Which Way Environmental Impact Assessment in Kenya?

The author, Mr Amimo Sam. Photo/ Courtesy

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

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Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture in Kenya (MESHA) is an association of communicators who are specialized in science, environment, agriculture, health, technology and development reporting.
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14 Responses to Which Way Environmental Impact Assessment in Kenya?

  1. Asaka Jerry says:

    Wonderful!
    There’s serious need to create public awareness on the significance of EIAs. I worked as an EIA Expert in Kenya for close to three years and what dismayed me was the level of ignorance among members of the general public about EIA. Even among the developers, whereas most of them are aware of EIA, a good percentage of them are not actually aware of its significance other than making their proposed developments environmental regulations compliant.
    I appreciate that most of the EIA practitioners do go an extra mile in trying to create awareness about the essence of EIAs, just like the author of this article, but I think NEMA has the capacity to do more. Through its environmental education department it should roll out an EIA awareness creation specific campaign through out the country. This should not focus so much on the compliance bit but rather emphasis should be given to the key essence of an EIA which in the basic sense is “giving a thought to the environment whenever we intend to embark on any development activity(ies).” And not necessarily just the ones listed on EMCAs second schedule.
    Emphasis on compliance without making the public and developers aware of the key tenet of an EIA study is a recipe for ecological disaster.

  2. Koros says:

    EIA should be seen as part of wider campaign for environemental conservation which I think has gained some currency in the country. Indeed I concur with the writer that most developers undergo the process mainly to be compliant with the regulations in place, which is responsible in part to the corruption witnessed in the sector. There is need to sensitize the public more on the issue so that they also play their proper role in the process. Kenyans should be made aware of the main objective of the process.

  3. Requirement by the National Environment Management Authority(NEMA) that the proponent has to submit approved acrhcitectural and structural drawings as well as bill of quantities before approving an environmental empact assessment (EIA) project/study report has been like the issue of between the egg and the chiken which one came first. In my humble opinion, they should not be conditions for NEMA to approve an EIA project/study report. Instead NEMA should approve an EIA project/Study report and then make them part of the license conditions i.e the project shall not commence before the propnent submits approved architectural/structural drawings to NEMA. The reason being that even banks cannot given a proponent loan for the project in question with the EIA License from NEMA. There have been cases where the planning departments also insist on seeing the EIA License before approving the drawings. What happens if NEMA insists on drawings approved by the planning department and the same planning department also insists on seeing EIA License from NEMA before approving the drawings? NEMA need to liaise with other lead agencies to avoid such a scenerio. To be fair to NEMA, there is a need to submit drawings to enable them have an idea of the project they are approving but they should NOT insist on approved drawings.

    Indeed issues have been raised on a number of projects NEMA has licensed including members of the public demonstrating against a project with an EIA license. This is mainly due to inadequate public consultation by lead/associate EIA experts as well as lead agencies failing to forward their comments to NEMA despite NEMA sending the EIA reports to them. The way forward is for all lead agencies to have EIA desks with an officer stationed there to respond to EIA reports forwaded by NEMA. The EIA desk officer in every government department should have forwading of comments to NEMA as part of his/her performance contract. The main reason why most lead agencies dont forward their comments to NEMA is that providing comments to EIA reports forwaded to them by NEMA is never part of their perfomance contract. Some of these lead agencies also lack capacity to comment on the EIA reports as they have not employed environmentalists, something they should do.

    It is true most proponents seek EIA license simply to comply with the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA), 1999 requirement. Most proponents have EIA Licenses yet they are not aware of the contents of the EIA project/study report which resulted into the EIA license. They sign reports compiled by lead experts without reading since all they are interested in is the EIA License or they do not have the capacity to comprehend its contents due to the professional environmental language used in the EIA report. It is a fact NEMA lacks capacity, approximately 300 employees including subordiante staff cannot serve 40 million Kenyans. Most districts have only one officer in the name of District Environment Officer without vital equipments like a vehicle. It is not possible for a District Environment Officer for a large District for instance like the larger Turkana which is almost the size of some provinces in Kenya to deliver own his/her own without a vehicle. There is need for the Ministry of Finance to facilitate NEMA more (i.e in terms of increased funding, more vehicles, more staff etc) for the issues raised by the writer, Mr. Amimo Sam to be adequately addressed.

    With enhanced capacity, NEMA’s department of environmental education will be able to create more awareness and eneble proponents understand the benefits of EIA and EMCA,1999 in general and not just for the purpose of complying with a legal requirement per se. All in all, even with the limited capacity NEMA’s department of education has, they are able to do more than what they have so far done.

    Caleb Okoth Mango is a Lead Environmental Impact Assessment Expert based in Nairobi.

    • Amimo Odongo says:

      This is fantastic Caleb and as a seasoned environmentalist with reasonable experience both in government and private sector, i believe you can do more by contributing your bit in working towards realization of the original intentions of EIA both as a tool and process.

  4. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on development projects is the in thing for the success of any project.

  5. This web site definitely has all of the information I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  6. Philip K. Chesang says:

    This is an informative article for those intending to undertake development of projects. It should be npted that EIA is a powerful planning and management tool which if considered not a a tool just to comply with regulations it shall sort out environmental conservation issues that have largely been ignored. There is lack of synchrony among various agencies that authorise the development of a project. In my view it should be the first document that developers should have before seeking approval for development in the various counties.

    Philip Chesang – EIA/EA Lead Expert

  7. ABEL ONGERI says:

    EIA should be seen as a process to enhance environmental sustainability and not a punishment or creation of a bureaucracy in the government. As my able experts have reiterated, much has been done by EIA/EA experts but NEMA as a government agency can do more. Features of corruption like those that have been seen in other goverment departments should have zero tolerance in NEMA if we are to save our environment for sustainable livelihoods.

  8. Jim Wakaimba says:

    Great article.Lead experts should also consider ” impact investing” in their consultancy services.If the experts take it upon themselves to guide and assist the proponents in complying with the Environmental Management Plans developed during assessments then they will be making some financial progress while impacting positively on the environment.Some kind of symbiotic arrangement with the environment.Earn by preserving it.

  9. Cris says:

    Excellent article written by the author to express views and explanations related to the subject. Thanks for your great efforts.goto

  10. peter says:

    This was a good article mentioning the environmental impact assessment in Kenya. It is high time that we take necessary steps to take environmental friendly attitude and it is a good initiative by the EIA to check if it has a positive and negative impact. Keep up the good work.read more

  11. ameka says:

    How can one become an EIA expert in Kenya and what are the steps one needs to follow to carry out an EIA?

  12. am really pleased with this article since it develops greatly students who pursue EIA. Congratulations to all who have disclosed their knowledge on this wonderful page.

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