Malta’s population growth is “worrying and unsustainable”, said Michael Pace Ross as he discussed recent demographic changes on the islands on Andrew Azzopardi’s 103 Malta’s Heart talk show.
“Studies show that population growth significantly reduces the quality of life,” said the administrative secretary of the Archdiocese of Malta, adding that Malta is an overcrowded country with shrinking recreational spaces and natural environment.
According to recent data released by the Office for National Statistics, Malta has seen an increase of nearly 100,000 in its total population over the past decade, from 422,509 in 2012 to 520,971 in 2021.
While having the lowest fertility rate in the whole of the EU, with 1.14 births per registered woman in 2019, Malta continues to attract foreign workers whose number has increased from 9,500 in 2009 to almost 78,000 at the end of 2021.
Malta sees its population increase by more than 100,000 inhabitants in a decade
Malta, Pace Ross said, has reached a point where people have to travel abroad to escape overdevelopment and overcrowding.
“It is worrying because it creates stress, tension and our quality of life decreases,” he said, pointing to the excessive number of vehicles and the lack of trees among the causes.
“We need a long-term plan to eventually bring the population down,” Pace Ross said as he argued for the need to limit tourist numbers and construction projects, including skyscrapers that put additional pressure on the country’s infrastructure.
“Small changes can have maximum impact”
The sentiment was echoed by Maria Attard, head of geography and director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta, who said Malta’s population had exceeded its carrying capacity.
“We have to establish our carrying capacity for the present and for 20, 30 years from now… We need a plan and the biggest problem we have right now is that we are progressing, we are not planning” , Attard said.
Stressing the need for clear plans based on expected demographic changes, Attard said Malta’s current economic model is supported by the importation of labour, but this has a negative impact on the country’s environment and the well-being of the population.
“Small changes can have maximum impact,” she said, adding that “Malta’s small size offers many opportunities, but it can also backfire” because if no plan is in place, the country will face an infrastructure, energy and resource crisis.
Stressing that population growth cannot be “managed in a crisis situation”, Attard said, while some benefit economically from the country’s economic model, many others suffer from it, including the impact on mental health and the degradation of the environment.
“Over time the pressure will be felt by those who cannot afford it, that is the biggest shame of unsustainable development,” Attard said.
“We must change our way of life”
Political scientist Mario Thomas Vassallo said Malta is often compared to Singapore, where despite having a population 10 times larger, the quality of life is better.
“The long-term plan must include a change in the culture of life for the Maltese,” Vassallo said, noting that population growth is due to an influx of foreigners.
“We decided to have fewer children, the Maltese people decided to stop working in agriculture…it was us who decided to stop caring for our elderly and put them in institutions, we are the ones employing Filipino nannies, we have chosen to invite foreign students to study at our university because they are a source of income while Maltese students are a financial burden because we pay them a allocation.
Vassallo added that it was not a question of politics but of individual choices, as he also called out the hypocrisy of people who lead lifestyles that inadvertently create the same problems they hate.
However, sociologist Bridgette Borg countered that such choices cannot be taken in isolation and solely imputed to the individual. “We live a different lifestyle,” she said, adding that while previous generations lived with the future in mind, current generations only care about instant gratification.
The choices individuals make are determined by a variety of factors, including having multiple jobs to afford the means to maintain desired lifestyles, which comes at a cost, including the inability to care for elderly members. family and free time, she said.
Pace Ross agreed and said ‘unfortunately Malta has been overtaken by greed’ and, citing Gozo as an example, the former head of Malta’s National Statistics Office said the island should look at what they are doing the other Mediterranean islands to protect their environment.
“What do we want from our country? Do we want to pursue unbridled development at all costs or do we want to safeguard the charm of Gozo? Pace Ross asked pointing out that Malta was ruining its appeal and identity.
Watch the full debate below: