Opportunity Map for Northern Province on the pipeline
By Ifham Nizam
The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) of the Ministry of Environment and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in close collaboration with the Ministry of Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure Development has initiated action to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Northern Province `Opportunity Map’.
Last week Central Environment Authority Chairman Charitha Herath signed agreements with the Disaster Management Centre, Water Resources Board and Forest Department to carry out the required studies of the SEA. Geological Survey Mines Bureau, Natural Aquatic Resources Agency and the Department of Wildlife Conservation Department will sign agreements with the CEA this week.
The Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation are already involved in the identification of forest and wildlife areas that require protection, while the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and the Water Resource Board are in the process of identifying the mineral resources and surface and groundwater resources in the Northern Province.
Apart from this, identification of marine, coastal areas as well as, religious and culturally sensitive areas are also in progress through NARA and other respective government agencies. Based on the findings of the study, spatial maps will be drawn identifying environmentally sensitive areas that need to be conserved, and areas where development projects may be initiated.
In this process the first level of effort is for the above agencies to provide the data available with the agencies to the CEA and the Urban Development Authority to be compiled into one data base.
The compiled data will provide the draft `Opportunity Map’ to understand the spatial distribution of natural resources and help the development agencies to identify the areas that can be developed without restrictions and also the areas that are sensitive.
This `Opportunity Map’ will be refined with field data as the above studies progresses. The second level is to add the `Development’ into the picture by consulting with agencies that are instrumental in development such as Ministry of Economic Development, Board of Investment, Urban Development Authority, Tourism Authorities, Agriculture, Fisheries and others. These development ideas and the need for resources to sustain and provide for development will be evaluated and facilitated through the ensuing steps.
The main benefit of this study is the wider participation of all concerned stakeholders and preparation of a final map having agreed to by all relevant agencies, thereby leading to smooth implementation.
During the week the information generated will be disseminated among planners and agencies and special awareness and training sessions will be developed targeting staff in the Northern Provincial Council and five Districts.
Financial assistance for the proposed study is being provided by UNDP. The proposed SEA is also a medium term program identified in the Uthuru Wasanthaya agenda. SEA plays a significant role in enhancing the integration of environmental concerns in the policy and planning process, thereby helping to implement sustainable development.
The SEA study is based on three major areas
Identification and preservation of crucial environmentally sensitive areas in the Northern Province
The study will describe the sensitive environmental features of the Northern Province, in particular those which are unique to the Northern Province with the emphasis on forestlands, catchment areas, mangroves, marshes, coastal ecosystems, mineral stocks, archeological cultural monuments etc.
The identification of the environmentally sensitive and unique ecosystems in the Northern Province is vital as such areas require protection with the expected rapid development of this area, according to Environment Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa.
In addition, the development of a Risk Reduction Plan will identify disaster prone areas which need mitigation measures prior to commencing the development activities.
It is expected that the SEA study will include recommendations for preservation and future management of these environment sensitive areas/unique features through the SEA study.
Identification of Major Environmental Issues in the Northern Province and providing solutions
Identification of environmental problems/issues in the area such as water scarcity, surface and ground water pollution, solid waste and sewerage disposal, drainage problems floods etc. is a crucial point of the SEA. The study will provide solutions to mitigate these problems. Unresolved issues such as those identified above often delay proposed development plans in the area.
By identifying and finding solutions to the said problems at an early stage, development plans for this area could proceed without delay.
Identification of suitable areas for development project
The study will assess the suitability of development proposals and identify the suitable sites for proposed development projects. It is expected to prepare a zoning plan identifying areas suitable for agriculture, tourism, industries, fisheries and settlement.
Further the study will identify new infrastructure needs which have not yet been identified along with the resource requirements of new projects.
As the UDA is in the process of preparing a development plan for the Northern Province, this is the most appropriate time to carry out a SEA, to guide the development plan to prevent haphazard development in the region which will be socially disruptive and result in unsustainable growth.
As a part of the assessment, a number of targeted studies will be conducted with the purpose of providing solutions to emerging needs in the Northern Province such as provision of sand and building materials for construction purposes, extraction capacity of ground water, optimum use of marine and coastal resources, management of solid and liquid waste etc.
These studies will facilitate the resource mapping, optimum use of natural resources and improve service delivery.
The Central Environment Chairman Charitha has already signed agreements with the Disaster Management Center, Water Resources Board and Forest Department.
In May 2006 the Cabinet of Ministers approved a Cabinet paper submitted by the CEA through the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources mandating that in future all new polices, plans and programs should undergo SEA prior to implementation.
SEA is a widely used tool worldwide in order to assess the possible environmental impacts of policies, plans and programs thus it can be considered as a decision support tool aiming to mainstream environmental consideration in to public decisions.
SEA allows for consideration of cumulative impacts of a series of individual projects on the environment while Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool used to assess and mitigate environmental impacts of individual projects, it has limited value in assessing or mitigating the cumulative impacts of several projects or programs.