Environmental Impact Assessment; has it failed in Kenya?

Environmental Impact Assessment

The nature of life is such that, human beings exist within physical structures, both natural and artificial that together creates the environment. These structures include land, water, atmosphere, climate, sound, smell, taste, plants and animals. It is necessary to put in place some conservation policies in order to guarantee not just a quality life through improving the economic, social and cultural activities, but also to ensure access to safe and clean drinking water, good food, quality healthcare and housing.

Sporting and other social events like religious and cultural rites as well as a good habitat for plants and animals provide a communal identity. In short, the environment we live in is a natural source in itself, in which human beings derive their social, cultural and economic development. The Constitution of Kenya stipulates a right to a clean and healthy environment in article 42 where it states “…the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures…” Article 69 further creates an obligation on the state, both national and county governments, to respect the environment. They are required to ‘ensure sustainable exploitation, utilization, management and conservation of the environment and natural resources, and ensure the equitable sharing of the accruing benefits; to encourage public participation in the management, protection and conservation of the environment; establish systems of environmental impact assessment, environmental audit and monitoring of the environment; eliminate processes and activities that are likely to endanger the environment, and utilize the environment and natural resources for the benefit of the people of Kenya.

What is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?

Environmental impact assessment is the process of critically assessing the possible effects of a project on environment. It is a tool used by decision makers to identify both positive and negative effects that a proposed project poses to the environment, how it affects the people around, their property and other activities. The decision to kick-start a project is usually highly dependent on the EIA report from environmental experts. No project is actually allowed to start before an EIA report is filed. The EIA report is usually guided by the following principles:

  • It should be able to achieve sustainable development.
  • It should be used as a tool to implement environmental management rather than a tool to gain project proposals.
  • It should be integrated in the project life cycle to ensure that environmental information is provided at the right time.
  • It should have a significance effect on the environment and human health.
  • It should include an analysis of feasible alternatives to the proposed action.
  • It must have meaningful opportunities for public participation.
  • It should be carried out in a multi-or inter-disciplinary manner using practicable science.
  • It should integrate information on social, economic and biophysical aspects.

Environmental impact assessment has been a recognized project planning tool in Kenya for more than 30 years and African nations, alongside Kenya, have passed a legislation that makes EIA mandatory, especially if the project at hand is large or in other words ‘environmentally sensitive.’ Kenya, since independence, has always pursued policies and strategies that aim at achieving reasonably high levels of development for the rapidly increasing population.

With the high levels of development and increase in population, the natural resources have become severely stressed due to unsustainable use leading to scarcity in different parts of the country. It is for this reason that the government of Kenya made it imperative to harmonize environmental laws under Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) to coordinate environmental management. The EMCA (1999) clearly makes EIA mandatory for all projects specified in the Act.

In the same breath, the Government of Kenya, under the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), proposes to “integrate environmental conservation in economic development to provide sustainable development for posterity.” This includes integration of environmental considerations in development planning at all levels; promotion of environmentally sound use of both renewable and non-renewable resources in the process of national development; establishment of an institutional framework for coordinating, monitoring, and enforcing environmental regulations and standards; and finally providing human and financial resources to support an environment and development. Kenya, therefore, hasn’t failed but instead made strides in the conservation of the environment by performing EIAs before any major project is kick-started.