Wednesday 12 December 2018

Pillaging the land for the Gozo tunnel  

This article first appeared in Malta Today

I have long come to the conclusion that there are two types of people in this world, and specifically in Malta.

Those who look at a green tract of virgin land and want to preserve it, cherish it, and even consider it a sacrilege for it to be touched.

Then there are those who look at the same exact landscape and it’s like a cash register has gone off in their head and Euro signs bulge out of their eyes like some Walt Disney cartoon. 

I recently took a long walk in the area where plans are in hand (and which seem to be progressing at a fast pace) to transform land which has stood the test of time for centuries, and which is now in imminent danger of being pillaged so that vehicles will be able to access the entrance to the Gozo tunnel.   

No, the excavation hasn’t started yet; in fact, we are constantly told that the whole thing is still being ‘studied’ – but whom are we kidding exactly?  Whenever he refers to the topic, Muscat makes it very clear that the Gozo tunnel is going to happen, so little wonder that it is basically being considered a fait accomplit.

Even as geologists and archeologists were ostensibly studying rock samples, Muscat was quoted as saying that work on the tunnel would start in this legislature.

On 26 June 2018, James Debono reported in Malta Today that, “The proposed entrances to the tunnel will be at Nadur, below the Kenuna Tower and Imbordin, a hamlet between Pwales and Manikata that forms part of St Paul’s Bay…Imbordin was chosen as the best location for the tunnel’s entrance due to its location on a steep rock escarpment. This will still require an additional road link in the ecologically sensitive area. But according to the Project Development Study, the portal is at a “short distance” to the road leading to Route 1 on the TEN-T, “thus limiting the length of access infrastructure required”.”

And just last, week, Minister Ian Borg said in Parliament that, “Technical studies that were part of the hefty environment impact assessment for the whole project were, meanwhile, also ongoing.

Topographic surveys of the areas identified for the entry and exit had also begun, while the conceptual design of the tunnel was ongoing.”

The truth is that, like all other mega developments, very little, in fact, zero consideration is being given to those who are going to be the most affected by this excavation. In her Masters dissertation anthropologist Rachel Radmilli (2002) described life in L-Imbordin and Pwales at the turn of the millennium in her carefully researched field work entitled “Frott ta’ l-art u xoghol il-bniedem : kinship and cultural ecology in the Pwales Valley, Malta : an anthropological analysis of farming, social networks and strategies in an ecological niche”. 

As hard as it may be to imagine for many of us who are used to urban living, the life of the inhabitants of the hamlet and troglodytes had not changed for many centuries. 

In its submission to the Environment Resources Authority, the environmental NGO, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar described the historical and cultural significance of this rural community: “The hamlet of L-Imbordin is a good illustration and a troglodyte community of hundreds of people survived at least until the 1960s, when many migrated to Australia, they moved elsewhere in villages or they simply died out. This cave settlement is just walking distance from prehistoric ruts consisting of parallel grooves wide cut into rock. It is also adjacent to a trail consisting of 20 sites of archaeological importance including a Roman road, a menhir (standing stone), apiaries, a thousand years old carob tree, a Neolithic temple, rock cut granaries and wells and even Roman baths.”

Even if I had not read the background, I could have attested to the palpable history of the place from my visit. When you sit in the quiet and take it all in, you can almost hear the voices of our ancestors. 

For those who only think in terms of monetary gain all this is meaningless, of course. They see the Gozo tunnel as a means to an end, with the end usually meaning whatever they can pocket.  They do not care that the topography of this area will be changed forever, that the lives of those living there will be changed irretrievably, that the few pockets of tranquility we have left are going to be swallowed up by construction, noise, heavy machinery and mayhem. And that once the entrance of the tunnel is complete, the whole place will no longer remain as it was because it will be over-run by a long trail of vehicles which will now be lining up from Manikata rather than heading towards Cirkewwa.   Of course, the same fate also awaits the sleepy village of Nadur, at the other end.   

This inability to appreciate what is ancient and historic; this complete philistine indifference towards caring for the earth, the soil, the vegetation and the natural habitat of what once was, is an indictment on our society, which, I am sure, will come to haunt us one day.  And because the powers that be have decided that this Gozo tunnel will happen, has to happen, come what may, all the social impact and environmental assessments which have been carried out are clearly being ignored.  It is amply clear that no one in authority really cares what the residents in this area feel, nor does it concern them very much that their entire way of life is going to be crudely disturbed and that the precious roots of many generations will be torn out from under their feet.   

Malta’s mantra (soon to be Gozo’s as well) has become, ‘Make way for the mighty bulldozer, for the bulldozer is king’. No one can escape it, and nowhere is afforded protection once decisions are taken and the signal is given for the earth to be plundered despite our protests, objections and pleas. I often wonder whether those who are responsible for the destruction of our country ever feel any pangs of guilt.  Or maybe the financial rewards have numbed them from the ability to feel anything, and the only way they can live with themselves is by burying their integrity so deep that they could not find it if they tried.

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