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Flood relief project (1)

The editorial Relief To Residents In Flood Prone Areas (February 11), certainly highlighted not only the suffering and hardship which residents in these areas face during the rainy season but also (correctly) laid emphasis on the need of conserving this water – a very precious resource in our country which is classified as one of the most arid countries in the world.

... very good at building projects but not so good at maintaining them
- Charles Buhagiar MP (Labour), main spokesman infrastructure, public works, capital projects, sustainable development of Central Malta, Valletta

However I would like to point out that the implementation of a flood relief project dates back much more than a year before the last election. Indeed it was architect Michael Falzon in 1992, then minister of infrastructure who first mentioned such a project which was described as bringing much needed relief to residents of Msida and Birkirkara.

Nothing happened till 1996 when during the 1996-1998 Labour legislature a consultant was commissioned to collect data for the preparation of a storm water master plan. Parallel with this initiative a storm water unit was set up within the Works Division which had the responsibility of cleaning culverts, reservoirs and valleys. This unit which was (then) led by Joseph Farrugia carried out various tasks during this short period including the construction of stretches of new culverts along the road leading to Rabat as well as the cleaning of Wied Qirda, Wied is-Sewda and Ġnejna valleys. Concurrently works were also being carried out in Wied tal-Qliegħa (Chadwick Lakes).

Unfortunately with the change of government in 1998 all these initiatives were stalled and it was many years later before the storm water master plan was finalised. Likewise, for many years, the storm water unit was practically disbanded and it was only in recent years that this unit has been reactivated, albeit with limited resources.

During the past years both (previous) minister Ninu Zammit and minister George Pullicino have been promising a national flood relief project which is to be funded by the EU. It has only now transpired that the actual EU application for funds has not been submitted. Mr Pullicino has now informed us that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority permits for the proposed works have been issued while the tender for the works have been awarded (before the EU funding application was submitted).

In my opinion, although the project announced by government (when it happens) will help in resolving this problem much more needs to be done. On analysing this problem one notes that a substantial percentage of the storm water originates from buildings which do not have the regulatory well as well as from drainage overflows. The proposed project will not resolve these problems.

In dealing with storm water one must always try to resolve the problem at source and so before embarking on such an expensive project one would have thought that it would be more sensible to minimise the amount of storm water in our streets by controlling the (illegal) sources of rain water.

Furthermore, in my opinion, one should ensure that our storm water relief systems (both natural and man made) are in good working order by ensuring the continuous cleaning and upkeep of road side reservoirs, road culverts and valleys. If in spite of the implementation of these measures further works need to be carried out to resolve this flooding problem one would then embark on a more ambitious project as proposed by the government.

At the end of the day one must bear in mind that we are very good at building projects but not so good at maintaining them. The catchment pits and culverts which are supposed to drain the rain water from the streets to the proposed tunnels excavated many metres below ground level have to be maintained properly for this project to function. The maintenance of the existing culverts does not augur well.

Likewise the contamination of storm water with drainage overflow will not be resolved by this project and hence reusing the water collected by this project will probably mean an extra investment to treat the storm water.

In proposing this project the Nationalist government has once again decided to implement a solution which is extremely expensive without evaluating other options which ensure more value for money.

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