When it comes to infrastructure projects, Impact Assessment Committees (IACs) are the major players in ensuring that integrated water resource management practices are well understood and applied. Their role is to estimate and appraise the wide range of consequences derived from proposed infrastructure projects on water and its related environment. Its purpose is to provide a holistic evaluation of the trade-offs in a way that should indicate for the project’s overall feasibility. In other words, IACs seek to determine if planned infrastructures can be developed and implemented in coordination and harmony with the water resources and its broader socio-economic and environmental surroundings.
Impact Assessment Committees are normally set up as ad hoc organisations. Some infrastructure projects might be required by law to establish IACs. This very much depends on the size and on the envisaged environmental and socio-economic disruptions caused by the proposed project as well as the legal specifications of the administrative bodies in this regard. IACs need to be independent and technically capable entities comprised of specialists. Because of these grounds, IACs are often sub-contracted to engineering consultancy firms but their tasks may also be undertaken, in part or fully, by group(s) of individuals such as academics, civil servants, and conservationists.
IACs have a central role in integrating IWRM principles of economic efficiency, environmental sustainability and social equity all across a projects different phases. In concrete terms, they are responsible for producing and presenting recommendations under an impact assessment report. This evaluation entails for the following:
- Identify and delimit – by describing, screening, evaluating, interpreting, controlling, and interconnecting;
- Possible disruptions – local and remote, short and long-term;
- Projected project – actions, activities, movements;
- Environmental surroundings (social-economic, ecological, physical, natural etc.).
However noble their intentions are, there are many recurring shortcomings with impact assessment committees. Of course, one relates to the technical and human capacity dimension. Large scale infrastructure projects have extensive consequences on water and their related environment. Therefore, determining and assessing the potential of that activity is a tall order, which only specialist with adequate expertise and support can properly accomplish. Then, there is the question of timing; Impact Assessment Committees are sometimes commissioned to do a report during (or even after) a project’s implementation. Lastly, Impact Assessment Committees often lack practical authority in making sure that their recommendations are actually implemented. Here again regulatory authorities need to firmly establish statues and enforcement mechanisms certifying that IACs have indeed practical ends. Independence must also be clearly asserted so that Impact Assessment Committees can act without external political interference.
An effective institutional structure should be able to provide a framework for optimally resolving the many trade-offs in infrastructure development. Here are some key considerations regarding Impact Assessment Committees and their work in this aspect:
- IACs act as a safeguard as to see if the infrastructure matches not only the short terms objectives but also correspond to the long term goal of sustainable development.
- If an IAC evaluates that an infrastructure project comes in direct contradiction to the socio-economic and environmental balance of an area, then the project should not follow through.
- IACs and their recommendation is a form of soft power, which support a more comprehensive policy and legal environment.
- IACs need to be composed of relevant specialists with adequate training and technical means.
- Timing shows to be crucial; IACs need to be set up before the project starts and need to continue their assessment functions all throughout the project’s phases.
- Infrastructural investments are often driven by political agendas and, thus IACs need to be established and protected as independent authorities.