Monday, November 7, 2011

Environment needs better protection

HA NOI — Enhanced environmental protection tools need to be applied in an effort to ease the nation's chronic pollution problem, according to experts at the workshop held by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Ha Noi on Friday.
Tools such as the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) would help planners assess the possible impacts on the environment of proposed projects before they were formally launched, and application of these tools would help minimise pollution stemming from economic development which had degraded the quality of life and threatened national security, said Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Minh Quang.
The director of environmental impact assessment and evaluation for the ministry, Mai Thanh Dung, said that local authorities failed to pay enough attention to performing SEAs.
"The quality of local SEAs also remains low," Dung said.
SEAs were often on paper only and not based on real conditions in the particular locality, causing them to be ineffective as a tool in improving economic and environmental planning, he said.
EIAs were also performed without considering opinions by the local community, creating conflicts when projects were carried out, said Dang Kim Chi from the Viet Nam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment.
"Many EIAs have been conducted without reference to environmental management but only in order for the projects to be approved," Chi said.
The low quality of EIAs could also be blamed on the low awareness of project investors or worse, namely their irresponsibility towards environment protection and the weak capacity of environmental evaluators, she said.
Nguyen Van Thanh from the Ministry of Industry and Trade agreed, adding that costs were another barrier to investors conducting proper SEAs or EIAs
To make these tools more effective, it was important to raise the awareness of both authorities and project investors about the essential role they play in preserving the environment, experts at the workshop agreed.
The capacity of environmental officials also needed to be enhanced to ensure the quality of assessments and of environmental management once projects were underway.
The application of these assessments were regulated by Decree No 29 issued last April and by Circular No 26 issued in July.
"Other regulations related to environment must also be amended to ensure consistency," said Dung, urging stricter provisions on punishing violators.
To date, 63 out of 61 provinces and cities throughout the country have conducted SEAs of their master socio-economic plans. However, shortcomings and limitations remain, with pollution on the rise, especially water pollution in urban and industrial zones.
According to Le Trinh from the Association of Environmental Impact Assessment, SEAs and EIAs have been effective environmental management tools worldwide since the 1980s, and Viet Nam was among the countries which applied these tools earliest in the Far East and Southeast Asian regions. — VNS

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