Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
UN Environment Programme defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.
The immediate aim of EIA is to inform the process of decision making by identifying the potentially significant environmental effects and risks of development proposals.
Key Objectives of EIA Review
Key objectives of EIA review are:
- To determine the potential and known effects of proposed projects on the cultural, social, economic and ecological health of an area affected and put in place measures to avoid negative impacts while enhancing the positive ones.
- To ensure that adequate environmental information is available to decision makers,
- Identification of cultural, social, economic and ecological monitoring and management requirements during construction, operation & decommissioning,
- To improve public participation in government decisions by involving the public at all stages of the EIA.
Benefits of an EIA
- Increased accountability and transparency during the development process.
- Reduced environmental damage as measures are already put in place before a project starts.
- Increased project acceptance by the public- communities as they are involved in the process
- Better environmental planning and design of a proposal. Carrying out an EIA entails an analysis of alternatives in the design and location of projects.
- A well-designed project can minimise risks and impacts on the environment and people, and thereby avoid associated costs of remedial treatment or compensation for damage.
- It fosters mutual understanding between organisations, proponents and the people affected by the development. It provides the proponent with more realistic and objective information about the constraints placed on it by authorities.
- Savings in capital and operating costs. EIA can avoid the undue costs of unanticipated impacts. These can escalate if environmental problems have not been considered from the start of proposal design and require rectification later.
Stages in EIA
Although legislation and practice vary around the world, the fundamental components of an EIA would necessarily involve the following stages:
- Screening to determine which projects or developments require a full or partial impact assessment study;
- Scoping to identify which potential impacts are relevant to assess (based on legislative requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge and public involvement), to identify alternative solutions that avoid, mitigate or compensate adverse impacts on biodiversity (including the option of not proceeding with the development, finding alternative designs or sites which avoid the impacts, incorporating safeguards in the design of the project, or providing compensation for adverse impacts), and finally to derive terms of reference for the impact assessment;
- Assessment and evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives, to predict and identify the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, including the detailed elaboration of alternatives;
- Reporting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or EIA report, including an environmental management plan (EMP), and a non-technical summary for the general audience.
- Review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), based on the terms of reference (scoping) and public (including authority) participation.
- Decision-making on whether to approve the project or not, and under what conditions; and
- Monitoring, compliance, enforcement and environmental auditing. Monitor whether the predicted impacts and proposed mitigation measures occur as defined in the EMP. Verify the compliance of proponent with the EMP, to ensure that unpredicted impacts or failed mitigation measures are identified and addressed in a timely fashion.
Types of Environmental Impact Assessment
There are three levels of assessment possible under the Act in the form of an environment impact statement (EIS), a public environmental report (PER) or a Development Report (DR).
Environmental Impact Assessment in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the projects that need Environmental Impact Assessments are listed in the first Schedule of the Environmental Management Act (Cap 20:27) and they include mining, quarrying, housing developments and ore processing, among others. The EIA is based on the "precautionary principle" a process which directs project studies and addresses environmental impacts before they occur. EIA is a tool to achieve the desired balance between development and environmental protection.
The Role Of Environmental Management Agency (EMA)
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) plays a facilitative role in the EIA process. The EIA review fees for all prescribed projects are charged on a sliding scale based on the impact of each project on the environment. Furthermore, staggered payments can be done on each stage of project development.
The fee structure is aimed at boosting sustainable investment in the country as it endeavours to balance environmental, economic and social components in a growing economy. So why wait to regularise your operations? An EIA is a tool that does not inhibit but enhances sustainable development.