Environmental Impact Assessment as a tool for development

Discussing the need for harsher environmental policies in developing countries can be unpopular. Having ourselves in North America and Europe benefited from economic wealth at the detriment of our own resources, having brought unclean oil extraction to Africa and exported our dirty manufacturing jobs to Asia, we can seem hypocritical and out of place suggesting the need for better environmental policies in developing countries. Furthermore, environmental worries justifiably must come second to basic human needs and standard of living. However, I believe that environmental consciousness and growing economies can not only be complimentary, but also synergistic. Setting in place a simple environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework, either at a national level or even at local level, can help struggling countries develop in a sustainable and long-term way.

As the following video on Sudan shows, environmental degradation not only affects the well being of animals and ecosystems, it has very real implications on the economic development and the livelihoods of entire regions. The country already has problems with agricultural practices threatening the viability of soils to grow food or resist to erosion for example, while now having to deal with the expansion of new industries such as forestry or oil.

Conclusions of a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on issues in Sudan

As the case of Sudan demonstrates, smart-decision making today relating to environmental and resource management issues can have tremendous consequences on the country’s future economic growth, peace and stability. To help inform policy makers and decision makers, several international agencies have recommended the introduction and use of EIAs which have been applied mainly by foreign aid organizations. Various countries have also begun implementing EIA as part of its decision making. However, its use needs to be expanded to the local population and popularized. Not only is the format adaptable to the constraints of the countries or region, it can be used at various levels. We usually think of an EIA as taking place at a governmental levels, however it can also be a source of great help at much more local and individual levels. The mechanisms of scoping the possible issue, studying the environment, using local knowledge as a source of information and applying mitigation measures can be set up within villages or small communities. It can even be used by a farmer wishing to expand his activity by using the general framework EIA to inform his decision and make a sensible choice for today and the future. Such adaptability is essential in countries where bureaucracy and governments can be undependable and even corrupt. Critics will argue that an EIA is limited where legislation offers little or no legal recourse for enforcement. Furthermore, they will point to a possible lack of scientific information on ecological processes and thresholds. However, this can be compensated through the use local knowledge of the region and by the realization of communities to the need of limiting their impact on the environment for better prosperity. As the following video demonstrates, efforts towards sustainability are already present, with particular attention to the local ecosystem and relying on the use of local knowledge.

News report produced by young students in Kenya on the United Nations Millenium development goals and local initiatives

Popularizing EIA can therefore help improve efforts and decisions-making in developing countries where the environment often comes second to short-term development. The inclusion of local knowledge, the adaptability and the simplicity of an EIA can lead communities and countries towards a more sustainable economic growth model without repeating the past mistakes of developed countries. Various developing counties have already adopted the framework but it is necessary to encourage the expansion and the comprehensiveness of  its use.

References :

Alshuwaikaht, Habib M. “Strategic Environmental assessment Can Help Solve Environmental impact assessment Failures in Developing Countries.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 25.4 (2005): 307-17.

Appiah-Opoku, Seth. “Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries: The Case of Ghana.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 21.1 (2001): 59-71.

Noble, B.F. (2010)- Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment, A Guide to Principles and Practice (OXFORD University Press, 2nd Edition). ISBN 978-0-19-543962-6

Wood C. Environmental impact assessment in developing countries. Int Dev Plan Rev 2003;25:301-21.



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