Evaluating Environmental Impacts Of Rural Development Projects
Discussions of "sustainable development" call attention to various dimensions of human well-being to be considered concomitantly with traditional financial and economic measures. The challenge of environmental impact analysis (EIA) is to encourage re-design of projects so that net benefits are maximized over some weighting of economic, environmental, and other criteria. To date, development organizations have been under attack by environmentalists for ignoring or conveniently overlooking environmental damages of development projects. Explanations for this include inadequate institutional commitment to link resource conservation with economic development, short time horizons, narrow evaluation criteria, problems of monetary valuation, and problems with implementation of EIAs. The future of EIAs will see a number of changes to correct for these deficiencies. Evaluation of project impacts in isolation may yield to a more comprehensive environmental assessment for entire regions. Projects will not be funded without the assurance of specific policy conditions for environmental management. The technology of EIA will advance with the assistance of geographic information systems and related tools for data management. Cost-benefit analysis of development projects will continue to integrate the work of project economists with engineers, agronomists, and other specialists with knowledge of environmental issues. Methods of multiple criteria evaluation represent an advance over the partial approaches of EIA and cost-benefit analysis. There is considerable support for moving towards longer project cycles and extended planning periods within the total cycle, meaning that EIA can be more extensive and continuous than in the past. Within the development organizations, reconsideration of personnel accountability and reward systems is one of the strategies to raise the prominence of environmental issues. Each year presents more case studies, videos, and other didactic materials for training in EIA. Finally, the question of improving EIA is a matter of demanding stronger institutions for proactive planning, technical analysis, and policy reforms favorable to environmental protection.
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