Role of public in environmental impact assessment
Published On December 27, 2021 » 1584 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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By Friday Phiri –

Development is the process of improving people’s livelihood and welfare to attain a higher standard of living, while the environment is everything about and around us forming the basis of our livelihood.
Thus, development is about people using the resources, such as air, water, land and everything in the environment to meet their needs.
It is without question that the traditional concept of development was largely guided by economic considerations—exploitation of resources for maximum benefits without much regard to the environment and its ramifications on people’s wellbeing.
This disregard has led to the deterioration of the environment with unforeseen environmental costs outweighing the anticipated benefits.
Wide ranging negative impacts manifesting in ecological disturbances, habitat destruction, loss of animal and plant species, desertification, soil loss and floods have become more and more prevalent.
Growing awareness and realisation of the ranges and magnitude of environmental effects of development projects led to worldwide discussions on sustainable ways of natural resource usage to maintain environmental integrity.
This led to the adoption of the concept of sustainable development.
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) sustainable development was defined as the growth that meets the needs of today’s generation without compromising those of future generations.
Environment and development are thus seen as complementary to each other—where the carefully nurtured environment continueto provide the basis for development.
It is for this reason that nowadays, more pressure is placed on industry both socially and legally to undertake new developments in a more environmentally responsible manner.
Consequently, the concept of Integrated Environmental Management of which Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a vital component, has evolved as a management tool leading to sustainable development.
The EIA is therefore based on the sustainability premise which ensures that all development processes are economically viable, environmentally friendly and socially just.
Legal Framework
The EIA is anchored on creating the right balance between resource utilization for socio- economic transformation and environmental sustainability.
It is in view of the aforementioned discourse that section 29 (1) of the Environmental Management Act No. 12 of 2011 confers power on the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) to regulate activities prior to their implementation, as stated:
“A person shall not undertake any project that may have an effect on the environment without the written approval of the Agency, and except in accordance with any conditions imposed in that approval”.
In accordance with the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, Statutory Instrument No. 28 of 1997, ZEMA can only grant approval sought in section 29 of the Environmental Management Act, when an EIA has been undertaken.
EIA at a glance
EIA is a systematic investigation of conditions within the environment of the proposed development or project followed by an assessment of the impacts that the development or project will have on the environment in its totality, i.e. physical, biological and socio-economic aspects.
It is conducted prior to project commencement.
This could be to a new project or expansion of an existing project.
It, therefore, provides decision makers with information on the expected effects, be it positive or negative, of the said projects.
EIA strives to highlight and respond to; what is expected to happen if the project is implemented; how much change is expected to occur and whether the expected changes matter; and what should be done about the expected changes.
There are three core values considered in the EIA process.
They include; integrity, which stresses the importance of fairness and objectivity in the process; utility, which emphasizes on that the process provides balanced and credible information for decision making; and sustainability, underlining that the process must result in environmental safeguards.
Generally, for an EIA process to be effective and considered credible, it must be open and involve all Interested and Affected Parties (IAPs) i.e. local communities, Government authorities, developers, investors, NGOs etc.
It should focus on major positive and negative impacts of the project to facilitate decision making based on a range of alternative courses of action and must create effective co-ordination and communication avenues amongst stakeholders.
The EIA is also premised on in-built environmental monitoring and auditing to ensure adherence to selected options and performance standards and must be able to quantify and evaluate identified impacts, where possible, for resource accounting purposes.
Major players
There are several players in the EIA process which include; project proponents, investors, government ministries and departments (lead agencies), the private sector, local communities, NGOs, politicians, traditional leaders and institutions, the general public and consultants.
Each of these parties play an important role in order to ensure the satisfactory completion of an EIA process.
The major players in the administration of the EIA process are categorized into primary and secondary stakeholders.
Primary stakeholders include; developers or project proponents, sectoral agencies or planning authorities, and the ZEMA.
Secondary stakeholders on the other hand refer to the general public and all IAPs.
These are very important parties in the EIA process, as they provide vital information to be considered for decision making and inclusion in the project management plans.
The administration of the EIA process starts with the developer who conceptualizes a development project.
The responsibility of the developer includes preparation of the project document, completing the EIA, meeting management requirements resulting from EIA recommendations and expectations of the public or IAPs.
Sectoral agencies, planning authorities or authorising agencies refer to any government ministry or department, public corporation, local authority or public officer in which, or whom any regulation or by-law vests power and functions to authorize, control or manage any aspect of a proposed or existing government policy and legislation.
Their main responsibility is to ensure that proposed projects meet all the sectoral requirements, for which the Agency is mandated.
ZEMA implements the administration of the EIA process as outlined in the EIA Regulations, SI. No.28 of 1997.
It is empowered through this law to identify projects for which EIAs are necessary.
Simply put, ZEMA facilitates the review process of an EIA and issues decisions on projects submitted for review.
In turn, the public and IAPs provide information about the local environment, community goals and aspirations in relation to the proposed development, contributing to the social, cultural and economic evaluation of the project and assisting in decision-making as well as the project management process.
Categories of EIA in Zambia
The EIA Regulations provide schedules in which projects are classified.
All development projects listed under the First and Second Schedules of the EIA regulations of 1997 are required to undertake an EIA.
However, for projects not specified in these schedules, ZEMA determines whether an EIA should be carried out or not.
Projects which existed prior to the EIA Regulations are also required to develop and put in place Environmental Management Plans (EMPs).
The two classes depend on the nature of the project.
First schedule is for Environmental Project Brief (EPB); and the second schedule is for Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Projects likely to have significant negative impacts on the environment tend to fall under the EIS category, while the EPB is a report prepared in respect of projects with assessed to have low negative impacts on the environment.
In terms of the stages, the process starts with screening to determine whether the project requires an EPB or an EIS, or none at all.
The project initiator then moves to prepare Terms of References (ToRs), which are reviewed by the Agency.
The next step is Environmental Assessment (EA) reporting and review before a decision is made.
There is also a post EA stage which involves compliance monitoring and auditing.
A decision letter on a project is issued by ZEMA within 40 days of receiving the EPB from the developer while a decision for an EIS project is within 65 working days.
For EIS, this period can be extended up to 122 days depending on the need for public hearings.
The decision letter issued by ZEMA can either be an approval with conditions or rejection with reasons.
It is important to note that all submissions from concerned stakeholders in the EIA process are critically analysed to ensure that decisions made conform to the principles of sustainable development.
IAPs are therefore encouraged to familiarize themselves with conditions attached to project approvals as there lies in the details of what is expected of the project proponents.
The attached conditions are generally formulated on the basis of mitigation factors/measures proposed by project proponents, information independently obtained by the Agency through verification inspections as well as comments from other regulatory bodies and IAPs.
Thus, a quick glance at the conditions for approval, most often than not, reveals the views of all stakeholders in the EIA process.
Benefits of EIA
The EIA allows the likely significant environmental effects of a project to be identified and to be avoided, remedied or minimised at an early stage.
By making the information on the likely significant effects available, EIA helps to allay fears created by a lack of information and promotes community participation.
The process also protects the environment and ensures optimum utilization of resources, thereby promoting sustainable development.
The author is Manager, Corporate Affairs at ZEMA; fphiri@zema.org.zm

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