Understanding environmental assessment and public participation process challenges among the vulnerable interested and affected parties : five cases studies from rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Mahlangu, Isaiah Mahlolani.
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The Public Participation Process (PPP) for Environmental Assessment (EA) is a mandatory procedure to facilitate participation of Interested and Affected Parties (IAAPs) in decision making for proposed development projects. Participation of the vulnerable IAAPs in the PPP is affected by complex challenges. These challenges make it difficult or impossible for Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) to successfully conduct and complete PPPs. This study investigated the nature and impact of the challenges in the decision making process. The study sought to develop an understanding of the challenges and suggest better approaches. Based on purposive sampling, a case study approach was adopted to analyse five PPP cases conducted in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Five key challenges: lack of EA legislation awareness; imbalanced power relations; negative past experience; threat to environmental autonomy; and poor project planning affected the PPP cases analysed in this study. These challenges emanate from internal and environmental factors. The study argues that internal challenges such as a lack of EA legislation awareness can be managed better during the PPPs. However, external challenges such as imbalanced power relations are usually impossible to resolve during the PPP. The modes of communication play a key role in public participation. Word of mouth is appropriate to facilitate participation of the vulnerable IAAPs. A key finding was the combined impact of the challenges and appropriateness of communication mode determines the PPP outcome, with the challenges being significant determining factor. The study maintains that a good understanding of potential challenges associated with development project sites will enable EAPs to design better and more responsive PPP approaches. To achieve this, the study recommends a Dual Approach Planning Model (DAPM). This approach recommends designing the PPP through preplanning information appraisal and prediction of potential challenges to create awareness about potential challenges. The DAPM argues that this awareness will assist EAPs to better estimate the time and to mobilise tools and resources required to manage the challenges, while focusing on successful completion of the PPP. This approach is also adaptive in nature.
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