The first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) portal in Cambodia
Cambodia aims to fasten its economic growth while fully committing to sustainable development. To avoid adverse impacts from the development and promote long term benefits to economic, social and environmental change, the practice of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) shall be enforced. And since EIA has become an essential feature of sustainable development for improving well-being and equity from the development, the public must fully participate in policy debates and seek legal redress and claim what they deserve from the project’s impacts. And yet these EIA reports are not widely disseminated to the public. In fact, there are available EIA reports but having no access to these reports means that they remain, in practice, invisible at the national and local level.
With the purpose of supporting the movement towards public disclosure by government, Open Development Cambodia (ODC) launched the EIA profile page in the workshop on Promoting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Sustainable Development in Cambodia on 26 February 2019. The content and functionality of ODC’s EIA page contains tabular information, digitized EIA reports, and map visualization. Each EIA report is accompanied by summary information which makes the content more accessible and useful to a wide range of actors spanning the general public, government, NGOs, businesses, academia and the media.
At the launch, Mr. Thy Try, Executive Director of Open Development Cambodia, stressed the importance of EIA reports in academic study and public participation in EIA monitoring process. “The platform will enable the public, academia, environmentalists, and locals to easily access to information and summaries of EIA reports in digital format and with that they can monitor ministry-approved development projects to see if these projects have any negative impact on their livelihood and the environment.” Based on the needs, he reflected the essence for ODC’s EIA profile page which displays the draft version of EIA reports shared by the government to related NGOs.
This free and open digital portal for the public to access development-related information forms part of a growing network of initiatives seeking to promote openness and transparency around large-scale investment and development projects. Similarly, OpenLandContracts.org, launched by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), serves as a global repository of publicly available investment contracts for land-based investments. The repository launched in 2015 with 69 documents and today features more than 500 documents. It publishes both the full text of contracts in addition to annotations – or summaries – of key contract provisions. Giving a keynote remark via video at the workshop, Ms. Jesse Coleman, a Legal Researcher at CCSI, applauded the launch of the first EIA digital portal in Cambodia. She reflected on the primary objectives of OpenLandContracts.org, and how the repository is being used by researchers, policy advocates, legal advisors, and civil society actors. She also noted the challenges the open data community are facing. In many countries, contract transparency around land-based investments lags behind transparency around extractive industry projects. Much more can be done to support effective use of disclosed information. Jesse noted that she looked forward to working with key partners like ODC to continue advancing shared objectives.
Beside the launch of EIA profile page, the workshop also served as the floor for sharing and discussion on the topic of EIA and sustainable development in Cambodia. One of the topics was ‘the challenges and opportunities of the EIA implementation in the context of extractive industry and land sector in Cambodia’. Ms. Mout Chantheany, EISEI Coordinator of Development and Partnership in Action (DPA), was one of presenters and panelists. In Ms. Mout’s presentation, she addressed her organization’s experience on EIA in Extractive Industry in Cambodia. She concluded her presentation by providing many recommendations to improve the practice of EIA in the extractive industry sector in Cambodia, one of which was urging the government to disclose every EIA report and widely disseminate the reports while engaging with the public. “Short timeframe and transparency of the information could be solved by establishing an official EIA website, increasing the availability of information related to environment and hosting a public forum with multiple stakeholders.”
Adding to Ms. Mout on the disclosure and the dissemination of EIA reports, Mr. Sey Peou, NECA-Network Coordinator of NGO Forum Cambodia raised his concern toward the actual practice and how to make sure the practice is complying with the EIA standard. Over the period, NGO Forum Cambodia only receive around 400 copies of EIA draft reports to review and comment on. He stressed that the number seems enormous, but it is actually not many compared to the actual number of projects being implemented. Additionally, he also mentioned that one of the main difficulties is monitoring the incorporation of the NGOs’ EIA recommendations into the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) because the final EIA reports were not shared by the Ministry of Environment. He urged every stakeholder to take part in monitoring the EIA report. “It is very important that every stakeholder, especially affected communities, participate in monitoring whether companies are complying with what was listed in their EIA reports or not”, said Peou.
In this workshop, there was a total of 30 participants from international and local NGOs, private sectors, as well as university students and journalists whose work relates to EIA. There were also comments and feedback from the stakeholders on ODC’s EIA page. With the comments and the difficulties that the panel was raising and discussing, ODC’s EIA profile page may serve as the starting point for open EIA reports in Cambodia. Currently, 10 drafts of EIA reports have been published on ODC’s website. ODC also called for EIA report contributions from the public in both draft and final versions so that they can be published on ODC’s website.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a comprehensive analytical tool evaluating key effects of proposed large-scale development projects, often involving the extraction of natural resources or construction of infrastructure. EIA reports represent an important instrument highlighting both positive benefits of the development as well as negative impacts on a wide range of environment-related dimensions including natural, economic, and social spheres of life. EIA is required by law for most large development projects in Cambodia and it is reinforced by the fact that laws about EIAs and best practice guidelines enshrine the requirement for public consultation and participation.