By Philip Ayuen Dot
OPINION – Roads are a necessity in a country. They offer ease of mobility and transport for people and goods. This then opens up villages and towns for further economic growth, which ultimately propels a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Furthermore, roads enhance service delivery from the government to the people. Services such as schools, hospitals, water and evacuation during floods, all become easier when there are good roads in place.
It is on this note that several roads in South Sudan are being constructed. From the Juba-Rumbek Highway, to Juba-Bor Highway, to Juba-Nadapal highway to Juba- Yei Highway. All these roads are an important milestone to South Sudan’s economic development.
However, road construction comes with its fair share of environmental and social impacts. Some positive and negative as well. The positive impacts of road construction include providing employment to nearby communities as well as opening them up to trade. The income they get raise their living standards. Skills transfer is also another benefit, as locals get to learn and acquire new skills from the road construction process that will be of help later after the road is completed.
The negative environmental and social impacts of road construction are many. The major environmental ones being noise pollution, air pollution, and water pollution, vibrations, carbon emissions, landscape disfigurement, and soil erosion, exploitation of raw materials, sedimentation, tectonic stability, vehicular emissions and road kill. The social impacts include transmission of diseases, erosion of local customs, split in communities, urbanization, and disfigurement of cultural and archaeological sites, teen pregnancies and alcoholism among others.
It is for this reason that the world adapted Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for any project with significant impact on the environment.
In 1997, Finland in The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Trans boundary Context passed internationally accepted guidelines for projects shared among countries, while for local projects, the Rio Convention in 1992 came up with the Agenda 21 principles which seek to ensure that while environment should not hamper development, development should not irreparably damage the environment. It is this balance that has led countries to adopt their own Environmental Social Impact Assessment guidelines to supplement the global recommendations. The main purpose of ESIA is to predict and assess the potential environmental and social impacts of a proposed or ongoing project, evaluate alternatives and design appropriate mitigation measures and monitoring measures.
It is for this reason that South Sudan has its own draft bill on environmental protection that caters for ESIA that is The Draft Environmental Protection Bill. The Draft Bill guides that for projects that are likely to have significant environmental and social impacts, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment shall be conducted by an external Body that has been approved by the ministry of environment. The ESIA shall be made available to the ministries concerned and anyone who requests for it.
South Sudan government as well as World Bank and all other financial development partners require all projects that will have a significant impact on the environment to have an environmental and social impact assessment to avoid adverse effects on the people and environment. Furthermore, public participation, a cornerstone of development gets to be fulfilled via the ESIA process.
Environmental and social impact assessment offers to the ministry and company involved an analysis on how the road construction activities will impact the movement. This allows them to be open to using alternatives that pollute less. Furthermore ESIA also identifies ways to avoid or reduce environmental damage. This prevents adverse environmental impacts by requiring implementation of feasible alternatives or mitigation measures.
Environmental social impact assessments help in creating awareness of the social changes that shall take place in the society. This helps communities become part of the process and assists them cope better with the changes that the road construction shall bring.
It is for this purpose that the Environmental Consultancy firm, South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA), offers its services on this matter. SSEA is an environmental firm with a vibrant team of both national and international experts on environmental matters, ranging from Environmental Auditors, to lead environmental EIA experts, to project managers, to environmental educators, to environmental policy analyst to environmental engineers. This team when hired or consulted will offer ESIA as well as follow up with an Environmental Audit and can also assist the construction companies in carrying out the some of the environmental recommendations such as tree planting, landscape configuration and community awareness.
Road construction in South Sudan is a great thing for the citizens of the country who have suffered bad roads. But the construction carries along with it significant environmental and social impacts that should be analyzed by experts and expertise advice offered on how to mitigate the gap that South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) fills so well. It is thereby in the best interest of everyone, for a partnership to be made between South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) and construction companies doing projects with significant environmental impacts such as roads.
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