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Understanding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process: A critical component of community monitoring.

By Joshua Machinga-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Mining communities are often the ones to bear the effects of environmental, social and cultural devastation that comes with the extraction of resources within their localities. As such, community’s participation in mineral resource governance is critical. The Environmental Management Act (EMAct) (Chapter 20:27) section 4(1)(b) provides for the access to environmental information; and protection of the environment for the benefit of present and future generations and to participate in the implementation of the promulgation of reasonable legislative, policy and other measures……[1]. This is to prevent pollution and environmental degradation; and ensure sustainable management and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

The critical element of community monitoring is participating in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) process. According to Section 97 of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) mining companies are required to undertake an EIA and apply for an EIA Certificate to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). The EIA is a legal requirement in Zimbabwe in terms of the EMAct (Chapter 20:27) as read with Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007. It’s a tool used to define, quantify and evaluate the potential and known impacts of human activities on ecosystems at the earliest stage of project development. It is a technical and administrative procedure whose objective is to identify potential impacts and prevent environmental deterioration generated by human activities.

The objectives of the EIA are to identify potential environmental impacts by human activities such that they can be avoided or mitigated. It also increases public awareness on the environmental effects of non-sustainable production practices. To improve the formulation of environmental policies and to monitor the health of ecosystems as a key element for decision making in environmental management.

The EIA fosters mutual understanding between organizations, proponents and the people affected by the development. It provides the proponent with more realistic and objective information about the constraints placed on it by authorities.

A critical component of community monitoring in the sense that

Section 73 of the Constitution calls for environmental information to be made public and disseminated as widely as possible, for public participation to be guaranteed in decision-making on projects, plans and programmes with significant environmental implications, and for access to justice to be granted to the public in environmental matters. Further to that, section 4 of the EMAct provides for the right to environmental information and participation. Hence an EIA is a critical public informative tool.

In terms of section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as read with section 4 of the EMAct, communities have a right to participate in EIA process. Communities should be empowered to monitor compliance of the mining company with EIA document.

Useful and truthfull information is provided when communities gather. A lot of people are enlightened, the process serves as a platform for capacity building. Everyone is responsible for the outcome. There is a sense of responsibility by being informed. People become aware of issues on the ground. During the process there is validation and verification of facts shared.

It is primed on such an understanding (EIA is a critical component for community monitoring) that Zimbabwe Environmental law Association (ZELA) organised a refresher training on EIA for community monitors. The refresher training focused on the importance of community involvement in the development of the EIA document as well as access to a remedy – how to make use of information gathered during EIA process. The refresher was attended by community monitors from Save-Odzi Community Network Trust (SOCNET), one of the community based organisations (CBOs) in Manicaland.

Key takeaways:

  • In the initial stages of the EIA which are the most critical, the communities are left out and they have no understanding of the importance of the process. As such, it becomes difficult for the communities to understand the importance of the EIA process.
  • The process is often mistaking for politics as a result the communities have lost confidence in the process and do not want to partake
  • Communities are duped, there is no maximum involvement of the communities in the process.
  • Poor information dissemination on EIA.
  • Traditional leaders are ignorant to the EIA process.
  • No feedback mechanisms are in place.

Challenges to effective community monitoring

  • Non-compliance by developers to their Environmental Management Plans
  • Failure to use environmentally friendly technologies at the expense of the environment.
  • Failing to implement conditions of the EIA certificates.
  • Implementation of projects by project developers without EIA certificates and violations of EIA regulations.
  • No environmental consideration in project planning & design and implementation.
  • Environmental pollution and degradation.

In conclusion, given the key takeaways from the training and the challenges to effective community monitoring, it becomes evident that understanding the EIA is a critical component in community monitoring. Information accessibility regarding EIAs should be made readily available and with ease, as stipulated in the Constitution of Zimbabwe section 62 that provides for the access to information. Emphasis is on section 62(1).

Ref notes

[1] Section 4 of the EMAct (Cha. 20:27) provides for environmental rights and principles of environmental management.

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