The fine balancing act between developing major public and private projects in a manner that does not significantly jeopardise the integrity of the environment is a key focus for environmental scientists.
There have been significant developments in the way environmental considerations have been managed over the past twenty years, however, implementing environmental legal frameworks within complex political, economic and social contexts remains a challenge. Environmental concerns need to be properly considered from the beginning of any infrastructure development strategy.
We have seen the implementation of an array of impressive environmental legislation throughout major African counties, not only aimed at conserving natural resources but also to ensure sustainable economic growth. The challenge that exists however is not in the formation of legislation, but in the thorough implementation and enforcement thereof.
Executing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in countries with a broad range of cultures and political systems requires a skilful and systematic approach. The key to managing successful projects is in the development of strong client relationships.
The most efficient projects are those where there is a meeting of minds between the client and the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP). While environmental constraints exist, it is important to consider the development context in Africa, and instead of hampering potential developers' (public and private) goals, EAPs must be resourceful enough to apply relevant best practice methods and solutions to achieve both the client's goals and mitigation of deleterious environmental impacts.
Good governance - information, transparency, accountability and responsibility to resolve potential or existing conflicts is equally important.
Of further importance to managing successful projects is stakeholder engagement. When executing projects outside the country, make use of local social specialists to assist with communication to raise a better understanding of the project and to ensure compliance with the relevant environmental regulations.
In South Africa and Africa as a whole, community buy-in can either make or break a project. Participation by the public is crucial to the EIA process, and you therefore need to be aware of the various social and cultural differences that exist within a particular country.
Sukendrie Paras is the Environmental Licensing Unit Manager at GIBB's.