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Methodological Shortcomings of the EIA Process Undermine Its Ability to Promote Sustainable Development Essay


Environment Impact Assessment is one of the most important factors that one should always consider when planning to come up with any piece of construction. Before putting up a structure in a place where it was not exiting before, one must evaluate the impact of that structure to various stakeholders and to the natural environment.

It is only through this that the existence of such building shall be harmonious. According to Bellinger (2000, p. 90), environmental impact assessment has always been associated with large commercial buildings, mostly in large urban centers. This scholar says that this notion is wrong.

According to the scholar, one has a responsibility to conduct impact of any structure he or she is putting up irrespective of the size or the place where the structure is put up. For instance, when an individual plans to develop a building in his or her piece of land, it will be important to consider how this building will affect nature and the immediate population in this area. Doing this helps create harmony.

Conducting a successful Environmental Impact Assessment requires a clearly planned methodology that would help get a clear impact of erecting the structure. The methodology must be clearly defined, and all inclusive. As Lawrence (2003, p. 38) states, EIA always aims at promoting sustainable development. Nature is very delicate, and it will always give back what human activities give out to it.

Planning is therefore, very important when one intends to have a major activity done on a piece of land. When there is a methodological flaw in an EIA process, there will definitely be a negative consequence to the structure that is being put in place. In this study, the researcher is interested in critically evaluating the claim that methodological shortcoming of an Environmental Impact Assessment process undermines its ability to promote sustainable development.

Role of EIA in Promoting Sustainable Development

According to Morgan (2001, p. 86), sustainable development refers to the ability of a project or projects to bring a positive differential change within a given environment for a specified duration of time. A project will be sustainable if its negative impacts are very low as compared to the benefits it brings. When conducting an EIA, the main concern is always to ensure that the project is sustainable.

It is important to ensure that before putting up a major building, experts should investigate the impact it would have to the society and to the environment. Sustainable environment is part of sustainable development. For this reason, it is important to make sure that when putting up a structure, care should be taken to take environmental concerns into consideration.

A building will always have an impact on the environment. For instance, when vegetation has to be cleared to create room for a building, this will be a direct negative impact on the environment (Christie 2008, p. 58). The situation will be worsened by the fact that people who will be staying in such new building will further contribute to environmental degradation.

They will be polluting the environment in various ways, and they would further bring about destruction of vegetation in this area. EIA comes in to ensure that development projects, such as erection of buildings, brings about positive impact in the environment. When a forest has to be cleared to allow for a house to be built, EIA will help come up with measures to ensure that there is a compensatory measures to protect nature.

EIA will also help ensure that people who will be living in this new structure will not affect the environment negatively. Also important is the fact that EIA ensures that those who are currently living in a certain area are not affected by new structures being put in place. All these are aimed at having a sustainable development (Petts 1999, p. 112). As the society develops, it should do so in a manner that is adding positive impact to the society in general.

To achieve sustainable development, care should be taken when conducting an EIA. The approach taken by the officers in charge of taking EIA is very important. Environmental impact assessment is always conducted to free people in the immediate environment from negative consequences of a structure that is poorly planned.

The process should actively engage these people in order to ensure that they give out their input in the report. As Glasson (2005, p. 93) puts it, the first consideration should be on socio-economic impact of the structure.

Protection of the environment is considered part of the socioeconomic aspect in this approach because it will always affect both the social and economic welfare of people. When there are methodological flaws, the ability to promote sustainable development will be undermined.

Methodological Flaws that Undermine Ability of EIA to Promote Sustainable development

In the process of conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment, methodological flaws always arise. This can be a deliberate attempt by corrupt officers who are determined to get approval of the relevant authorities irrespective of the impact this may have on the environment. Methodological flaws may also arise due to limited knowledge of the officers in charge of conducting the EIA.

This may come in form of total ignorance of some of the major factors to be considered when conducting the EIA. Some unscrupulous individuals may also avoid engaging the locals in the process of collecting data in the area of construction.

The building will therefore, be erected without the knowledge and participation of the locals. Such a report will be lacking input of the locals and therefore, unrepresentative (Bruhn & Mats 2002, p. 137). The following are some of the common methodological flaws when conducting an EIA.

Poor Quality of Public Participation

According to George (1999, p. 199), conducting an EIA should involve public participation as much as possible. The essence of conducting an EIA is to ensure that interest of the public is taken care of. When an individual makes a decision to put up a building in a given piece of land, it is important to put into consideration the perception of the locals.

Some of the issues that always arise when putting up a building or any form of structure on a piece of land are always the initial use of that land before the project. There are instances where a parcel of land is considered a playing ground and a social gathering point for the locals. Converting such land into a private land and using it to build a five star hotel may fail to bear the anticipated fruits.

This is because of the possible rebellion that may come from the locals. This may even turn violent, as was the case in Johannesburg, South Africa. The locals at Bedfordfview rose up in arms against a hotel that was put up by a foreign investor in this region. They claimed that the land was a recreational facility for the locals where children could go and play and adult could hold meetings to discuss current issues about the nation.

When the revolt became violent, the investor was forced to move out of the place (Kepe & Ntsebeza 2011, p. 39). The project was very ambitious, but the failure of the concerned officers to engage the public rendered the whole process a total failure.

Public participation is also important when conducting an EIA in order to determine how the new structure will be assimilated by the existing ones. The public will inform the officer of how waste management is done in this region. With this knowledge, it will be possible for the officer to determine how to advise the proponent in regard to waste management.

This way, the new structure will have value to the environment. The new structure will be compliant of the policies and practice set by the locals, and relevant authorities within this region. When the public is allowed to participate in the EIA project, they will feel valued by the proponent of the new building. They will therefore, be willing to help in various ways to ensure that the project is a success.

Poor quality of public participation may also affect the success of coming up with a perfect structure. An EIA officer may not be a local resident of a given area where EIA is conducted. This means that such an officer will have to depend on the locals to get some of the facts about the environment in this region (Jiliberto, Caratti & Dalkmann 2004, p. 28).

Such facts about the path of water when there is excessive rain will be helpful when determining the consequences of putting up a structure. When public participation is ignored, the whole process may not give out desired results.

Dubai City planners failed in a number of ways due to poor participation of the public. The city is home to the tallest building in the world. There are various beautiful buildings in this city. However, it is apparent that the planners of the city were craving at making history with their architectural designs at the expense of having a sustainable city.

Roads in this city meander because some of the buildings were erected on possible routes. Although very dry, this city does receive rainfall. Flooding still remains a challenge although the government has tried to solve the issue. This is because the developers never thought it wise to engage the public. The public would have helped identify some of the main paths of water in the city during rainy seasons. The photograph below shows the city of Dubai on a rainy season.

Dubai on a rainy season

Although most of the Dubai residents were happy to experience this flood, this is a clear sign of poor planning by the concerned city officials. An effective Environmental Impact Assessment would have advised on the best way to put up various structures in this city to avoid cases where buildings block path of run-off water.

The impact of this poor planning is clearly demonstrated in the above picture. This raises questions about sustainability of the city. With the changing weather patterns, Dubai can possibly start receiving consistent rainfall on a yearly basis. With this flooding, some of the buildings may be brought down to reduce danger of buildings crumbling down due to the force of run-off water.

Weak Focus on Biodiversity Issues

Biodiversity is one of the most important factors that should be considered when conducting environmental Impact Assessment. Gasparatos and Horner (2008, p. 301) explain that one of the main concerns of conducting an EIA is to protect nature. As stated above, nature is very delicate. Essentially, biodiversity means life on earth.

In a given ecosystem, there are various living organisms of different species. These living organisms play different roles in ensuring that life is normal. When conducting EIA, care should be taken to ensure that there is a strong focus on issues pertaining biodiversity. There is a possibility that when conducting environmental impact assessment, some of the living organisms may be ignored. For instance, an officer may overemphasize on the impact a project may have on people at the expense of vegetation.

In such reports, the recommendation of the officer will be focused on how to make lives of the residents of that particular region better, turning a blind eye to the need to protect vegetation. When implementing such recommendation, the effect on the vegetation may be devastating. Such an officer will be ignoring the fact that well protected environment will always result in an improved welfare of people concerned.

According to Jay and Wood (2007, p. 289), most of the environmental assessment officers rarely give importance to micro-organisms. Micro-organisms play an important role within a given ecosystem and ignoring them may have negative effect on the environment. When putting up a structure, it is important to ensure that the affluent from the building does not destroy important living organisms within an environment.

This is because it will be hypocrisy for the officer to claim to care for the vegetation while releasing affluent that will destroy nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil. When these bacteria are destroyed, plants will not have enough nitrogen to make them healthy. The consequence will be unhealthy plants that can easily dry off. Destruction of vegetation will make the land unfit for animals that depend on the vegetation for survival.

This will result in a vicious circle where the ultimate victim would be people living in this area. They will be forced to look for food in other areas, because their environment will be too weak to support growth of crops and rearing of livestock.

Sustainable development, according to Morrisson-Saunsders and Retiefa (2012, p. 36), must always be all inclusive. All fronts should be assessed in order to give a clear picture of the real impact of a construction within a specified location. As stated above, there are some aspects within an ecosystem that may be considered minor but are not.

It is true that vegetation, especially trees and grass are always very important within an ecosystem. Most of the EIA reports will therefore, come up with comprehensive report on how new structures will impact on them and measures that should be taken to mitigate negative effects.

However, the vegetation depends on other living non living organisms that may be ignored in the report. As Petts (1999, p. 56) notes, an EIA officer should take an initiative to try to be inclusive when dealing with biodiversity factors. It is through this that an EIA process will be considered to be promoting sustainable development.

Lack of focus on Socio-Economic Impacts

Environmental impact assessment should be conducted taking various factors into consideration. One of the methodological flaws that may take place when conducting an EIA is the inability of the concerned authorities to take into consideration the cumulative impact of a given structure or a building on the environment. A comprehensive environmental Impact assessment should always consider the impact of the structure several years to come.

For instance, when one plans to erect a commercial building, it will be illogical to narrow the focus to the impact the construction will have during the process of construction. This is because the impact during construction is very minor. The effect will probably be the destruction of the vegetation within a small area where construction will be taking place. However, the cumulative impact of this developmental project will be massive.

A commercial building will attract people from other regions whose activities will have direct impact on the environment. When they visit the building, they will leave a trail of massive destruction to some of the members of the ecology in this area. Their activity may destroy grass in a larger area around the building.

Pollution is another likely factor that these people may bring to the environment (Weaver, Pope, Morrison-Saunders & Paul 2008, p. 79). When such a building is a shop or a restaurant, there will be further cumulative impact it will have to the environment. If it is a shop, the building will be a source of waste products, especially the plastic wastes that are used in wrapping. These wastes will be transferred to other areas.

When the building is a restaurant, there will be increased noise pollution within the immediate environment. This may have negative impact to the locals in this area. The rate of crime may also increase in this area. This is because after taking alcohol in the restaurants, an individual may lack the capacity to have full control of their actions.

They may therefore, engage in unlawful acts that may not only affect other members of the society, but also themselves. Then the issue of the family care comes into play. By bringing in a restaurant in this region, the rate at which some individuals will be taking alcohol will be increased (Oosterhuis 2007, p. 47). These individuals may fail to care for their families as would be expected.

Failing to focus on the impact of these socio-economic issues may invalidate an EIA report. The report will be considered as lacking important aspects to make it be considered as a promoter of sustainable development. The impact that will be arising from the construction should be considered in totality, in order to make EIA process a supporter of sustainable development.


Environmental impact assessment is one of the main activities that are always carried out before putting up a structure. This is because before putting up a structure, it is important to be aware of the impact it may have to the people and to the environment around which it is constructed. When conducting an EIA, the methodological approach should be conscious and free from flaws that may jeopardize its finding.

The focus should be on finding all the possible impacts of the structure in order to ensure sustainability of the project. It is clear from the findings of this report, that methodological shortcoming of an EIA process undermines its ability to promote sustainable development.

List of References

Bellinger, E 2000, Environmental assessment in countries in transition, CEU Press, Budapest.

Bruhn, S & Mats, M 2002, ‘Environmental impact assessment—a tool for sustainable development, A case study of biofuelled energy plants in Sweden’ Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 22, no. 2, pp 129–144.

Christie, E 2008, Finding solutions for environmental conflicts: power and negotiation, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Gasparatos, A & Horner, M 2008, ‘A critical review of reductionist approaches for assessing the progress towards sustainability,’ Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 28, no. 8 pp. 286–311.

George, C 1999, ‘Testing for sustainable development through environmental assessment’, Environ Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 19, pp. 175–200.

Glasson, J 2005, Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment, Routledge, London.

Jay, S & Wood, C 2007, ‘Environmental impact assessment: Retrospect and prospect,’ Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 27, no. 4, pp 287–30.

Jiliberto, H, Caratti, P & Dalkmann, H 2004, Analysing strategic environmental assessment towards better decision-making, Wiley, New York.

Kepe, T & Ntsebeza, L 2011, Rural resistance in South Africa: the Mpondo revolts after fifty years, Brill, Cape Town.

Lawrence, D 2003, Environmental Impact Assessment Practical Solutions to Recurrent Problems, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.

Morgan, R 2001, Environmental impact assessment: a methodological perspective, Kluwer Academy Publishers, Dordrecht.

Morrisson-Saunsders, Z & Retiefa, F 2012, ‘Walking the sustainability assessment talk — Progressing the practice of environmental impact assessment (EIA),’ Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 36, no. 9, pp. 34–41.

Oosterhuis, F 2007, Costs and benefits of the EIA Directive, Final report for DG Environment under specific agreement, Institute for Environmental Studies, Cengage, New York.

Petts, J 1999, ‘Part 1: ‘EIA as a decision tool’, section on ‘EIA and sustainable development’ in Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment, Blackwell, Oxford.

Petts, J 1999, Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment, Blackwell, Oxford.

Weaver, A, Pope, J, Morrison-Saunders, A & Paul, L 2008, ‘Contributing to sustainability as an environmental impact assessment practitioner,’ Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, Vol. 26 no. 2, pp. 91–98.

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