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 Unit 1: Session III: Enviromental Impact Assessment (EIA)


Session III introduces methods to monitor, evaluate, and measure the effects of community development processes. Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) is an increasingly important tool in determinating, planning and ultimately managing the development programs and environmental systems. The aim of this section is to explain the procedures, methods and techniques which can be used to predict the environmental consequences, be they natural, social, or economic development.


After completed this unit, you should be able to:

1. List a set of guidelines for monitoring, evaluating and measuring the effects of particular development projects and/or programs.
2. Identify the benefits of and constrints to EIA.
3. Suggest ways to counter and prevent damage to the environment at community level.
4. Highlight priority areas of environmental concerns.

Activities: Readings
References: Text
Guidelines to Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries
Hodder and Stoughton, London 1985

 Unit 1: Session III: Environmental Impact Assessment

Perhaps the most useful definition of EIA is that of Clarke(1984) which states that EIA is:

"systematic examination of the likely environmental consequences of proposed projects, programs, plans and policies. The results of the assessment - which are assembled in a document known as an environmental impact statement (EIS) - are intended to provide decision makers with a balanced appraisal of the environmental, social and health implications of alternative courses of action. When an EIS has been prepared it is used by decision makers as a contribution to the information base upon which a decision is made. In this way, EIA can assist in formation and evaluation of environmentally sound development proposals".

Steps in conducting an EIA.
There are several ways and approaches to conducting an EIA, but for the purposes of this paper the nine steps identified by Ahmad and Sammy (1985) are used as they are derived from the experience of developing countries. The nine steps are:

(1) Preliminary Activities

(2) Impact identification (scoping)

(3) Baseline study

(4) Impact evaluation (quantification)

(5) Mitigation measures

(6) Assessment (comparison of alternatives)

(7) Documentation

(8) Decision making

(9) Post auditing

Preliminary Activities
These are the initial tasks which define the proposed action, identify the decision-makers and allocate the work to be done. This step should be carried out as soon as the project has been identified or, at least, in parallel with engineering and economic feasibility studies.

Impact Identification
A comprehensive list of all the potential impacts, both positive and negative, is prepared from which are selected those impacts which are significant and which require detailed study. Four criteria are applied to these impacts: magnitude, extent, significance, and special sensitivity. This step is best done after the engineering and economic feasibility studies have been completed and when viable alternatives have been selected.

Baseline Study
The proposal here is to document the existing condition of the project area prior to the proposed action. The study need not be all-embracing and time consuming but should focus on the critical impacts identified in the scoping exercise. It is necessary, as well, to take into consideration those parameters which will be used as indicators of project-induced change, and which will be monitored during the post-audit or operational phase. Information for baseline studies is derived largely from literature review and field studies.

Impact Evaluation (Quantification)
Predicting and quantifying the impacts is technically the most difficult part of EIA. It is not possible to quantify all the impacts and where this is the case the impact should at least be expressed in semi-quantitative terms. This step is conducted after the project alternatives have been identified but completed early enough to allow decisions to be made on time.

Mitigation Measures
At this stage, the means of eliminating or reducing the intensity of impacts is considered. This step naturally gives rise to alternatives other than the original option, and these must be measured and costed to account for the reduction in impact. This step is carried out in conjunction with impact evaluation.

Assessment (Comparison of Alternatives)
The various alternatives for product design and implementation are now compared. The environmental and economic costs are combined for each project option and a series of recommendations are made for decision-making. Where possible, the environmental impacts are converted to economic equivalents and incorporated in costs/benefits analysis. Many environmental factors, however, are intangible or otherwise difficult to express in monetary terms. Other techniques are available for comparing project alternatives in such cases.

This step covers the preparation of the various background and technical reports as well as the Environmental Impact Statement and other working documents. These should clearly convey the results and recommendations of the EIA to the decision maker.

The comparison of alternatives does not constitute decision-making, and it must be remembered that environmental factors are but one element in the array of factors to be considered by the decision-makers. Decision-making must be treated as a separate and distinct step.

Post Audits:
Because EIA's are based on predictions, post-project monitoring of impact parameters are necessary to test the accuracy of the predictions and to provide basic data for future EIAs.

Benefits of EIA:
Environmental impact assessment provides for the systematic identification and consideration of the short- and long-term effects of project implementation. As a process, it is adaptable to small or large scale projects, and it can be modified to suit the particular project requirements or institutional arrangements. It can also be used for assessing developing policies.

To be of maximum value, EIA must be initiated as early as possible in the project cycle and preferably at the pre-feasibility and design stages. Environmental impact assessment urges attention to the identification of alternatives for project implementation, whether it be with respect to design, development sites, changes to part of a project, or indeed, the "no action" option. Thus EIA serves to answer the questions whether to develop or, through mitigation, how to develop.

Importantly, EIA allows for public participation at the various stages of decision-making. The participation of stakeholders other than the project proponents, particularly during the scoping stage, facilitates acceptance and the harmonious integration of the project into the community. At the very least, the EIA process provides a framework for formulating an assessment system appropriate to meet specific requirements.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is established in a socio-political context where a relatively low level of environmental awareness and appreciation of nature exists, and where the perception still persists that environmentalism obstructs development. As a consequence, environmental impact assessment practitioners will have to become better at "selling" the process and the benefits to be gained from its use. As a corollary, all encouragement must be given to the framing of an environmental policy and to the rationalization of environmental legislation and regulatory institutions as necessary.

In the context of national development, indicators of environmental status are needed to complement economic indicators, which of themselves do not reflect environmental conditions. More and more EIA is being included in the curricula of project analysis and management training courses for private and public sector employees.The shortage of competent EIA practitioners and persons who can coordinate multi-disciplinary teams, is a major constraint. Apart from their own specific skills, such persons should have a broad understanding of environmental problems and project management. Further environmental training together with specific training in EIA and the retention of trained personnel are prerequisites to meet the anticipated demands for environmental services.

There is also an overall lack of basic information on the local environment. Thus EIA's may require fairly extensive field studies and data collection activities, which are time-consuming. It is essential that such studies be carefully selected and limited to specific areas of impact which can be monitored during the post-audit phase. Ideally, except where precluded by proprietary rights, the information generated by field investigations should be fed into a national database. Such a system would minimize repetition and would eventually result in time savings on filed studies. Time is a universal constraint. The EIA process has to be adapted and tailored to fit the time available so that the appropriate level of information is provided at the point when needed for decision-making. The incorporation of the EIA as early as possible in the project cycle reduces this problem.

Environmental Impact Assessment should be mandatory in planning and development. It is necessary to protect the values and function of our ecological systems and to ensure sustainable development. Thus, the planning, review and approval system must incorporate the active participation of environmental agencies, and include an adequate review of private sector development proposals. Environmental impact assessment is not a new concept, as several national and regional seminars on the subject have been held in recent times. However, the process must receive official commitment and be integrated into the national planning process.

The role of the regulatory agencies in the EIA process should also be examined. A practical approach would be for the environmental agency to define the terms of reference for EIA studies, and to perform the EIA/EIS review function. The EIA itself should be conducted by local private sector consultants. This would avoid the present situation where conflicts of interest arise when the government agencies carry out and review the EIA. It would also held to minimize the number of staff required to conduct the EIA audits, and keep governments agencies manageable and affordable. The cost of the EIA should be borne by the proponent.

The adoption of a project screening process includes the following:
1. Watershed, conservation and management including forestry.
2. Air and water pollution including industrial and agro-chemical pollution
3. Marine and coastal resources, especially with respect to tourism, fisheries and wetlands
4. Solid and liquid waste management treatment and disposal.

Policies and projects which relate to these issues must receive special attention during planning and implementation. Physical planning and economic development have no real future outside of the context of sustainable development that bring into account issues of environmental, social and economic degradation. Diversity of ecosystems is a feature of island ecosystems however quantitatively limited. These economies must take measures to avoid the waste, misuse and mismanagement of these resources. Environmental Impact Assessment tools are valuable in achieving these goals.

Adapted from Paper by Peter Reeson:
Development Standards and Environmental Impact Assessment in Jamaica