JICA to aid impact studies

JICA will be consulting the Environment Ministry on how to better assess the impacts of large-scale development projects like the Lower Sesan II dam, seen above during 2014 construction. Phak Seangly

The Ministry of the Environment signed an agreement yesterday afternoon with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in an effort to improve the Ministry of the Environment’s capacity to curb pollution and review environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for development projects.

“[JICA] will deploy advisers and discuss with officers here to design training programs and review the legal framework necessary to regulate pollution in Cambodia,” ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said, adding that the agreement will last three and a half years.

JICA yesterday declined to comment.

According to Sokharavuth Pak, deputy director general of the ministry’s General Directorate of Environmental Protection, JICA advisers will arrive in Cambodia this summer to begin training ministry officials.

Pak told The Post that individual JICA advisers will be placed in various departments of the MoE in which they will work closely with MoE officials who will “learn by doing”. JICA advisers, said Pak, will remain for four- to six-month periods.

Enhancing the process by which the Ministry of the Environment reviews EIAs will be a major component of the agreement.

“Implementation has been smooth so far; we have guidelines, but JICA would like to improve and review our guidelines,” said Pak. In conjunction with this process, said Pak: “They will do a review with our team of our environmental regulations.”

But despite Pak’s insistence that its EIA regime has been “smooth”, the ministry’s process for reviewing EIAs has repeatedly come under scrutiny from independent experts and NGOs for being an insufficient barrier to environmentally harmful development projects.

These concerns persist, despite the new agreement.

“It could certainly be potentially useful for JICA to provide technical support to the MoE to improve their effectiveness in conducting EIAs,” said Ian Baird, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison and an expert on the impact of dams in Southeast Asia.

“In most cases, private companies hire their own consultants to conduct EIAs, which frequently results in findings that make the projects look favourable,” said Baird. “In such cases, the role of government, including the MoE, in reviewing those privately conducted EIAs … is crucial.”

“[If] the support provided to the MoE by JICA can help make that possible, then that is likely to be a good thing”, he added.

However, Baird concluded, “the biggest challenge will be to ensure that there is a political environment that allows for transparency and open debate about projects”.

Source: Phnom Penh Post

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