Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ethnic Studies 410 Cultural Project - Water and Society

My cultural project relates to the water resources here on Malta. In ES 410, before we left, we learned about the limited water resources that are effecting Malta today and we looked into a little bit of how the government and people were dealing with the insufficient amount of freshwater. Coming to the island, I've been able to get a first hand look at the severity of the shortage and Maltese opinions on it.

Malta's water history is very interesting. The islands of Malta and Gozo is composed of five principle layers; Lower

Coralline Limestone, GlobigerinaLimestone, Blue Clay, Greensand, and Upper Coralline Limestone. Just under the Lower Coralline Limestone layer and above the impermeable Blue Clay level sits two natural freshwater aquifers, the Main Mean Sea Level Aquiferand the Perched Aquifer, respectively. Historically, Malta has used these aquifers for their freshwater, however, today the water is being used faster than it can be replenished by rain and natural permeability of the layers. (Source #1)

Malta's population has grown significantly in past years and continues to grow today.

Just under 400,000 people populate this tiny nation, with a growth rate of 0.42% in 2005, according to the CIA World Factbook. (Source #2) All those people inhabiting the islands require freshwater and lots of it. About one third of Malta's freshwater comes from three aging desalination plants that use Reverse osmosis to extract the salt out of the saltwater from the Mediterranean. Another third is taken from the rapidly shrinking aquifers through manmade boreholes that drill down to the aquifer and pump up water completely free of charge. About one quarter is received through the Water Services' boreholes and the rest comes from small, private reverse osmosis plants or from the islands plentiful private cisterns that collect and store the meager amount of annual rainfall. (Source #3)

In Malta, I've talked briefly with Ph.D student, Keith Buhagiar, a local archeologist interested in the ancient and medieval water management systems spread throughout the islands. He discussed about the differences between wells and cisterns and their creation. Wells are the most ancient water system, and was man's attempt to obtain water by digging vertically down below the spot where water is required. Usually, these wells are circular or square shape vertical shafts. This picture shows a dried up well found in Sicily. (Source #4)

Alternatively, cisterns are more for the collection and storage of water. They were built either through rock-excavation or built at ground level through the use of masonry. Above ground cisterns were not as popular because of their consistent need for maintenance and repair. (Source #4) The picture shows a sonar mosaic of the inside of the Ta-Silg cistern in Malta. Ta-Silg is one of the oldest places with a cistern dating back about 3000 years and living through multiple occupations from the original Temple People to the Phoenicians to the Romans. Some cisterns are quite complicated, like the Ta-Silg cistern, with many rooms and tunnels, while others are simply bell-shaped or circular or rectangular shafts cut into the ground. Sometimes multiple cisterns are clustered together and are connected through small channels. (Source #5)

The situation in Malta changes severity depending on who is giving the opinion. Some don't see the scarcity of water at all while others are being hit very hard with it. Some private homes and farms still use the cisterns and wells settled on their property for various purposes from agricultural water to filtering it for daily use, however, most still rely heavily on the reverse osmosis plants and the shrinking aquifers. With Malta's dependence on tourism and it's increasing population, one thing is for certain, whether the water scarcity is felt by all or not, something must be done to conserve or collect freshwater for the future of Malta. Within the next few days, I am meeting with four members of the Malta Water Association for interviews on this topic. I am hoping to get some good information on their opinions on the water shortage and where this small, heavily populated country is headed.

#1 - Malta Water Association (
#2 - CIA World Fact-Book (
#3 - Malta Takes Control, IEEE Article (
#4 - Keith Buhagiar Presentation on "Maltese Ancient and Late Medieval Water Management Systems" on 3/4/12
#5 - Tour of Ta-Silg Temple Site by David Cardona on 3/13/12

Picture Sources:
Picture #1: British Geological Survey (
Picture #2: Malta Takes Control, IEEE Article (
Picture #3: Picture Taken on Site at Gozo Citadel on 3/12/12
Picture #4: Picture Taken on Site in Palermo, Sicily on 3/6/12
Picture #5: Ta-Silg Mosaic Constructed by Erik on 3/13/12
Picture #6: CIA World Factbook (

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