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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment for Developing Countries
Prasad Modak and Asit K. Biswas

(Aldershot: Ashagte, 1997)
170pp. Bibl. hb.: ISBN 1-85972-640-2 35.00.


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) serves as a tool in policy planning, management, and decision-making. The principle objectives of an EIA are to identify, predict, and evaluate environmental consequences of proposed projects and policies. Modak and Biswas present an overview of EIA techniques, discuss a range of considerations in their application, and present a collection of case studies to illustrate their use. Conventionally, EIA is applied to a specific, individual development project, but increasingly is recognized as a valuable contribution to broader programmatic planning, development strategies with regional and transboundary implications, and evaluation of systems that generate cumulative environmental impacts over extended time horizons and geographic areas. EIA techniques are also with increasing frequency incorporating sociopolitical and macroeconomic considerations. The reader will glean little in the way of technical instruction because the level of discussion alternates from obvious and simplistic to obscure and overly sophisticated, such that the book ends up of little use to those seeking a real ?how-to? guide. However, for those already familiar with EIA techniques, the book presents useful organizing frameworks and checklists that offer one avenue by which the field might strive for standardization and comparability. Such standardization is necessary for replication of rigorous, systematic studies, and for ease of comparison between different assessments. In support of this objective, the authors call for an emphasis on falsifiable conclusions and predictions, such that assessments can be reviewed for accuracy as project outcomes are tracked. Indeed, the difficulties inherent in any prediction exercise point to the need for ongoing monitoring of both the environmental impact of a project as well as the validity of the initial assessment. Early on, the authors note that EIA typically fails to consider adequately the importance of social and cultural impacts of the project, program, or policy under scrutiny. The concluding section of Chapter 9 (Emerging Developments in EIA) addresses this shortcoming by emphasizing the need to complement EIA with Social Impact Assessment methods. This portion of the book may prove of most interest to those readers concerned with ethnic conflict, as the discussion identifies ways to analyze the interplay between development projects and policies, environmental impacts, and sociopolitical considerations. Distributional consequences of policy or project interventions necessarily are mediated by social, cultural and political relationships, and can attenuate or accentuate tensions and conflict arenas. For this reason, the book repeatedly highlights the crucial role of open consultation and clear communication throughout assessment as well as project design and implementation phases. Environmental as well as social impacts can only be identified and addressed by ensuring broad-based stakeholder engagement and opportunities for bi-directional input between project managers, assessors, and relevant government authorities on the one hand, and the public that will affect and be affected by the project on the other.


Eduard T. Niesten, Ph.D., Director, Conservation Economics Program, Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International



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