The Malta Water Association (MWA) has decided to cease operations on World Water Day 2019, exactly eight years after it was set up, saying it was giving up in the face of apathy.

The MWA is Malta’s only NGO focused exclusively on water.

It was founded in March 2011 “to make water everybody’s business”, communicating, educating, developing knowledge and raising public awareness on the sustainable management of Malta’s scarce and fast-depleting natural water resources.

It lobbied extensively for the protection of Malta’s water reserves, particularly groundwater, under threat from over-pumping and contamination. It produced and issued a number of position papers on various aspects of the subject, participated in meetings with government and EU officials and on TV and radio programmes.

It met ministers and politicians to discuss policy, gave talks to interested groups, and submitted proposals to political parties’ electoral manifestos.

However, it was increasingly being felt among the executive and the membership base of the association that it was fighting a losing battle, with sustainability only being given lip service by the political classes.

Six years after the Labour and Nationalist Parties and Alternattiva Demokratika promised to deliver a National Water Management Plan as a priority in their electoral manifesto, the country still lacked a plan.

Borehole extraction remains rampant

Meanwhile, multi-million euro water projects were limited in scope and failed to address the serious issues of water over-abstraction and contamination; private extraction by boreholes remained rampant, uncontrolled and not charged; water saving campaigns were largely non-existent and/or sporadic, and water planning in major projects largely non-existent.

Even centuries-old legislation that required new buildings to have rainwater cisterns was being blatantly ignored, with enforcement non-existent – with the result that Malta had no emergency reserve of fresh water in buildings, and experienced flooding and surcharging of sewers with each storm event.

A misdirected multi-million euro flood relief project had no capability to harness stormwater, and conveyed millions of cubic metres of this fresh water resource directly to sea.

Failure by Malta’s politicians to address this would result in future generations having to pay massive fines to the EU

Agricultural policy, which needed to be radically revamped and integrated with a national water plan, currently favoured an increase in irrigation (even in the dry summer months), resulting in massive abstraction of groundwater, with the consequence of the abstracted groundwater becoming more saline, to the detriment of farmers and the country.

Moreover, lack of controls in the application of fertiliser resulted in groundwater being rendered unfit for potable use through contamination by nitrate. This was resulting in Malta becoming increasing dependent on expensive reverse osmosis plants which had a number of vulnerabilities and posed a number of risks.

While the production of second class water from sewage was a welcome development and one which the association had campaigned for, it did not solve the over exploitation of ground water, nor the need for expensive reverse osmosis water.

Failure by Malta’s politicians to address this would result in future generations having to pay massive fines to the EU, for not restoring aquifers to a good status by the established deadlines. The country would also be facing a future without affordable and strategically-important fresh water resources.

As this century progressed, Malta faced hotter and more arid scenarios related to climate change, which would exacerbate water demands on the country. To this one should add the pressures of a planned increase in population, which would put additional pressure on the already-stressed finite water resources.

The MWA said that in spite of its repeated warnings and suggestions, as well as these very real threats, the situation went from bad to worse and there was no political commitment and courage to address the damage being done.

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