The size of Malta’s population in relation to the size of the country – in other words, the issue of overpopulation – impacts every aspect of our lives. We need to be able to discuss this subject intelligently like we debate other matters that are critical to Maltese society such as health, water and food security, law and order, civil rights and democracy.
The acceptable level of population density and distribution in a country depends both on the country’s size and its strategic vision. Good public governance would dictate that such a vision be people-centred, with the function of the economy being that of a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Malta’s strategic vision should be articulated to dovetail with the larger international landscape. The first problem one encounters is that Malta’s vision has always largely been determined by policymakers’ opportunistic and self-interested thinking. The focus of successive governments has been that of shaming the previous party in government and of promoting indiscriminate economic growth irrespective of the damage to the cultural integrity, well-being and quality of life of Maltese society.
Examples of this abound since independence to this very day.
Internationally, the planet is facing an ecological emergency that has been declared to be central to decision making by the UN Security Council, UNEP, the US, the UK and the EU. Whether actions will in fact follow the rhetoric remains to be seen.
There is an appreciation that the destruction of the natural world and the mass extermination of animals globally have caused the death of numerous ecosystems and the degrading of many others. Ecosystems provide the air, water and food people need to survive. The future of the Maltese people is, therefore, inextricably tied to the health of Malta’s environment.
Malta is a small country with a land area of just 316 square kilometres. Within this context, it is not unreasonable to consider that the country does have a carrying capacity for people and for economic activity that should not be exceeded. This carrying capacity should also not overshoot the ecological boundaries of the region’s ecosystems. Malta’s population has not grown organically over the past years. It has grown as a result of imported labour to feed the forever growing economy.
The EU’s statistical arm has recently predicted that Malta’s population will reach 668,000 by 2050, correcting a previous estimate of 508,000 that was in fact surpassed in 2019. It seems likely that the new 2050 estimate will be reached much sooner as both the government and the opposition seem keen to turn Malta into a densely populated, densely built cosmopolitan country in which the Maltese population would no longer be of key interest and any local cultural, natural and societal heritage relegated to the history books.
Moreover, the estimated EU numbers do not give the full picture as they exclude tourist stays in Malta. There is a daily number of tourists constantly present in Malta, of some 40,000 on average in pre-2020, that should also be added to the estimates as they are similar to inhabitants in impact.
Policymakers have justified the economic growth model, and the resultant population growth by importation of labour, as the only way for the government to fund the payment of pensions and other social security benefits. This speaks more of sub-optimal management of public funds rather than being a necessity, considering that social security contributions have been paid over decades by the Maltese workforce.
Overpopulation is a matter that should be brought out in the open and discussed in order to avoid serious societal and environmental consequences.
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