In 2011, the last time the Maltese government conducted a National Census, the population in Malta was 417,432. Today, that number has grown to 519,562, an absolutely staggering 25% rise in only 10 years.
This unprecedented but unsurprising growth means that, on average, the population of Malta grew by 10,000 new residents per year. In contrast, pre-2011 levels only showed an average annual increase of 1,849 persons per year (over 5 times less growth). For context, the largest population influx Malta had ever witnessed before these last 10 years was in the pre- and inter-war era (1931 till 1948), where according to known approximations of data, the average annual population grew by around 3,786 per year at the time.
However, this increase does not seem to be coming from the native Maltese population, but from the flood of non-Maltese persons that now reside in the country. Where before this portion of the population made up just 5% of the overall demographic, in just 10 years this number has grown to 22.2%, therefore, accounting for much of this extreme rise of residents on this tiny archipelago.
Those are the raw numbers, but what will all this mean for the future of our country?
The issue of overpopulation is and will continue to impact every single aspect of our lives. All issues, such as transportation, health, education, social wellbeing, and every other challenge faced by any population, are impacted by the inability of the available infrastructure to cater for such needs. If the needs and wants of every citizen can be catered for, then it wouldn’t matter if there were 500,000 people living in Malta, or 5,000,000. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible, as we cannot possibly cater for that many people with the resources we have.
Malta is a tiny country with a land area of just 316 km2. No matter how many people live here, this number will not change unless we start chucking rocks from the Malta-Gozo tunnel into the sea and calling it “land reclamation”. Even with hundreds of thousands of tons of construction debris, slightly increasing our land area would hardly make a dent in the soaring population density of 1649 persons/km2 which, for reference, completely dwarfs the EU’s average of 109 persons per km2 by fifteen times. On this 316 km2, we are somehow supposed to cater for the basic needs of everyone, including food, water, clothing, shelter, sleep, healthcare, security, privacy, education, sanitation, and half a dozen more requirements.
Of course, most of this cannot be provided by the island. The ever-dwindling arable land could not possibly handle the needs of the 500,000 residents and the roughly 2-3 million tourists. This is why Malta has had to become highly dependent on food imports, making us vulnerable to any future global food price instability. Providing housing, work, education, and entertainment for all these people requires land to place such buildings on – land that is both very limited and used like there’s no tomorrow. Providing energy to all these buildings requires us to become extremely reliant on mainland Europe, all while landfills are being filled up to their capacity thanks to our inept inability to recycle (only 11% of what we throw away gets recycled).
With the increase in waste, sewage, pollution, the half a million vehicles, the over-consumption of water and energy, ever-rising house prices, and the constant issues of every other need and commodity, how can Malta possibly be able to cope, even in the near future?
If it were true that this sharp rise of people in Malta will only bring in issues and negatives, then it wouldn’t be the case that both main political parties are in favour of Malta moving from a once laid-back and traditional country, towards a vast, sprawling metropolis, where old villages become just boroughs of a Maltese city-state.
Well, if the government were to somehow find a way to cater for this excessive increase, the rising labour force would bring a multitude of economic benefits through the increase in taxable income and spending. With more people on the island, more goods and services are required, ensuring that the government has more areas through which our social services, such as our welfare state and pensions, can remain paid for and afloat.
With the ageing native population, the government would have needed to plan for a mass reduction of all social welfare plans, as the pool of the working population that normally gives back to the country more than it receives would have become smaller and smaller when compared to the number of retirees and students that benefit from the system directly.
Any such plans would have definitely caused a good portion of the voting base to go against the government responsible for such actions. Therefore, the state needed to find a way to not only keep up with the costs of the current incentives and welfare but also provide new incentives to promote the people currently in government.
To keep this up, the government had to provide more work, get more foreign investment into the country, and produce incentives for foreign cheap labour to come to Malta.
This has been happening for quite some time now. Back in 2014, ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had vowed that the country would become “the next Singapore or Dubai”. His successor doesn’t seem to be straying away from this plan, with Robert Abela hoping for the country to return back to pre-COVID statistics through the continued promotion of foreign residents.
But how can Malta possibly maintain this? With everything mentioned previously, it simply can’t. Constantly rising costs of living with stagnant wages, buckling infrastructure, widening roads and unsustainable and poorly planned growth do not constitute a solid foundation for the future of this island.
On top of this, the slow but steady death of every town’s and village’s traditional soul, turning beautiful and lively neighbourhoods where everyone knows everyone else, into copy-paste minimalistic flats where no one can properly lay down roots and form a proper community, also threatens our entire culture and heritage.
All in all, we can only speculate where all this will lead us, not only as just a country but as a people, but it is safe to say that Malta as we knew it is a thing of the past.
Written by: Nathan Portelli
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