New flood-prevention infrastructure helps keep Malta safe and dry

Prior to the EU-funded National Flood Relief Project (NFRP), Malta lacked an adequate storm-water management system. Thanks to various efforts by the NFRP, today the country benefits from a network of underground tunnels, canals and bridges that provide the Maltese islands with proper storm-water drainage.

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" Implementation of the NFRP has been a catalyst for the regeneration of businesses in areas such as Valley Road in Qormi and Valley Road in Birkirkara and Msida which, before the implementation of the NFRP, had become degraded with businesses abandoning these often-flooded areas. "

Carmel Mifsud Borg, Project Leader NFRP (National Flood Relief Project)

To provide the Maltese islands with better flood relief, the NFRP implemented a comprehensive storm-water drainage infrastructure. The system, which covers 65 km2 of territory and nine localities, is designed to be easily upgraded to better address the future effects of climate change – which could hit Malta particularly hard. Overall, the system benefits around 165 000 inhabitants and users.

Underground connections

The project consists of five main components, each of which tackle the problems caused by major, once-every-five years types of flooding. Each component is located in Malta’s three water catchments, directly benefiting the localities of Attard, Lija, Balzan, B’Kara, Iklin, Msida, Marsa, Qormi, Zebbug, Gzira, Zabbar and Marsascala.

The largest component, in B’Kara-Ta’ Xbiex, comprises intercepting culverts for surface storm water. These culverts are linked to first-flush oil and grit interceptors which, in turn, are connected to an underground tunnel system that collects storm water emanating from local villages and carries it out to sea via an outlet at Ta’ Xbiex. The total length of the B’Kara-Ta’ Xbiex tunnel is approximately 11 km, with a diameter of between 3m and 7m and a depth of 8m to 52m below the surface. 

Another key component of the project is the construction of a 10 000 cm volume soak-away reservoir located in Gzira. It has an overflow linked to a 778m-long underground tunnel that is connected to the B’Kara-Ta’ Xbiex tunnel to carry the storm water out to sea. However, some of the water is collected, treated and reused. Researchers estimate that approximately 300 000 cubic metres of rainwater can be percolated to the local aquifer via this reservoir. 

The project also built a new single-span bridge to replace three stand-alone bridges that were demolished in order to improve water flow. Another feature alleviates the flooding problems previously experienced in the lower part of Zabbar and its main M’Scala square. Here, the project built surface storm-water intercepting culverts connected to an underground tunnel system collecting storm water from the upper areas of Zabbar and carrying it to an outflow on the coastline between Zghajra and M’Scala. 

Holistic approach

The project successfully addressed Malta’s flooding problem holistically, at both the catchment and regional level, by building an infrastructure capable of managing run-off across catchment areas. As a result, the NFRP achieved greater cost-effectiveness and hydraulic efficiency while also optimising the scope for future water conservation. 

It also addressed the institutional dimension of the flooding problem by incorporating measures that strengthened existing planning, management and maintenance responsibilities by implementing an identifiable and more formal organisation for flood prevention and management. 

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “National Flood Relief Project” is EUR 54 000 000, with the EU’s Cohesion Fund contributing EUR 43 900 000 through the “Investing in Competitiveness for a Better Quality of Life” programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.


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