At White Rocks this morning, an individual felt compelled to rush out of his house on to the street to remind concerned citizens watching a black cloud covering the sky that these are Malta’s best times (l-Aqwa Żmien) in line with the Labour Party’s electoral slogan.
“Everything’s good. We’re good. Remember that we’re good. Except for this cloud (daħna),” he said as the rest wondered whether he had lost his mind.
No. Everything is not fine. The repercussions of that cloud of black smoke covering the island this morning is not resolved by people closing their windows and staying indoors, which was the only piece of advice issued by the health authorities.
“The minister said to stay indoors and close your windows,” the Labour Party’s cheer leader kept saying. This led to someone retorting: “Are you going to call my boss and tell him I can’t go to work because it’s a health risk?”
Another said: “I need to take my children to my mother because I need to go take care of my sister who is bed ridden. Are you going to take care of my children at home?”
And as a young man hopped on to his motorbike and put his helmet on, he pointed out: “I have to drive through that smoke because I can barely pay my rent at the end of the month and I can’t afford to lose my job. If these are Malta’s best times, I’d like to know what hell is”.
The residue from that cloud seeped into people’s homes while they were sleeping with their doors and windows open on a hot summer night; it will fall onto agricultural fields across the country which later contaminates the food we eat.
People living in different parts of the island called The Shift News to say they could smell burnt plastic. The health authorities said in a statement that people with heart or lung diseases, or asthma, are at higher risk to exposure. But its impact extends far beyond that, and is long term.
When the stored waste burned at the Sant’Antnin recycling plant last year, the health authorities had issued the same advice – hours after people had already been exposed to the toxic fumes from the plant.
We got no answers on what happened then – the government told us an inquiry would look into the cause. But as usual, it was a move intended only to give the impression that something was being done when in fact it was business as usual. So much so, that it happened again.
This is the result of sheer incompetence. It is the result of the degradation of standards in a world where ‘ejja, ħa mmorru’ guides procedures. It is the result of removing skilled people from their roles to replace them with party cronies who have no clue of what they’re doing but vote Labour. It is the result of the (lack of) performance of an environment minister who has yet to understand his job description.
And these people want us to trust them with another incinerator – a technology that requires stringent operational procedures if public health risks are to be avoided. The technology is only as good as the people who operate it, and there is a long way to go before anyone can have any peace of mind our environment is in good hands.