Ann-Christin Sjölander

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The water theft in Malta and lack of political will

16 januari, 2013 · 2 kommentarer

Maltas ground water is so over extracted that it runs the risk of being of no use in the future. Maltese engineer Marco Cremona has for years been fighting to get the politicians to do something about it.

In Pembroke in Malta saltwater from the sea is pumped, using an enormous pressure, into membranes with small holes. The water passes, but the salt is kept back. The method is called Reverse Omosis. In the end the water is cleaned and without any salt.

The Reverse Omosis plant in Pembroke.

Engineer David Sacco fills a plastic glass with water and gives it to me. He is proud. The water has the quality of EU-standard. I think it is okay; though others do not fully like the taste.

The engineer David Sacco invites me to taste the water.

Nowadays the public water company in Malta has to solve the lack of ground water by using 60 per cent of ground water.
Malta is among the ten countries in the world that has got the least amount of natural water per person, together with countries like Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
But there are water professionals that are of the opinion that the politicians are making things worse by not dealing with the problems.
The engineer Marco Cremona do not mince words.I meet him a little later at the hotel Phoenicia in the capital Valletta. He is eager to tell what is happening.
– We have an acute scarcity of water every year and it gets worse due to the private sector which extracts an enormous amount of groundwater, without paying for it. Although nobody has a license to extract groundwater the practise is rampant, so in effect you can consider that the water resources of Malta have in fact been privatized. The private extraction exceeds by far the amount of water that the public water company extracts, Marco Cremona says. He thinks it is no less than theft.
For ten years he has tried to convince the government and the inhabitants to stop the abuse.
If nothing happens the ground water of Malta, the little there is left, will in 15 years be useless to extract.

Marco Cremona calls himself a water activist.

The ground water is soon going to be depleted. Over-extraction is estimated 11 million cubic metres of ground water, which is 50 per cent more than sustainable yield.
In Malta it is very common to make boreholes to get water. 8000 are registered. 600 of them are used in private homes to fill the swimming pools, wash the cars and water the garden. Bowsers deliver water to the households. Some of the vendors are not even registered and no one knows the number of boreholes that were drilled.
Agriculture is the biggest user of ground water
The latest estimates show that irrigated agriculture in Malta is consuming 28 million cubic metres of water a year, which is almost equivalent the total production by the WSC, the public Water Services Corporation. Almost all of this water comes from ground water. Due to that there are already problems with salt intrusion. The ground water is also polluted with nitrate from agricultural activities.
Malta has to rely heavily on three Reverse Omosis plants which have solved Malta’s water supply problems, but not Malta’s sustainability issues.
– The inhabitants of Malta do not know that Malta has severe water problems because they find affordable water in their taps.

Marco Cremona is explaining the grey water system for journalists.

Marco Cremona is concerned about the increasing dependency on the Reverse Osmosis plant and adds that the plants make Malta very vulnerable. They are dependent on oil for energy. If there is a power failure of more than 48 hours or there is an oil spill in the sea the inhabitants can very soon be without water.
Marco Cremona says that although in theory higher water tariffs can make people save the water and not waste it this will also drive people to drill their own private boreholes. This is what happened in 2008 when government raised the water tariff.
The water tariff is 1,47 euro per cubic meter and per person but if a household exceeds 33 cubic meters per person the rate is 5.41 euro. Then the inhabitants instead tend to resort to cheap private vendors, who have extracted water without having paid anything.

Who could believe that there is scarcity of water in Malta?

In the capital Valletta the water is flowing from the fountains. There is plenty of water in the taps and for showers. Virtually
no one bothers to save it.
– The taste of the water is not so good, Marco Cremona says. He lives in Mosta and collects rainwater in a 400 year old underground tank on and then he treats it.
We are sitting in the foyer of the hotel Phoenicia. There is no doubt that Marco Cremona is very engaged in water in 2012. He was very close to get the Stockholm water price. One of his projects is HOTER. He has found a way of reusing wastewater in the hotels, even to the degree that you can drink it. One hotel in Malta is going to start with this method in a couple of months. The plant will produce 2nd class water for the flushing of toilets and 1st class water for showers and wash hand basins, At the request of the hotel he does not wish to mention the name of the hotel but it is not Phoenicia – at least not yet. It is hard going in Malta but abroad the project has had a lot of attention in TV and newspapers around Europe.

The difference between rainwater that has been treated to drinking water quality and inhoused recycled water for flushing toilets.

He repeats the lack of political will and that the inhabitants must be aware of the difficult water situation. He spends a lot of time telling them.
He is pessimistic. Mainly two parties are struggling for the votes of the people. In the last election there were just a difference of 1500 votes. Now the conservative PN, Partit Nazzjonalista, is governing. The other main party is PL, Partit Laborista, which is the Labour party
– The politicians choose to postpone the problems. To stop private extraction is not popular.
For Marco Cremona the water resources should of course be public. And the farmers should to greater extent store rainwater and cultivate less water intensive crops. Now they grow everything from tomatoes to melons in mid-summer Mediterranean heat that demand a great amount of water.
90 per cent of the ground water has a nitrate content that exceeds the EU Water Framework directive. This is due to too much fertilizing.
– We need tough decisions straight away. If nothing is done Malta has to pay fines to EU.
Marco Cremona has also been lobbying for treating sewage from municipal sewage plants to be used in agriculture.
If nothing happens he fears a ruin for the agriculture. To desalinate water for irrigation is too expensive.
The expensive energy for desalination is already a burden for the inhabitants.
In Valletta GWU, General Workers Union, has its head office. GWU has already arranged demonstrations against the high water – and electricity bills. They are paid together.

Charles Wella, GWU, says that the energy – and water bills are a burden for low income employees.

– I used to pay 150 euro during each quarter of the year, now I pay 480 euro every second month, Charles Vella, Media Executive, says.
There are employees that only get 600-700 euro a month in salary. Half of their salary is needed to pay the bills.
The conservative party PN does not bother to answer questions about the water situation, although several e-mails have been sent to the party.
But Leo Brincat from the PL, the labour party, is ready to answer. He says that his party will be short on promises but ensure to implement them rather than going for the customary wish lists that have characterised the local scene for many years.
-First and foremost there should be a National Water Management Plan while we must ensure that the regulatory body for all types of
Resources must have the necessary resources and authority!
The party agree on proposals regarding cisterns in new buildings and is interested in the reuse and restoration of water and to address the nitrate element.
– Ideally each and every household should have an energy and water audit.
But first and foremost, he says, Malta should have a public awareness campaign while hotels should be able to receive more and more green labels.
– We consider it to be the ultimate in irresponsibility that at the same time that we are being rapped by the EU for ignoring most of the provisions of its Water Catchment Management Plan, the key operator in the Water sector, that is the WSC, recently boasted (6.6.12) though its CEO, that Malta can never run out of water and that the worst case scenario would be a mere worsening in the quality.
Leo Brincat personally finds it even more preoccupying that the Minister of Resources – for whose resignation the Labour party is calling due to various irregularities highlighted by the national audit office in the
waste management sector – has actually gone on record re-affirming the WSC statement.
– I believe that he has also launched a water policy for the Maltese Islands that would have elsewhere been drawn up by the regulator while in our case it seems to have been drawn up by the Ministry itself!
The Minister also went against the grain by stating that although the quality of our own water has gone down there was no need for anyone to buy bottled water!
Leo Brincat concludes that the government seems to be ignorant of one of its own findings. That
according to the climate change adaptation report not only will water supply suffer but also water quality.
– We need to put our money where our mouth is.
We are nevertheless totally against the notion that our agricultural sector should be run into the ground because of the high impact it has
as a sector on our limited water supplies.

Etiketter: All about water

2 svar hittills ↓

  • 1 Timo Kuhn // apr 28, 2015 kl 2:28 e m

    Dear Miss Sjölander
    Currently I am studying in Germany political science and law; I am writing on my bachelor´s thesis and I wanted to ask you if you can tell me where I can get the data about the amount (percentage) of privat water – my topic is the privatization of water in europe – in southern europe (or Malta) from…? Thank you in advance for your response.

    Yours sincerely,

    Timo Kuhn

  • 2 Ann-Christin Sjölander // maj 5, 2015 kl 11:50 f m

    Dear Timo Kuhn,
    I suggest that you contact Emauele Lobina at
    He knows about the privatization of water in Southern Europe. In Malta there has been an overuse of the water resources, but the politicians have not privatized the drinking water to foreign water companies.
    Best regards
    Ann-Christin Sjölander

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