Residents often find projects sprouting up in their neighbourhoods they know nothing about. No consultation has been carried out, raising eyebrows about the processes that are supposed to safeguard environmentally sensitive areas in Harare. Has an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) been done and what does it mean?
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 1994, an EIA is a planning tool used to identify, predict and assess potential impacts, negative or positive, that may arise from planned projects and come up with ways with which to minimise negative impacts and enhance positive ones.
An EIA should predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
The EIA policy is administered by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climatic Change. The Minister is the lead authority and s/he may delegate such authority to any other individual or agency. Currently this authority has been given to the Director of the Environment Management Agency (EMA), who has been delegated the responsibility for overseeing the processing of EIA submissions.
The policy applies to both public and private sector development activities. Activities that are likely to affect environmentally sensitive areas such as National Parks, wetlands, dambos and vleis, productive agricultural land, national monuments and important archaeological and cultural sites, areas protected under legislation, (e.g. the Natural Resources Act, the National Monuments Act), areas containing rare or endangered flora and fauna and areas containing unique or outstanding scenery are all subject to the EIA policy. “An activity shall not receive the necessary approval from the relevant licencing authorities to proceed unless, and until, the ministry has excused the activity from or has granted the requirements of the EIA Policy or has granted ‘EIA Acceptance,” said Steady Kangata, EMA’s Environmental, Education and Publicity Manager.
According to Kangata, there are screening guidelines once a prospectus has been received and reviewed by the Ministry. Exemptions are made especially if the activity will cause significant public concern because of potential environmental changes. An ‘EIA Acceptance’ is granted when the Ministry determines that the assessment of an activity has been sufficiently thorough to actually pinpoint the environmental impacts which it is likely to cause, as well as measures for managing them. EIA Acceptance does not, however, mean that the environmental impacts of an activity are acceptable to the ministry – if objections are made then it can overturn the earlier acceptance decision.
All formal submissions under the EIA Policy are made to the Ministry through EMA. EMA is supposed to maintain a register of all activities being reviewed under the policy.
Kangata says that under the procedure, a developer or investor (proponent/s) must fund the EIA themself. Government is then responsible for reviewing EIA submissions. The preparation of an EIA report is the responsibility of the proponents. The Ministry provides routine and technical advice.