Have you ever wondered about an environmental impact analysis (EIA) and how it ultimately serves the community? Here is a short summary:
An EIA is a process designed to identify and predict the environmental impacts associated with developmental projects; it is all encompassing and affords respect to social, cultural and health concerns, with ambitions of mitigating and preventing any detrimental aspects associated with a particular project.
The two main purposes of an EIA is to provide information for informed decision making on potential environmental consequences and to support sustainable development through providing options on appropriate enhancement and mitigation measures.
Projects with aim to improve social welfare and human development often result in unintended degradation; this circumstance usually occurs when development trumps environmental consideration and EIAs are not part of the equation or afforded the consideration they deserve.
An EIA case study in the Sudan reflects this circumstance: their limited understanding of resource management and lack of political commitment to environmental affairs engendered an outlook that natural resources were infinite; various national initiatives to manage and rehabilitate natural resources circa 1960 resulted in unintended unfavourable environmental consequences.
Neglect to consider costs and benefits; social culture; population growth; changing environmental conditions; and increasing pressures on natural resources culminated in chronic poverty, famines and near collapse of ecosystem function – a situation that may have been avoided as Sudan is rich in natural and human resource (Moghraby, sa).
EIA objectives are divided into immediate and long-term agendas:
· Immediate goals: strive to improve the environmental design of a project; ensure that resources are used sustainably; identify mitigation factors; provide a forum for informed decision making; and stipulate the environmental terms and conditions for project implementation.
· Long-term goals: respect human health and safety; avoid permanent damage to the environment; protect all elements of the biosphere; give social aspects their due diligence; provide a homogenous platform for decision making which includes all aspects of the project, from the scientific through to the social data, allowing for priorities to be realised and agendas formulated accordingly.
EIA’s are not mechanisms of deep ecology philosophies facilitating the protection of the environment at all costs: they enhance the decision making process through the provision of a holistic picture that reflects the equitable nature of sustainable development.
Thus, projects that have the potential to degrade the environment can still be approved should the associated benefits be determined to outweigh the costs. It is important to realise that EIAs provide advice to managers and decision makers and do not dictate an outcome.
In reality only a fraction of developmental projects requiring EIAs are hindered in any way. EIAs are deemed beneficial as they garner support from environmental organisations and facilitate green ambitions and ideologies, leading to enhanced environmental awareness which may in turn influence policy mandates.
Even though the power of an EIA may seem limited, the process clearly has its benefits and advantages: it serves to educate all parties involved in a project, it forces them to consider the environment and all that lives within it, not only in the present but also in the future - the psychological aspects are noteworthy.
Public awareness and considerations, that form part of an EIA, serve to incorporate the community into aspects of development and thus enhance sustainability concepts (UNEP 2002).
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