Impact assessments on the up in Pakistan

The number of environmental impact assessments being carried out prior to sensitive developments in Pakistan has seen a surge - but question marks still remain over their effectiveness.

The study, carried out by the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan, found that while the intention was often there, reliable data on which to base conclusions was hard to come by.

These problems were compounded by a lack of technology and lab reports, the study said.

According to the findings, every consultant must collect primary data from scratch, which is time-consuming and costly.

Public participation, which performs a vital scrutiny role, is limited as few attend public hearings.

Researchers said this was because hearings are poorly promoted and many people are illiterate which makes them feel disenfranchised and unable to get involved.

Obaidullah Nadeem, co-author of the study, said scepticism remains among members of Pakistan’s industry.

But he added that the conditions placed on funding by international donors – who require environmental impact assessments (EIAs) before financing public development projects – and independent efforts by Pakistan’s high court, the superior judiciary, have ensured that EIAs are conducted widely.

The researchers called for more support for the government’s Environmental Protection Agency and related departments at the district and provincial level to undertake EIAs, including more government funding, technical training and provision of advanced technological equipment.

EIAs have caused controversy in Pakistan as they are often approved despite public reservations, according to Hammad Naqi a spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan.

Naqi added that, under current regulations, anyone can claim to be a consultant and conduct the EIA.

Moreover, the government’s Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to evaluate the EIAs as an independent third party, but does not have the capacity to review them.

The study also found cases where existing reports had been republished, with little new data or updates.

David Gibbs

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