The quality of environmental impact reports for projects with the potential of affecting wetlands
Moloto, Makoma Johanna
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Listed development activities, which may have a substantial detrimental effect on the environment require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). One of the important elements of the EIA process is the submission of a scoping report and/or an environmental impact report (EIR) to the relevant government department and to, specialist and interested and affected parties for review, in order to determine whether the report is adequate and/or whether a greater quantity of information is required before a decision for project approval can be made. Information available in the reports to decision-makers with regard to developments with the potential of affecting wetlands can play a significant role regarding the protection and/or destruction of wetlands. The acceptance of the assessments reports after the authority review process depends, inter aha, upon the quality of the report. However, the current DEAT guideline document on EIA regulations (DEAT, 1998a) does not provide specific guidance to EIA practitioners in considering wetlands within the current EIA, nor any guidance on what a good EIA should include for projects that have the potential of impacting on wetlands, as observed with the World Bank guideline document on EIA and wetlands. Hence, this study aimed at assessing the quality of the EIA assessment reports of four projects with the potential of impacting on wetlands. The objectives of the study included the review by independent reviewers of the quality of four-selected impact reports using a checklist, analysis of the review process results and provision of recommendations to improve the quality of environmental impact reports for projects with the potential of impacting on wetlands. Based on the review results it is concluded that: -The four reports were rated as satisfactory despite some omissions and/or inadequacies observed. -The identification and evaluation of impacts, which forms the core area of the EIA, process was weakly performed. -The review method is fairly robust and consistent/reliable. The following were recommended: -The availability for and use of a quality review checklist by EIA practitioners and authorities as an additional tool to the EIA regulations (DEAT 1997), and the Integrated Environmental Management series (DEAT, 2002) can further improve the quality of the reports for projects with the potential of affecting wetlands. -The availability for and use by EIA practitioners of a wetland review checklist will assist in ensuring that all key aspects are addressed before submission to the relevant authority i.e. the report is scientifically and technically sound; the report is clearly and coherently organised and presented so that it can be understood and that it has addressed all the important issues to make a decision about the proposed development. This will further assist in fast-tracking the approval process usually delayed by the request of additional information from the applicant as a result of inadequate reports. -Regular use of the review checklist by EIA practitioners and authorities for ascertaining the quality of the environmental impact reports will contribute to a baseline of EIR quality for evaluation of Wetlands EIA practice under the new regulations due in 2005.