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Why South Sudan Should Adhere to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

By Philip Ayuen Dot, Juba, South Sudan


Tuesday, October 20 , 2022 (PW) — The environmental impact assessment is anchored on the principle of sustainable development, that is, a 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 this generation does must adhere to the environmental standards of the day. Unfortunately, not doing so or putting the development agenda above everything else has led us to this point where the air is so polluted that it harms those who breathe it, alongside water and land pollution.

For this reason, the EIA, 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 provision 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 stakeholders involved. The EIA is supposed to be done after a feasibility study has given the project’s viability. An environmental and social impact assessment is done to identify and evaluate the project’s impact on human beings and the environment.It tells us what components of the environment will be affected and to what degree. This allows the stakeholders to make a well-informed decision on whether to continue the project. This means that a feasibility study can give the go-ahead to a project in that it finds the idea viable, but when the EIA is done, and the environmental cost is laid bare, the project cannot be worth that cost and thus should not continue.

The thinking in EIA is based on impact, effect, and consistency. Impact means that the project affects several homes, and the consequence is that ten people get a noise level above the limit value. The measure could be building noise protection. Another example is that if the projects will affect a wetland classified as very valuable, the effect is that the wetland is drained to protect the projects, and the consequence is that the wetland disappears; action can be to compensate by building a new wetland or to pull the projects further away from the wetland.

This has happened with hydroelectric dams, for example. The world is increasingly moving away from building new HEP dams to meet their energy requirements. This is because environmental studies show that the environmental cost is too high compared to the benefits. Some of these costs that have contributed to the shift include the displacement of thousands of people; the water quality being lowered with algal blooms in the dams and the collection and leaching of dangerous chemicals, loss of biodiversity downstream; and flooding problems 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. Wastewater systems can be incorporated into the project to ensure that the water discharged into local rivers is clean. Harmful chemicals can be replaced with less harmful ones.One of the EIA’s main jobs is to point out expected environmental damage and how to avoid or minimise it. It thus allows people to deal with ecological harm even before it occurs. As a result, we can ensure that our children or the next generation inherit a country with thriving biodiversity and unpolluted or minimally polluted land, air, and water.

The EIA is also an essential tool in conflict resolution or avoiding conflicts. For example, when a project is done without the input of the local community or the affected members, it breeds resentment. Because it appears that a few people are gaining or taking advantage of the many affected people. 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 to the community. This enables the community to hold them accountable if they do not uphold their end of the bargain and improves transparency among the stakeholders.

One of the major cornerstones of the EIA is public participation. An EIA is invalid if it does not include views from all major stakeholders. And the local community, township, or public is the primary stakeholder. After all, the government only holds the land and environment in trust on behalf of its citizens. They thus deserve a say in what happens to their land, rivers, neighbouring oceans, air, wild animals, and flora.

In an EIA, all significant aspects of the project are explained in detail by the EIA team. Not the project proponents, who might be inclined to hide the harmful elements 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, geologists, environmentalists etc.

After this team has done its preliminary studies and identified the significant ways this project will affect the community and the environment, it will convene the public through public hearings. These public hearings are supposed to be announced a few weeks or months in advance 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 on neutral grounds, so this locks out religious grounds unless the whole community agrees that people of different faiths feel comfortable there.

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 should pay for the project. They are the ones who will suffer the consequences of the project. And it is their children who will inherit the environment they leave behind. Therefore, if the public categorically refuses a project, it should not continue. After all, they are the ones who know where the shoe pinches the most.

So, to recap the importance of the EIA, it is a must on all significant projects. It is done to identify and evaluate the project’s effects on humans and the environment. This then allows the stakeholders to decide whether to continue the project. 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 incorporate their views and recommendations into the EIA report. The EIA gives mitigation measures that reduce the extreme harm that would have occurred had the EIA not been done.


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The author is a Trained Environmentalist, researcher, and Independent Opinion writer on environmental issues and social and economic topics and can be reached via his email:


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