this week: Too little, too late
Sitting comfortably in front of our TV sets this summer
we have seen forest fires, typhoons, earthquakes, hurricanes, flash
floods among other natural disasters. We probably thought to ourselves,
good thing these sort of things dont happen here, but the storm
of Sunday night probably made most of us think again.
The scenes of devastation in other countries have an out there
feeling about them because the scenery is so different, even the Mediterranean
countries being so much greener than ours.
Tragedies of the magnitude often seen in foreign countries rarely strike
these Islands. Indeed, we can argue that Malta is a relatively very
safe place to be.
But this state of affairs may very well lead to complacency and a false
sense of invincibility, which can be deadly in times of distress.
Mondays flash floods brought out the best and the worst in the
Maltese character. Scenes of neighbours and motorists helping complete
strangers were common in the worst-stricken areas. But this show of
camaraderie was paralleled by unnecessary shows of bravado from others,
who decided to throw caution to the wind and take no heed of the repeated
warnings from the Civil Protection.
The relative safety we live in has led us to be unprepared and uneducated
on what to do when calamity strikes. How often are schoolchildren engaged
in fire drills? How many of us know how to act if an earthquake strikes?
What should we do when our homes flood? Are we adequately prepared to
tackle an oil spill disaster just off our shores, which would not only
wipe out our tourism industry, but also threaten the water supply derived
from reverse osmosis plants?
These are basic questions that require important answers but unless
people are educated and trained they can easily be overcome by panic
in situations that require calm.
In the words of the Civil Protection head, Malta would have been in
a national emergency situation on Monday, had the rain continued for
much longer. The situation is only made worse by the limited resources
available to the CPD, the army and police.
A well-educated public could very well help to support the efforts of
the countrys three pillars of security.
And as life returns to normal the subject of storm water management
returns to the fore. There is no escaping the truth that storms like
that experienced on Monday are becoming the norm in winter and unless
a concerted effort is made to study the problem holistically, we will
have worse floods, more damage, increased insurance claims and possibly
even more human deaths.
Admittedly, some of our problems are our own making and the worst hit
areas like Qormi, Birkirkara, Balzan and Msida are the cause of buildings
and roads erected in valleys.
Over-development in other areas of the island has only contributed to
the problem, with water running off the roads instead of being captured
and stored for use or at the worst being absorbed in mother natures
Government has undertaken storm relief projects in Birkirkara and Msida,
but the efforts seem disjointed. Furthermore, they do not cater for
water management at the earlier stages of the watercourse in the high
areas of Naxxar, Iklin, Mosta, San Gwann, Santa Venera and Hamrun that
feed the Bkara-Msida valley.
Storm water management costs money and is probably the last thing on
governments mind as it attempts to get to terms with worsening
public finances. In the absence of meaningful investment the least we
could expect is a regular clean up of valleys, storm water ducts, canals
Avoiding tragedy may cost money, but it is certainly cheaper than the
impacts of the apathy. Quantifying the cost of Mondays storm in
terms of lost man-hours, damage to businesses and homes, insurance claims
and the actual repair of damaged roads is not an easy task, but it will
definitely run into hundreds of thousands of Liri. No amount of preparation
will ever be enough to prevent natural catastrophes, but as the scouts
motto goes, being prepared will help to minimise the damage and contain