yes, we have been made to listen to the exaltation of population growth in that it means more labour force, bringing about more economic benefits such as expansion of tax bases and increased consumer spending at local businesses.

But more people means an increased demand for food, water, housing, energy, healthcare, transportation, and more. Not to mention that all that consumption contributes to ecological degradation, increased demographic conflicts of all sorts and a higher risk of large-scale disasters like pandemics.

We are living on a barren landscape with a limited fresh water supply and topping the list for population density at 1,380 per sqaure kilometre. The islands only manage to produce 20% of the food requirements and therefore has a heavy dependency on foreign trade to maintain its population.

What does all this augur for Malta’s future? Perhaps one should take a close look and analyze what happened in Singapore a few years back, a country ideally comparable in size and population to Malta. Singapore’s success story is relatively well-known. Having transformed itself from a tiny island nation with no natural resources to one of the richest countries in the world, Singapore prides itself on its booming economy, sustained by encouraging foreign investment and migrant labourers.

But despite being the third-most densely populated country in the world, in 2013, Singapore’s government announced plans to increase its total population from 5.3 million to 6.9 million by 2030. The move caused a public outcry, with thousands taking to the streets in protest.

An aging population coupled with dwindling birth rates, escalating housing prices, overcrowding and caving infrastructure were just some of the factors responsible for the rising dissent among Singaporeans. Eventually, government there came out with a White Paper on Population, outlining a strategy to ensure sustainable population levels in the face of low birth rates and an aging society and a plan to increase Singapore’s land area by nearly 8% to accommodate the new population. Although government stressed it would maintain a strong Singaporean core in spite of an incoming surge of foreigners, the majority of Singaporeans remained, and still remain to date, sceptical about its promise to deliver.

A similar situation could well be developing in our country within the next few years and it is somewhat amazing how such a concern did not even minimally transpire from the conclusions of the recent State of the Nation conference. Out there, we can perceive a spatial and mental sense of being overwhelmed felt by large swathes of the public.

Much of Malta’s population growth is taken up by foreigners coming from EU regions, Africa and even far off lands harbouring different social customs and cultures to ours. One point that did definitely come out from that State of the Nation report is the undeniable fact that we Maltese are not particularly keen on multiculturalism. A potential loss of Malta’s national identity is an even more pressing problem than overpopulation, I believe. It has been eroded so much already, and with an eventual heavy influx, it may be destroyed. And to add insult to injury, we are constantly being reminded that we could be the minority population figure in 17 years’ time.

If one is to have a sound basis to plan our infrastructure it would make sense to reduce the inflow of foreign workers, moderate the flow of new citizens and maintain permanent resident population at about the present size. We would do well to ponder on whether overpopulation will make Malta a happier place or whether the economy is really that important.

On an individual basis, excessive population growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender social strife.

On a national level, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people on our limited shores, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It will not matter anymore if someone dies.

Our immediate future leaders will have to devise ways that can stabilize the human population without unpleasantly imposed restrictions.

If we do not halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity, and will leave a ravaged Malta for generations to come.

 

Dr Mark Said is an advocate

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