Environment, poverty and sustainability [Archives:2006/930/Health]

March 20 2006

Abdulkadir M. Al-Ariki
It is very important that government decisions result from an effective process in which all aspects relevant to each or all sector policies and plans have been examined well in an integrated and comprehensive manner. Hence, in light of the National Poverty Strategy and relevant sector policy, each sector is responsible for integrating environmental concerns into its own activities so it will contribute effectively to poverty reduction and sustainability of relevant programs, plans and projects and their incorporation throughout the project cycle.

Accordingly, to achieve sustainability targets, one of the main and most effective means is to adopt and implement outcomes of the Environmental Impact Assessment/ Environmental Management Plan (EIA/EMP).

The idea behind the EIA mainly consists of first making a list of a proposed project's expected environmental impacts before making a decision so it can contribute effectively to project sustainability.

For example, in the water sector, to which public health is linked closely (both sub-sectors agricultural & water supply and sanitation programs), proper incorporation of environmental concerns like the EMP resulting from EIA, will lead the irrigation and water utilities program respectively, to reduce poverty and enhance public health conditions and conduct the project in a sustainable manner. That is, making services work for poor people, in line with the advice of the World Development Report 2004, which emphasizes that broad improvement in human welfare will not occur unless the poor receive wider access to affordable, better quality services in health, education, water, sanitation and electricity. Without such improvements in services in a sustainable manner, freedom from illness and freedom from illiteracy will remain elusive to many.

Various large international organizations also use this method. One is the World Bank, which describes EIA's goal as being “to improve decision making and ensure that project options under consideration are environmentally sound and sustainable.” However, knowing that EIA studies are carried out, thereby expending much money, effort and energy, the issue of implementing and practically following up incorporating this goal into projects should be given priority.

When is EIA used?

Recently in many countries, including Yemen (mainly in water and road projects), EIA is compulsory by law for large projects such as constructing railway lines, roads, housing areas, installations, power stations, water and incineration plants. A process called “screening” is required to determine whether an EIA is required.

The essence of EIA is to obtain correct information and guarantee a good decision making process needed by decision makers to arrive at a balanced judgment leading to sustainability and poverty alleviation or at least its progressive reduction. This information is set out in an environmental impact assessment (EIS).

Poverty and sustainability of water supply

Enforcing practical implementation of water supply and sanitation projects in a systematic sustainable manner, by both government and donors, surely will render them more feasible and sustainable technically, financially, socio-economically and institutionally. Particularly, that EMP content resulting from EIA outcomes consists of mitigation measures; monitoring and auditing plans; and strengthening and building capacities of relevant responsible institutions and agencies.

In 1997, Yemen's Ministry of Water and Environment adopted a water sub-sector adaptable loan program for urban centers aimed at sustaining the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Project (UWSSP). It also adopted a water strategy and investment program (2005-2009) in 2003, stressing sustainable water sector management in Yemen and giving priority to domestic use by both urban and rural citizens. Additionally, it targets reducing poverty by encouraging and enhancing efficient water supply usage, as well as reaching an equitable level in allocating and distributing available water resources by enforcing and reviving the enhanced traditional partnership of water management in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

Accordingly, EIA/EMP implementation through systematic follow-up of the water sub-sector is to obtain a relevant preferable option that provides correct information to decision makers to make balanced and right decisions leading to water resources sustainability.

Practical EMPs are set out in a public document in the form of an EIS or EMP; hence, the practice of translating EIS/EMP recommendations into legal conditions (as per current UWSSP project main purposes, giving lessons to future relevant projects) and obligations; that is, translating mitigation measures into practical implementable planning conditions and obligations.

Research affirmed that lack of matching between practices of those producing EIS/EMPs and planning authorities' expectations led to inefficiency and possibly emasculation of EIAs through failure to implement mitigation measures. Hence, project unsustainability will continue leading to poverty, unemployment and public health deterioration.