Hail the Trees
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
The current Maltese government has started a plethora of roadworks over the past few years but none has been more controversial than the “Central Link Project”; a project that is to join Mosta and Mriehel via a single main road. The need for such a road? The government believes it will help to reduce the traffic that gathers between these two towns at peak hours. Others, however, believe that the traffic has been building up even more ever since the roadworks actually started. This is not why the people were gathering on Sunday the 28th of July 2019. The Maltese people are well renowned for welcoming improvements to everyday life. The citizens are flooding the streets because of the large number of trees the government has decided to up-root.
The importance of trees in our lives has always been known to us, and yet, no matter how much other countries argue and emphasize our need for trees to fight off global warming, we are still encountering certain nations, some big, others small, who would prefer to ignore this warning and act like stubborn children wanting to follow their own agenda no matter at whose expense. The decision to up-root the trees and the reclamation of the farmlands to widen the streets has already been taken and it is up to the people of Malta to have their voices heard.
Some people have gathered to defend the ancient trees which stood there for many year, now sentenced to death while others have joined out of the fear of not knowing what will happen to their livelihood once the government claims part of their lands so as to complete the project. Promises have been made that other trees shall be replanted, replacing mature trees with new 4m trees and not saplings, but to many that is barely a substitute. Another promise stated that through the new project the region will benefit from an extra 285 more trees than currently present, and as much as that is an improvement it is still less than half of the trees required by ERA Regulations. The number needed would be of 1,649 and not meeting this target would have the government pay a €500 fine for every tree that is not planted. Infrastructure Malta has also promised that not all trees would be discarded seeing that a number of them are protected and that another percentage are to be transplanted in the same project area followed by the replanting of new trees to compensate for the uprooted trees but no information has been made available as to how many trees shall be planted nor where. It is through this lack of available information that Maltese people are furious. Promises are quite useless to people when what they want is facts.
I drove past the already gathering crowds of people. Some were there with their entire families whilst others were there with their friends, placards and ropes in their grasp. Parked and ready, cameras out, film loaded, car door open and a blast of hot air hits my face as if someone just threw a pot of boiling water at me. I swipe off the sweat from my brow whilst locking my car door. I’m just about to start and my top is soaking wet. A silly thought comes to my mind. ‘ Why doesn’t the government come up with a reason for people to protest in winter. It would just be divine,’ but no. This is the weather we are having, this the weather I have to work in and this is the story that needs to be told.
They gathered in Attard and I walked through the crowds, recognising faces from previous protests and making an acquaintance with new ones. It is always great to see new faces at protests and what is greater is seeing young faces. The faces of the future.
The plaques were many, each differed from the other. I snapped frames trying to capture what really made a difference on the day. I bump into Sasha, the young teenager who made this entire event happen and who has brought together hundreds of people both on social media and on this very day to fight for this cause. We talk a little and the excitement can be seen in her eyes. She smiles, surrounded by the people she has brought together.
The protest went further. As the signal was given Protesters tied themselves to trees while others formed a human chain that went along a stretch of the existing road, some stood in the shade being provided by the same trees which they were trying to save, for what may be one of the last times, whilst others stood in the scorching sun. Some were cleaning up the neighboring fields from the litter found and drivers passing by honked their horns in an effort to show their support of this cause.
The chants of “Viva is-sigar” (Hail the trees) could be heard continuously throughout the event. I shot frame after frame, the sweat stinging my eyes at times but no matter. A couple of cars dodged and a few more frames captured.
At times my eyes fell on people known very well to the public. From actors, musicians and influencers. The attendees were in their hundreds and they made their voice heard.
Where does this leave us now? Will the government take heed of what the people have asked for and look at the possibility of a different approach, or will they move ahead with their master-plan backing down for no man?