|Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (UNU, 1999, 375 pages)|
The process of environmental impact assessment started at the beginning of the 1970s. During the following years, general interest in environmental management has steadily increased in both developed and developing countries. During this period, the awareness of the importance of environmental protection and our knowledge of the complex and dynamic interrelationships between environment and development issues has improved significantly as well.
Neither developed nor developing countries form homogeneous groups in terms of their approaches to environmental management or the progress they have made in managing their environment. Generally speaking, formal assessment as an integral part of national efforts to manage the environment properly is less advanced in developing countries compared to the Western nations. The environmental conditions in many countries in transition are also different. Overall, most countries now require an environmental assessment of all major development projects. However, the actual implementation of this policy varies significantly from one country to another, and some times even from one part to another within the same country. Furthermore, it should be noted that whereas some developing countries, such as the Philippines, required environmental impact assessments of major development projects as early as in 1977, a few important industrialized countries, such as the Federal Republic of Germany, institutionalized similar requirements only about a decade later.
Numerous developing countries have already made EIA mandatory for clearance of projects. Organizations such as the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank currently insist that proper environmental assessments must be carried out so that the projects will be eligible to receive loans. Thus, numerous EIAs have been carried out in developing countries in recent years because of national and international requirements. My own personal estimate indicates that the Asian developing countries alone have already carried out more than 15000 environmental impact assessment studies. Unfortunately, however, no objective evaluation has been conducted on the overall quality of these assessments, and/or to what extent they have managed to protect and enhance the environment. The few evaluations that are available are of limited use because of their academic and abstract nature.
On the basis of my own personal experience as a Senior Advisor to 17 developing countries and all major development-oriented international institutions, it is clear that EIA has often become a mechanistic process. The "means'', that is EIA, is receiving almost exclusive attention, and the "end'', that is implementation of EIA to improve the environment, is often not getting appropriate consideration. Analysts often have no clear idea as to what type of information is needed by environmental managers to make rational and timely decisions. Furthermore, too much emphasis is often given to data collection, and not enough on their analysis, interpretation, and their overall environmental implications.
Another major problem stems from the fact that monitoring and evaluation of the actual environmental impacts of projects are mostly conspicuous because of their absence. Unquestionably, monitoring and evaluation are absolutely essential to ensure that the compliance measures agreed to are properly carried out within the agreed timeframe. Equally, only regular monitoring and evaluation would give a clear picture not only of the accuracy of environmental assessment techniques used, but also would provide actual post-project environmental conditions. Thus, absence of proper monitoring and evaluation is now a major handicap for rational environmental management in developing countries.
Faced with these constraints, the United Nations University decided to develop a text which emphasizes the EIA requirements of developing countries. The present text is the direct result of this effort.
The project could not have been started or completed without the strong support and encouragement of Dr. Juha I. Uitto, Senior Programme Officer of the United Nations University. I am also most grateful to my co-author, Dr. Prasad Modak, who is one of India's leading environmental scientists and who did a lion's share of work for this book. I am thus most grateful to Dr. Uitto and Dr. Modak for making this text possible.
Asit K. Biswas
Project Coordinator, UNU