Out of the 11 countries studied, the three lowest ranking countries are from South Asia
A recent report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) legislation on acts, regulation, rules and guidelines of eleven countries in Africa and South Asia shows inherent weaknesses in almost all the countries.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio De Janeiro, held in 1992, affirmed the role of Impact Assessments on an international level as a universal decision-making tool to map possible mitigation measures amidst complex environmental impacts of projects.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka were analysed in South Asia, while in Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zambia were analysed.
As per the report, the legislations in all countries have attempted to cover all the components of assessment indicators (mentioned below). However, in many instances, relevant detailing was missing, which is vital for an effective EIA regime and for producing a quality EIA report.
Where do the countries stand?
The above-mentioned 11 countries were assessed on the basis of five indicators: project categorisation, information collection, compliance mechanism, Information transparency, and accreditation of EIA consultants.
To begin with, Bhutan and Ethiopia have project listings, but no mention of scale of operation, which means any project in the listing needs to go for EIA irrespective of size. This leads to projects with less impact undergoing an extensive EIA process, resulting in unnecessary stress on time and resources.
When it comes to information collection, EIA reports have generally been observed to have thousands of categories of information from which relevant information is often missing, such as basic information, usage of natural resources, emissions, information on waste and wastewater, environmental sensitivity, and social sensitivity.
Among South Asian countries, only Nepal has asked for information on site alternatives and cumulative impact of the project. Bangladesh and Tanzania do not mention information with respect to environmental and social sensitivity and no information is sought in Ethiopia and Zambia on waste and wastewater generation. Kenya seeks no information of effects on factors like ecological sensitivity, flora and fauna, and Mozambique does not seek any on emissions. On a brighter side, Zambia asks for information on any litigation pending against the project and/ or on land on which the project is being set up.
A compliance mechanism evaluates how legislation is equipped to monitor compliance of environmental clearance conditions by understanding whether legislation has identified the compliance agency, frequency of submission of compliance reports and penal provision in case of non-compliance. Except for Mozambique and Nepal, all others countries have a penal provision for non-compliance, both through the court and the regulating authority. The two countries have it only through the regulating authority.
Only Sri Lanka among the South Asain countries scored decently when it came to transparency of information, along with Ghana, Namibia and Zambia in Africa. Only Ghana and Zambia have placed EIA reports in the public domain and only Namibia has provided information on stakeholder consultation on their website.
No country has provided clearance certificates in the public domain. In Bangladesh and Namibia, only regulators or entrepreneurs can view the clearance certificate on their website as they are password protected. This means the stakeholder does not know what compliance condition a project has to follow as everything is between the regulator and entrepreneurs.
Five countries out of 11 do not have a system for accreditation of EIA consultants. Out of five, four are South Asian countries.
Scope for improvement
The report points out several gaps and recommends ways to bridge those. Inclusion of a rationale behind project categorisation mentioning the scale of operation along with identifying and listing sensitive areas can help.
An exhaustive and explicit questionnaire for scoping and screening will enable collecting relevant information, according to the report. Greater information transparency is required to develop trust between project affected people, industry and regulators. A portal should be developed with a sole purpose of sharing data like EIA reports, information on stakeholder consultations, clearance certificates etc. in the public domain, the report recommended.
The study also recommended that the EIA review system needs to be strengthened through comprehensive guidelines and regular capacity building programmes. To strengthen compliance mechanisms, inspection guidelines and guidelines for compliance reports are required.
Comprehensive guidelines and regular capacity building programmes on strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and cumulative impact assessment (CIA) are needed as these are becoming necessary for many projects in Africa and South Asia, the report concluded.