Strategic movesEnvironmental considerations must be included in national policies to ensure sustainable development
Most EIA reports are prepared merely as a ritual for submission to the concerned authority. And once the projects obtain environmental clearance, there is no further monitoring of their implementation. What is most worrying is the practice of copying and pasting the contents in an EIA report from available literature. Even then, authorities take a considerable amout of time to approve those reports, which consequently escalates project costs. In addition, even though the EIA process involves
public consultation and participation in order to obtain local support, about 10-20 percent of the project cost is spent on ‘managing people’ at the project sites. Issues such as escalation of land and property prices, demand for unrelated financial support, and interference by hooligans and coercion from political party members are hardly ever addressed.
Environment as a strategy
It has been found that including environmental assessments in a nation’s policy and programmes, by keeping the country’s entire development agenda in mind for individual projects, rather than looking at them separately, addresses upto 50 percent of the problems arising in the EIA. This is called Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which effectively shortens the time required for environmental clearance. Recognising this, the South Asian Environmental Conference 2013, held in Islamabad last December, also stressed the need for setting up an SEA system in the region. An entire session in the conference was devoted to the theme ‘SEA—Is South Asia Ready for it?’
In August 2013, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology had organised a day-long interaction in Kathmandu between stakeholders to assess and review the EIA process. During the interaction, most participants expressed concern about the time taken to approve the EIA report. The participants were also concerned about the possibility of the suspension of
the EIA process as it is often blamed to be a hurdle in development in Nepal.
Integrating environmental issues at the policy level could be an effective way to address these concerns. While formulating policies, the political, administrative, economic and social implications of such strategies are looked into. So adding an environmental component in that will only reinforce the soundness of the policy. Such a Strategic Environmental Assessment has been implemented in developed countries for the last 15 years with great results.
As the Seventh Millennium Development Goal (MGD 7) commits us to ensuring environmental sustainability, there is a need for Nepal to consider the integration of the principles of sustainable development into its policy and programmes too. To do so, the environmental implications of various programmes must be considered in decision-making similar to economic and social implications. The adoption of SEA at the policy level is thus the most promising way to achieve environmental sustainability as per MDG 7. In addition, donors have also committed “to develop and apply common approaches for strategic Environmental Assessment at sector and national levels” in the Paris Declaration on Aid effectiveness in 2005, which was attended by the heads of more than 100 countries.
SEA, the only way
As of now, no country in South Asia has an SEA in place. Most of the countries are still struggling to integrate and implement EIA at the project level. In Nepal, almost 2000 projects have conducted EIA and have been approved by authorising agencies for implementation. However, there is no data on how many of these approved projects are under operation, how many projects have actually implemented the EIA mitigation prescriptions and how effective they have been. Further, the absence of an effective monitoring and auditing mechanism means that we as environmentalists are not able to demonstrate the benefits of implementing the EIA to the masses. We are unable to justify its importance. With an SEA in place, the time taken for approval for EIA reports can be considerably reduced and its effects could be made more visible within a short period of time. A mandatory practice of SEA will also enable various ministries, the National Planning Commission and other agencies responsible for plan and policy formulation to integrate environmental considerations into the core of the planning system.
SEA is a promising way to achieve and ensure environmental sustainability. Without this, it does not seem possible to bring a balance to otherwise successful developments today that may turn into environmental disasters in the future. Let us hope that the new government of Nepal will make an effort in this direction.
Khadka is principal and Guragain is associate professor at School of Environmental Science and Management