Cover Image
close this bookConducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (United Nations University, 1999, 375 p.)
close this folder9. Emerging developments in EIA
close this folder9.4 Environmental risk assessments
View the document9.4.1 What is environmental risk assessment?
Open this folder and view contents9.4.2 Terminology associated with ERA
View the document9.4.3 ERA and the project cycle
View the document9.4.4 ERA builds upon EIA
View the document9.4.5 Basic approach to ERA
View the document9.4.6 Characterization of risk
View the document9.4.7 Risk comparison
View the document9.4.8 Quantitative risk assessments
View the document9.4.9 Risk communication
View the document9.4.10 Risk management
Open this folder and view contents9.4.11 Guidelines for disaster management planning

9.4.9 Risk communication

The results of a competently prepared EIA are relatively easy to express (i.e., a potentially adverse impact is identified and mitigation measures are prescribed). An ERA, in contrast, results in probabilistic expressions that highlight uncertainties about the outcome of a project. To technical and managerial experts, the quantification of risks is an aid in decision-making, even though these "real'' risks are still bounded by confidence limits (the degree of belief in the numbers). But the response of the public to a risk that has been identified, analysed, and characterized depends on how they perceive and interpret the information.

Psychologists studying risk perception find that fears are heightened beyond what the objective facts would warrant when:

• risks are involuntary or controlled by others;
• the consequences are dread and delayed;
• the benefits and risks are inequitably distributed;
• the proposed project is unfamiliar and involves complex technology;
• basic needs such as clean air, drinking water, or food are threatened.

Combinations of these factors can lead to intense opposition to projects by local citizens or environmental groups. Ultimately, the political process in a developing country must deal with risks as they are perceived rather than as they "really are''.

Risk perception, however, can be made more congruent with the objective findings about risk by appropriate and effective communication, not a one-way transfer of information but a dialogue between the project proponent and affected parties. The worldwide trend toward involving and informing those who are affected by economic development in the planning and implementation of projects is probably a good thing and in any event, it is irresistible. Thus, risk communication must be incorporated into the use of ERA.

In summary, the communication of risk information should take the form of decision analysis. What options are available and, for each option, what is the set of risks, costs, and benefits? How are these risks, costs, and benefits distributed within the society? These comparisons can actually change the perception of risks so that participative decision-making may proceed on a more rational basis.