Feeling a bit claustrophobic? Do you yearn to find some quiet, open space or drive in roads devoid of traffic at a time other than 3am?
We cannot blame you if you do because Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world – the fourth in the European Union, to be precise. Monaco is the most densely populated country; however, the citizens get to escape to the rest of continental Europe with their car within minutes. We, on the other hand, live on a small island state of only 320 km². I read the phrase ‘dwarf state’ to describe Malta somewhere online, which really brought this home- making it harder for us to get a breather unless we sail or fly out.
On Census Day, the 21st of November 2021, NSO reported that the final usual resident population in Malta was 519,562, more than doubling over a century and growing by more than 100,000 over the past 10 years. That was 2021; we are now in 2023. On World Population Day, the 11th of July 2023, the NSO estimated that the total population of Malta and Gozo at the end of 2022 increased by 4.2 per cent when compared to the previous year, bringing the population to 542,051. Migration was primarily responsible for the population increase in 2022, with the influx of 21,798 persons. Obviously, we are not including tourists, which temporarily swell up the population, the economy, and the beaches every summer.
The physical and infrastructural make-up of our islands are what they are. As with everything, there is always room for improvement with regard to infrastructure, but short of going down Dubai’s road and carrying out some major land reclamation with all the associated environmental destruction that we cannot inflict upon our sea, what are the alternatives?
Foreign workers, many of them Third Country Nationals, are essential to health and care services, transportation, tourism, and other areas. We simply do not have enough local people who can carry out this work, also keeping in mind that Maltese people have the lowest fertility rate in Europe: we are having less and less babies. We also have an ageing population and, apart from the issues this will create with pensions (a whole other kettle of fish), it means that we need more young people in the workforce; young people which at this rate will not be born here on our island. Then there is the job market: there are many work areas where the Maltese are less inclined to work because of the work conditions or the salaries. However, these are jobs that are still necessary: think waste management, carers, cleansing etc.
We complain, we all do: those stuck in traffic, those seeking parking, the hunters and the trekkers, those who go out and feel a bit lost within our rapidly changing physical and demographic landscape, but what real solutions do we envisage? It is time to accept those things we cannot change and change our perspective. More importantly, it is also time to find the strength to truly make the changes needed to improve the quality of life for everyone in our small nation.