Development is the improvement in people’s living standards and welfare. Our environment forms the basis for our livelihood.
Development is therefore about people using the resources (air, water, and everything else 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 has resulted in the environment being deteriorated with unanticipated environmental costs that exceed the benefits.
Widespread negative impacts such as habitat destruction, habitat loss, loss of animal or plant species, desertification and soil loss, and flooding have become more common.
The realization of the environmental impacts of development projects has led to international discussions about sustainable natural resource usage in order to preserve environmental integrity.
This led to the adoption and promotion of sustainable development.
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development(WCED), sustainable development is the growth that meets today’s needs without compromising the future.
The environment and development are seen as complements. Development can only be achieved when the environment is well maintained.
It is because of this that the industry is under greater social and legal pressure to make environmentally responsible developments.
As such, the concept of Integrated Environmental Management, in which Environmental Impact Assessment is a key component, was developed as a management tool that leads to sustainable development.
The EIA therefore is based on the sustainability principle, which ensures that all developments are economically viable, socially just and environmentally friendly.
The EIA focuses on creating the right balance of resource utilization for socio-economic transformation as well as environmental sustainability.
In light of the above discourse, section 29 (1) of Environmental Management Act No. 12 of 2011 grants the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), power to regulate activities in advance of their implementation.
“A person may not undertake any project which could have an adverse effect on the environment, without the written approval from the Agency and only in compliance with any conditions set forth in that approval.”
According to the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Regulations (Environmental Impact Assessment), Statutory Instruction No. ZEMA can only approve an application under section 29 of the Environmental Management Act if an EIA has been completed.
EIA in a glance
EIA is a systematic investigation into the environmental conditions of the proposed development. Then, it is followed by an assessment of how the development or project will impact the entire environment. Physical, biological, and socio-economic aspects.
It is conducted before the project begins.
This could be a new project, or an expansion of an existing one.
It gives decision makers information about the expected positive and negative effects of the said projects.
EIA aims to highlight and respond; what is expected to change if the project goes ahead; how much change can be expected and whether these changes are important; and what should you do about the expected changes.
The EIA process considers three core values.
They include integrity, which emphasizes fairness and objectivity in the decision-making process; utility which emphasizes that there is balanced and credible information available for decision making; sustainability, which emphasizes the need to ensure that the process has environmental safeguards.
EIA processes must be transparent and include all parties (IAPs) in order to be considered credible and effective. local communities, Government authorities, developers, investors, NGOs etc.
To facilitate decision making, it should highlight the major positive and adverse impacts of the project. It must also establish effective coordination and communication avenues between stakeholders.
The EIA also relies on in-built environmental monitoring to monitor and audit compliance to certain options and performance standards. It must be able quantify and evaluate identified impacts for resource accounting purposes.
The EIA process involves several actors, including project proponents, investors and government ministries (lead agencies), investors, government departments (lead agents), the private and public sectors, local communities, NGOs, politicians and traditional leaders, as well consultants.
Each of these parties plays an important role in ensuring that an EIA process is completed satisfactorily.
There are two main types of stakeholders involved in the administration and management of the EIA process: primary and secondary.
The ZEMA is the primary stakeholder.
Secondary stakeholders refer to the general public as well as all IAPs.
These parties are vital in the EIA process because they provide crucial information that will be considered for decision making as well as inclusion in the project management plan.
The developer is responsible for the administration of the EIA process.
Developers are responsible for preparing the project document, completing EIA, and meeting management requirements resulting in EIA recommendations or expectations of the public.
Any government ministry, department, public corporation or public officer, referred to as a sectoral agency, planning authority, authorising agency, refers to any government ministry, department, public corporation, authority, or public official in which, or whom, any regulation or bylaw confers power and functions to authorize or control any aspect of any proposed or existing government policy or legislation.
Their main responsibility is to ensure projects meet the sectoral requirements. The Agency is responsible for this.
ZEMA administers the EIA process according to the EIA Regulations SI. No. 28 of 1997.
This law gives it the power to identify projects for whom EIAs are required.
ZEMA facilitates the review of an EIA, and issues decisions on projects that have been submitted for review.
The public and IAPs then provide information about the environment, community goals, and aspirations related to the proposed development. This helps in the social, cultural, and economic evaluation and in project management.
Categories of EIAs in Zambia
The EIA Regulations include schedules that define how projects are classified.
All development projects that are listed under the First and 2nd Schedules of 1997’s EIA regulations must undergo an EIA.
ZEMA decides whether or not an EIA should take place for projects that are not listed in these schedules.
EIA Regulations require that projects, which were not completed before the EIA Regulations, be developed and implemented Environmental Management Plans.
The nature of the project determines which class to choose.
The first schedule is for Environmental Project Brief (EPB); the second schedule for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS).
EIS projects are those that have the potential to have significant adverse effects on the environment. EPB reports are for projects that have been assessed to have low environmental impacts.
The screening stage determines whether the project needs an EPB, an EIS or none.
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The project initiator then prepares Terms of Reference (ToRs), which will be reviewed by the Agency.
Next comes the Environmental Assessment (EA), which is the reporting and review of the data before a decision is taken.
A post-EA stage involves compliance monitoring, auditing, and reporting.
ZEMA issues a decision letters on a project within forty days of receiving the EPB. An EIS project decision is made within 65 working day.
EIS can extend this period up to 122 Days depending on the need for public hearings.
ZEMA can issue a decision letter with reasons or approval with conditions.
It is important to remember that all submissions made by stakeholders involved in the EIA process will be critically analyzed to ensure that decisions are in line with sustainable development principles.
IAPs should be familiar with project approval conditions as they can affect the project proponents.
The attached conditions are generally based upon mitigation factors/measures that project proponents propose, information independently obtained from the Agency through verification inspections and comments from other regulatory bodies or IAPs.
A quick glance at approval conditions reveals most of the views of all parties in the EIA process.
The EIA allows for the identification of potential significant environmental effects and their mitigation, remediation or minimization at an early stage.
EIA promotes community participation by making information about the likely effects of the event available.
This process promotes sustainable development by protecting the environment and maximizing the use of resources.
The author is ZEMA Manager, Corporate Affairs.