By Soukthavy Thephavong
(KPL) In a landmark move for public participation in Laos, the government and civil society jointly held public consultations on regional guidelines to ensure Environment Impact Assessment (EAI) processes involve affected communities.
More than 100 representatives from the private sector, companies, communities, civil society organizations, government agencies, and environmental impact assessment consulting firms gathered at the public consultation in Vientiane Capital on Oct 24 to provide feedback on the draft Regional Guidelines on effective public participation in environmental impact assessment processes as a way to ensure that these processes involve communities.
The input from the participants will help improve an effort that is seen by many as critical for the region to address the environmental and social impacts of the growing array of regional development projects such as dams, mines, power plants and industrial zones.
“As the region experiences a period of rapid economic growth and increasing foreign direct investment in infrastructure projects, regional environmental impact assessment guidelines are being developed in response to the shared concern about the social and environmental impacts of those projects. Communities and experts throughout the region have been reporting severe negative impacts on natural resources, fish populations, agriculture, community health and culture,” said USA Chargé d'affaires Michael Kleine.
“While the environmental impact assessments are being implemented in all lower Mekong countries, they are often hampered by a lack of effective public participation. This gap can result in adverse social and environmental impacts, project delays, and conflicts with communities, all leading to costs and risks for investors and the government,” said Mr Michael.
“Today’s consultation was part of a series being held across all of the lower Mekong countries of Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam throughout October. The consultations provide investors, environmental impact assessment practitioners, communities, NGOs, government departments and others with the ability to review and provide feedback on the draft guidelines,” Mr Saynakhone Inthavong, Director of Planning and Cooperation Department, Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment.
“The draft guidelines are also available for public feedback via an online platform (mekongcitizent.org/EIA) through October 31. After the period for public comment has closed, the working group will revise the guidelines based on the input received by the public. Once finalized, the work will turn to ensuring these guidelines are implemented by developers and used by governments to complement and improve national policies and practices,” added Mr Saynakhone.
The working group is supported by the USAID-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment, implemented by Pact in partnership with the Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network, regional governments, and civil society organizations. MPE supports constructive engagement among businesses, governments and the civil society to facilitate socially and environmentally responsible development in the Mekong region.