Despite the fact that the Kenyan government harmonized environmental laws under Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) 1999 nearly ten years ago, few Kenyans seem to be aware of the goodies of this piece of legislation.
This move was taken by the government for the purposes of coordinating environmental management in the country. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) is the custodian of environmental issues in Kenya.
And by the way what is an EIA?
An EIA is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment, together consisting of the natural, social and economic aspects. It is the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.
Where then does environmental impact assessment (EIA) fall within the law? One only needs to look at the National Environment Action Plan, NEAP (GoK, 1994) and the National Policy on Environment which emphasize the need for environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on development projects.
The Act that I have referred to above makes EIA mandatory for all projects specified in the Second Schedule of the Act.
The purpose of any EIA is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether to proceed with a project. EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.
As I write this article, there are many sticky issues on EIA in the country. Experts have always been baffled by the insistence by NEMA officers that EIA reports be accompanied by approved drawings and project costs.
EIA is supposed to help the developer come up with a clear decision on whether to commit finances on the project depending on its environmental sustainability and social acceptability. If the developer is made to commit financial resources to engage architects, engineers and quantity surveyors to develop architectural drawings and project costs, then of what use is the assessment to him/her? If this situation were to obtain, the developer shall have not benefited from the EIA process if a project in which s/he has spent millions of shillings in fee to consultants is rejected by NEMA.
What is even more worrying is situations where critical environmental issues are raised by stakeholders on projects for which EIAs have been carried out and licences issued. Does this mean that proper public consultations are not carried out, and if not, on what basis are the licences given?
How willing are members of the public in providing critical input in EIA process in order to inform correct decisions? Is there some form of apathy within the ranks of the general public concerning the whole philosophy behind EIA and what informs this apathy?
These are some of the many questions that we need to provide answers to if we are to achieve benefits associated with EIA process as is internationally practiced. NEMA should be more focused than their counterparts in local authorities who are currently bogged down with poor workmanship in the building industry due to weak enforcement of development control regulations.
The author is a Lead EIA/Audit Expert based at Mazingira Limited, Nairobi