Assessing the consideration of health impacts in environmental impact assessment
Rampant industrialisation, urbanisation and other activities pertaining to developmental actions have contributed to the deterioration of the environment. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are therefore now conducted worldwide to gather positive or negative information pertaining to proposed development projects. EIAs enable governments to make decisions on the basis of the potential impact of projects on the environment. However, previous studies that were conducted around the globe have shown that not much importance has been placed on issues of human health in EIAs. The motive for conducting this study was to determine whether the above situation was also true in the South African context. Consequently, the objective of the study was to establish the amount of emphasis placed on health issues in EIA practices and the extent to which health impacts are considered in EIAs in South Africa. The research question that guided this study was: “To what extent are health impacts considered in South African EIA practice?” The Lee-Colley review package, which was adapted to predominately address health impacts, was utilised to conduct a thematic analysis of 23 EIA reports that were produced in several developmental sectors in South Africa, such as mining, power stations, road and rail, and buildings. The review areas were designed using the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) international health guidelines. The results suggest that developmental sectors incorporate health impacts differently within the EIA reports with mining and power station developmental projects taking the leading in considering health impacts in EIAs even thought there were inadequacies which can be due to lack of standardised method of addressing health impacts. The overall assessment revealed that EIA reports incorporated health impacts to a lower extend. Focus of health impacts were mainly on how the projects degraded the air or water quality, or could increase the noise pollution. The direct and indirect effects of health determinants aspects of affected populations, health equity were omitted in the reports. It is essential to educate the environmental practitioners about the need to include health impacts in their EIAs, with an adherence to the IAIA international guidelines. There is a need to allocate a section in the reports to address all health impacts, irrespective of the type of development.
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