Environmental impact assessment is, in its simplest form, a planning tool that is now generally regarded as an integral component of sound decision making. As a planning tool it has both information gathering and decision making component which provides the decision maker with an objective basis for granting or denying approval for a proposed development.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is:
1. A process or set of activities designed to contribute towards pertinent environmental information during the decision making of a project.
2. A process which attempts to identify, predict and assess the likely consequences of proposed development activities.
3. A planning aid concerned with identifying, predicting and assessing impacts arising from proposed activities such as policies, programmes, plans and development projects which may affect the environment.
4. A basic tool for the sound assessment of development proposals to determine the potential environmental, social and health effects of a proposed development.
The purpose of the environmental assessment process is:
(a) To support the goals of environmental protection and sustainable development.
(b) To integrate environmental protection and economic decisions at the earliest stages of planning an activity.
(c) To predict environmental, social, economic, and cultural consequences of a proposed activity and to assess plans to mitigate any adverse impacts resulting from the proposed activity, and
(d) To provide for the involvement of the public, departments of the Government and Government agencies in the review of the proposed activities.
For most projects, particularly those involving large public investments in areas such as infrastructure, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be carried out and linked to the cost-benefit analysis. The objective of the EIA is to ensure that environmental aspects are addressed and potential problems sire foreseen at the appropriate stage of project design. EIA should be envisaged as an integral part of the planning process and initiated at the project level from the start.