Integrating Rapid Environmental Assessment and Community EA for Post-Disaster Rehabilitation

Natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes can devastate large populations and in some cases entire countries. In states of emergency, we must account for many things such as people’s lives and health, infrastructure damage, natural resources and contamination. However, it can be difficult to keep track and prioritize these things in many cases. With natural disaster and environmental awareness on the rise, environmental assessment is starting to be used in a post-disaster context [1]. It can help identify the degree of damage and assess the resources still intact as they may be important for reconstruction and rehabilitation, as well as identifying community concerns so that disaster victims can start to rebuild their lives.

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A coastal Indonesian village devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_of_the_2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_on_Indonesia

Standard EIA procedure in a post-disaster situation is not always suitable. There are several contextual differences to consider when performing an EA post-disaster rather than a standard EIA. These differences are outlined in the table below. Natural disasters rarely allow for any planning and fast action is often needed in these urgent situations. After basic human needs are met (food, water, shelter), rapid environmental assessment (REA) should be used as soon as possible, typically within 120 days of the disaster occurrence [2]. REA is a tool to identify and prioritize environmental damage as well as social and economic impacts [3]. Relief efforts will be more effective in the long run if these issues are identified early on because the information gathered from the REA can be incorporated into plans for rebuilding. Since certain areas have higher risks for natural disasters, information collected in a REA can help to better prepare for a future disaster [4].

Although REA helps to identify environmental issues and damage, it does not propose solutions to these problems [5]. There needs to be an additional process to put the information obtained in the REA to use. After the initial emergency response following a disaster, there are many urgent, small scale reconstruction projects that are needed, such as housing projects. Often times following a disaster EIA legislation is suspended, or there may not be enough time or human resources to conduct a full EIA. Community environmental assessment would be a good process to follow REA in a post disaster context. Community EA is local and project-related and has a large emphasis on community involvement. Public participation is not a separate step, as in regular EA, but is the main part of the assessment. Community EA involves quick assessment of existing data, interviews and site visits rather than scientific study and analysis. Community concerns, which otherwise may have been overlooked by aid organizations, are collected, prioritized and incorporated into project design [6]. World Vision and The Canadian International Development Agency funded a project to rebuild in Layeun Village in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami destroyed four coastal villages nearby. At the time, Indonesian EA laws had been suspended.  A community approach was taken and several concerns were identified, such as lack of gardening space around the home, which families rely on to be self-sufficient; proximity of outdoor latrines to kitchen windows, which could cause a foul odor; and accessibility of the land plots [7]. Their concerns could then be incorporated into the project design.

By using REA we can assess damage, prioritize relief efforts and identify safe and suitable locations for temporary or permanent resettlement. Community EA will then identify the main concerns of the residents of devastated communities. There are no doubt some weaknesses in this process: some larger and more complicated projects may require a more detailed assessment; communication and coordination may be difficult in this context; and the concerns of residents may vary greatly from person to person. It will never be easy to organize and re-establish an area after a disaster, but overall the integration of these two assessments in a disaster situation could help with the sustainable rebuilding of communities and restoration of livelihoods.

References:

[1] Gore, T. & Fischer, T. (2013). Policy Integration between EA and Disaster Management. IAIA 2013 Annual Conference Draft Paper. Retrieved from http://www.iaia.org/conferences/iaia13/DraftPapers.aspx.

[2] Kelly, C. (2003). Guidelines for Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment in Disasters. Benfield Hazard Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.forcedmigration.org/sphere/pdf/shelter/benfieldhazard/rea-guidelines-4-2.pdf.

[3] UNHCR (n.d.) Framework for assessing, monitoring and evaluating the environment in refugee-related operations. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/4a9690239.html 

[4] Kelly, C. (2003).

[5] Kelly, C. (2003).

[6] Spaling, H., & Vroom, B. (2007). Environmental assessment after the 2004 tsunami: a case study, lessons and prospects. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal25(1), 43-52.

[7] Spaling, H., & Vroom, B. (2007).

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