The practice of carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports is gaining ground in Pakistan, experts say, although questions about their quality remain.
EIAs evaluate the biological, cultural, socioeconomic and environmental impacts of projects on the environment.
The study — by the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan — looked at the implementation of EIAs in Pakistan, interviewing the different stakeholders involved in the process.
The researchers found that the major obstacles are the difficulties in obtaining reliable baseline data, the lack of access to modern technological tools like Global Positioning Systems and Geographical Information Systems, a shortage of quality laboratories and little public participation.
According to the findings, every consultant must collect primary data from scratch, which is time-consuming and costly. Public participation is limited as few attend public hearings — forums where people from all levels of society can question the EIA findings and raise objections. Reasons cited include illiteracy in many stakeholders and lack of promotion for the hearings.
The study also found cases where existing reports had been republished, with little new data or updates.
Obaidullah Nadeem, co-author of the study, says scepticism remains among members of Pakistan's industry.
But he says that the conditions placed on funding by international donors — who require 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 call 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 such as mobile laboratories, and computer networks for data sharing.
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.