17 September 2003

Search all issues

powered by FreeFind

Send Your Feedback!

Toon this week: Too little, too late

Being prepared

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 don’t 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.
Monday’s 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 country’s 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 nature’s soil.
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 B’kara-Msida valley.
Storm water management costs money and is probably the last thing on government’s 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 and reservoirs.
Avoiding tragedy may cost money, but it is certainly cheaper than the impacts of the apathy. Quantifying the cost of Monday’s 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 scout’s motto goes, being prepared will help to minimise the damage and contain the costs.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail