Tuesday, 29 November 2011

NGOs support farmers' bid against Nadur Cemetery development

NGOs support farmers' bid against Nadur Cemetery development

Nine NGOs are supporting Nadur farmers in their bid to halt cemetery development that will damage freshwater springs that have been used for centuries.

The NGOs are Nature Trust (Malta), Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, the Malta Organic and Agriculture Movement, Moviment Ħarsien Ħondoq, Youth for the Environment, Grupp Universitarji Għawdxin, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers' Association.

For over five centuries the terraced citrus orchards below Nadur have been fed by the Għajn Qasab springs funnelling rainwater from around 200 tumoli of adjacent garigue.

The Order of St John recognised the benefits of this precious freshwater resource and many of their stone channels still distribute the spring water in the terraced fields according to a traditional system of one weekday assigned to each farmer for irrigation.

The freshwater at Għajn Qasab provides the livelihood of these farmers cultivating approximately 5,000 citrus trees and vegetable patches below these springs.

In 2006, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority approved a 600 grave cemetery, at the very heart of the site despite objections by farmers who feared the contamination of these natural springs.

The permit, issued against all technical advice, saw the excavation with heavy machinery of the site above the springs, destroying historical techniques dating back to the knights, shattering bell-shaped wells that stored water, cutting off one of the valley springs and causing damage to the others, the organisations said.

In August 2008, when excavations commenced, the farmers requested a prohibitory injunction.

The court expert, whose expertise was contested by the farmers, stated that in his opinion "the construction of the cemetery will not have any detrimental effect on the quality or quantity of spring water that is used by farmers".

However, farmers' affidavits to Mepa testified to "considerable spring deviations, resulting in a two-third loss in spring water irrigation, loss of farmland dedicated to vegetable cultivation, the purchase of second-class bowser-delivered water, less citrus yields, and the shrivelling of numerous citrus trees".

This, they said, all adding up to a decline in their livelihoods. They also testified that during last year's rainy season dust and cement turned the spring water milky due to the savage excavations above the springs.

Last March, Mepa issued an enforcement notice as the developer abusively violated the permit conditions. The farmers fear that due to these violations in construction methods, the springs will in future be contaminated with dead body fluids, causing a fatal blow to the valley and their livelihood.

A report presented by hydrologist Marco Cremona noted "the very evident deterioration" of the quality of the farmers' water sources after the commencement of excavation works to make way for the cemetery.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the contamination is linked to the excavation and construction works at the cemetery, not least because the site of the cemetery lies just upstream of the farmers' springs.

"Moreover, the fact that the contamination increases (to a level that even becomes visible to the untrained eye) immediately after a rain event also shows that there is a direct and immediate hydraulic connection between the site of the cemetery and the farmers' water supply," Mr Cremona said.

The farmers appealed against the permit but the applicant continued with the excavations "at his own risk".

The Mepa Planning Appeals' Board is now examining the appeal and shall deliver judgment on December 15.

"The farmers are conscious that the Water Framework Directive, signed by the government in 2000, considers the monitoring of inland waters as urgent since these require a high degree of protection under national legislation and under the EU Habitats Directive.

"They still look to Mepa to uphold this legislation safeguarding their livelihood, and to ensure that this national natural heritage is kept alive for future generations. The NGOs call on Mepa to halt this development and rather look at the Eco Gozo vision which the present legislation is promoting for Gozo."

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