One of the resolutions approved unanimously by members during the Annual General Meeting of Din l-Art Ħelwaheld last February stated that ‘while our islands are experiencing economic growth, this is accompanied by a marked reduction in the quality of life and general health of citizens. Din l-Art Ħelwa asks Health and Planning Authorities to acknowledge that, with an island that is moving towards over-population and which has an over-active construction industry, there is a surge in air pollution, mostly due to increased car emissions as well as construction dust, and urge them to take remedial action. Health professionals and medicinal companies have noticed an unprecedented increase in allergies such as asthma, rhinitis, hay fever and even more serious illnesses caused by pollution. The well-being of the islands’ inhabitants, and their quality of life, based on a healthy environment, should be given priority over economic growth’. Din l-Art Ħelwa members were unanimous in this statement.

The increase in the number of floors of a building, which has become a knee-jerk reaction to   changes in planning policies, has transformed large areas into construction sites. This results in an immediate increase in dust particles and pollutants from heavy vehicles. The eventual growth in the number of residents in the area consequently also results in an exponential increase in traffic and pollution. Particulate matter, in particular PM10 (the number referring to the size of the particle in the air, which, in this case, is derived from construction sites) is inhaled into our throat, nose and lungs and can cause sinusitis, chest problems and allergies such as asthma. Other health issues and diminishing quality of life arising from an increase in building heights is the competition for sunlight and lack of air ventilation.

Finer particles such as PM2.5 are derived from cars and the combustion of other fuels. These penetrate even further down into our respiratory system and can cause more severe illnesses such as cancer. Health effects of air pollution on pregnant women and their infants, and children, are alarming. In polluted places, there is a higher risk of infant mortality, infants being born prematurely, of lower weight, and with a higher incidence of birth defects. Studies also suggest that the effects of air pollution are far-reaching, and that the effects of pollution on the unborn child can lead to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes in adulthood.

The rapid dwindling of our open spaces, which results from bad planning, is also detrimental to our mental wellbeing. Good quality landscaping in urban areas would reduce stress and makes us feel better. Apart from increasing the quality of our air and decreasing noise pollution, this would offer places where children can play and interact with nature.

Noise pollution caused by heavy vehicles, excavation, and construction in a site is also a nuisance to neighbours. It decreases the quality of rest and sleep and increases frustration.

Din l-Art Ħelwa is not against development. However, the association does demand sustainable development which valorises and enhances Malta’s urban, natural and cultural heritage assets, and which is not carried out to the detriment of our wellbeing. A country which drives economic gain and values it more than the health of its inhabitants does not make sense!

A country which gives priority to petrol stations, which issues laws and regulations in favour of more construction, a country which encroaches on agricultural land and coastal areas to widen roads thus promoting the use of yet more private vehicles without investing in an efficient public transport system, a country which encourages the immigration of more people into an already overpopulated island without assessing the capacity of its infrastructure, is a country which is not seeking the true wellbeing of its inhabitants and the environment. It is a country managed by short sighted and selfish governance that exploits today out of greed that will simply make no healthy tomorrow possible for its children.   So now it is our health versus wealth –  I think all citizens need to ask themselves who gets to choose?

Dr Stanley Farrugia Randon is a long-standing Council member of Din l-Art Ħelwa, a Specialist in Family Medicine and author of a booklet entitled It-Tniġġis u s-Saħħa