Chances are that this morning, you were woken up by the gas vendor blasting his horn at half past six. Then the bread man followed in noisy pursuit. At night, you were kept awake by loud cars revving and racing along the first stretch of smooth tarmac they find. And in between, at all hours of the day, a whole noisy orchestra plays a discordant melody. In summer, noise turns up the volume, with a barrage of fireworks, church bells, party music and a lot more.

According to a 2015 report by the European Environment Agency, noisy areas extend to about 90 per cent of Malta, compared to 50 per cent in most other EU countries.

That status could, in part, be excused by the size of the island: Malta is the most densely populated country in the EU with about 1,320 persons per square kilometre and minimal buffer zones between localities. However, most of the noise pollution is due to lack of enforcement and the authorities’ reluctance to even lift a finger.

In 2007, the planning watchdog had embarked on an effort to generate strategic noise maps as one of the reporting obligations of the Environmental Noise Directive. One of the aims of these noise maps was to develop action plans for managing noise exposure.

In 2011, a Noise Action Plan included a five-year project on how to preserve quiet areas and, in 2014, draft bills on noise pollution and climate change were issued for public consultation.

Rules and regulations already exist. The VRT defines vehicle noise levels at a maximum of 119dB for motorcycles and 100-105dB for vehicles. The Noise Control and Prevention Regulations lay down that the level of noise emitted from any construction site must respect the levels set by the minimum health and safety requirements.

Moreover, construction site activities generating more than 65dB measured immediately outside the site must stop between 2pm and 4pm. By law, no person shall sound or play any musical or noisy instrument for the purpose of hawking, selling or distributing.

Noisy neighbours should bear in mind that the law stipulates that no person shall “in the street, shop or other public place, or in any other premises, cause suffering by the operating of wireless loudspeaker, gramophone, amplifier or similar instrument, or cause suffering by any noise which shall be so loud as to cause a nuisance to residents”. People who have pets are bound to “take precautions as may be required by the circumstances to prevent the animal from giving annoyance to the neighbourhood by howling or whimpering or otherwise”.

Catering establishments must refrain from playing amplified music, musical instruments or use loudspeakers or amplifiers within their establishment, unless they have a permit for it.

However, certain EU legal instruments have not yet been transposed and the White Paper ‘Neighbourhood noise prevention, abatement and control’, published in 2013, remains only on paper. Various proposals on noise pollution abatement have been made but never implemented.

There seems to be no single watchdog vested with the full oversight of noise control and such responsibility is divided between multiple entities.

Still, beyond legal issues, the main hurdle is the lack of acknowledgment that noise pollution is as harmful as any other form of pollution. Noise is a hazard to our health and well-being and, until this is given its due importance by the government, citizens’ voices against noise pollution will continue to fall on deaf ears.

Source: Times of Malta