Opinion | Why South Sudan should adhere to Environmental Impact Assessment
"The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is anchored on the principle of sustainable development that is development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
OPINION – The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is anchored on the principle of sustainable development that is development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This then requires that every big project that this generation does must adhere to the environmental standards of the day. Not doing so, or putting the development agenda above everything else is what has led us to this point where the air is so polluted that it harms those who breath it, alongside with water and land pollution.
It is for this reason that the EIA nowadays also known as the Environment and Social Impact Assessment has been adopted in over 100 countries worldwide, as well as being a requirement for donor funded projects from financiers such as the World Bank, European Union and the United Nations. This makes it a constitutional requirement in most countries that can be used in a court of law to stop a project that does not have an EIA.
But the EIA is not just another hurdle for developers. It offers an array of benefits to all stakeholder involved. The EIA is supposed to be done after a feasibility study has given a go ahead for the viability of the project. An environmental and social impact assessment is done so as to identify and evaluate the impact of the project on the human beings involved and on the environment.
It is what tells us what components of the environment are going to be affected and to what degree. This then allows the stakeholders to make a well informed decision on whether to continue with the project or not. This means that a feasibility study can give a go ahead of a project, in that it found the idea viable, but when the EIA is done, and the cost on the environment is laid bare, the project can be found to not be worth that cost and thus should not continue.
The thinking in EIA is based on the impact, effect and consistency. Impact means that the project affects several homes, the consequence is that 10 people get a noise level above the limit value. Measure can be build noise protection. Another examples is that if the projects will affect a wetland classified as very valuable, effect is that the wetland is drained to protect the projects, the consequence is that the wetland disappears, Action can be to compensate by building a new wetland, or to pull the projects further from the wetland.
This has happened with hydroelectric dams for example. The world is increasingly moving on from building new HEP dams to meet their energy requirements. This is because environmental studies are showing that the cost on the environment are too huge compared to the benefits. Some of these costs that have contributed to the shift include displacement of thousands of people, the water quality being lowered with algal blooms in the dams and a collection and leaching of dangerous chemicals, loss of biodiversity downstream and a flooding problem at times.
But the EIA is not just for the bad news, it gives the involved stakeholders a chance to reduce the projected harm. For example, road routes can be rerouted to avoid cutting through vulnerable ecosystems or communities. Factories can be designed differently to reduce noise pollution. Waste water systems can be incorporated into the project to ensure that the water that’s discharged into local rivers are clean. Harmful chemicals can be replaced with less harmful ones.
This is actually one of the main jobs of the EIA, to point out expected environmental damages and how to either avoid them or minimize them. It thus gives people an opportunity to deal with environmental harm even before it occurs. And thus, ensuring that our children or the next generation inherits a country that has its biodiversity flourishing and its land, air and water unpolluted or minimally polluted in the very least.
The EIA is also an important tool in conflict resolution or avoiding conflicts. When a project is done without the input of the local community or the affected members, it breeds resentment. Because it appears as if a few people are gaining or taking advantage of the many people affected. So, an EIA makes the project very clear for everyone, what shall be done, what to expect and how the project proposers intend to reduce harm on the community. This enables the community to hold them accountable in case they do not uphold their end of the bargain and improves transparency among the stakeholders.
One of the major cornerstones for the EIA is public participation. An EIA is not valid if it did not include views from all major stakeholders. And the local community, township or public is the major stakeholder. After all, the government only holds the land and environment in trust, on behalf of its citizens. They thus deserve a say on what happens to their land, rivers, neighboring oceans, air, wild animals and flora.
In an EIA, the public is explained to all major aspects of the project in detail by the EIA team. Not the project proponents who might be inclined to hide the harmful aspects of their project. It is for this reason that an EIA team is contracted for any project that requires an EIA. This team usually consists of all experts on all the areas the project will affect, for example, anthropologists, botanists, hydrologists, geologist, environmentalist etc.
After this team has done its preliminary studies and identified the major ways this project will affect the community and the environment, it convenes the public through public hearings. These public hearings are supposed to be announced a few weeks or months earlier so as to give people ample time to plan to attend. The announcements are supposed to be in national media such as newspapers and TV stations, and in a language that people understand. They can also be announced in the local media of the affected areas. The public hearings are supposed to take place in neutral grounds, so this locks out religious grounds unless the whole community agrees that people of different faiths feel comfortable there.
The reason for this insistence on public participation when carrying out an EIA is because ultimately the power lies with the people. It is their taxes after all that shall pay for the project. It is them who shall suffer the consequences from the project. And it is their children who shall inherit the environment they leave behind. If the public categorically refuses a project, it should not continue. After all they are the ones who know where the shoe pinches most.
So to recap on the importance of the EIA, it is a must on all major projects. It is done so as to identify and evaluate the effect of the project on humans and the environment. This then allows for the stakeholders to make a decision on whether to continue with the project or not. The public is one of the major stakeholders in an EIA and it is a requirement to explain to them the good and the bad of the project and then take incorporate their views and recommendation in the EIA report. The EIA gives mitigation measures that reduce the extreme harm that would have taken place had the EIA not been done.
The author is a Trained Environmentalist, researcher, an Independent Opinion writer on environmental issues, social and economic topics and can be reached via his email: Philipdot57@gmail.com.
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