Why local dredgers need regular EIA awareness programmes— Consultant

Interview
Mr Ayo Abiodun, Managing Director, Odun Environmental

Considering the impact of dredging activities on the environment, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Consultant, Mr Ayo Abiodun, has prescribed more awareness programmes for locals who engage in commercial dredging activities.
 Abiodun said such awareness programmes was necessary to help the dredgers understand the impact of their trade on the environment and the need to carry out an EIA within their work areas.

He noted that the dredgers associations may be having difficulties aligning with the new guidelines by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) that they undertake an EIA before working, in order to protect the environment.

The EIA Consultant spoke on a number of important issues and particularly the need for operators to key into ‘best practice’ in the sub-sector, to protect the environment and communities along the coastal areas.

What are the impacts of dredging on the environment and what should actually be the best practice?

There are a lot of impacts that have been noticed with regards to dredging activities, and the best practice anywhere in the world is to have an Environmental Impact Assessment done before dredging activities starts.

From the environmental impact assessment, all the environmental impact will be identified, mitigation measures will also be identified, and there will be a management plan to be able to take care of any foreseeable environmental impact from that activity.
That is really the best practise and that is what NIWA is trying to encourage and follow.

What will you say the dredging situation is like in this environment?

I think that in our environment there are challenges definitely, because best practise is not being implemented fully and wholly.

From your assessment, what percentage is being done?

When you are looking at environmental compliance monitoring, one also tends to look at it with regards to the economics of the activity. You find out that a lot of companies that are involved in dredging seem to complain about the financial cost of following due process.

That is, doing the environmental impact assessment would prevent some of these foreseeable problems that could arise, which should not be allowed because at the end of the day, what it does really is a case of , if these things are identified, it could actually reduce the overall cost that could arise in future.

One of the key things is education, awareness. They need to be aware of the impact of what they are doing, because a lot of them don’t see the significance, they don’t understand fully, the significance of the EIA or the significance of the possible impact of their activity on the environment.

Some of them believe that there are no communities near them, there is no significant impact. But obviously, there are other areas that one has to look at like the sea itself, the fishes; there are so many other things that you look at, even activities of fishermen in the area.
Some people, that is their area and source of living, so there are so many things that one has to consider. It is very important that the use of the EIA is encouraged and enforced from the beginning before activity starts.

What has been the challenge of enforcement?

Like I said, I think in the past two years, especially last year, NIWA has put more emphasis on the EIA prior to the renewal of licenses and all that.

Some of these dredgers have been doing this dredging in the past five to 10 years and had never felt the importance for the EIA. Now that it is being made a priority or the importance being highlighted by NIWA, they are finding it difficult to align what they have been doing before to this new approach, which actually comes at a cost that they had not factored in before.

So, a lot of them still run away from the EIA and the truth is that it obviously cost money to do an EIA, but when you look at some of these  activities, they have the potential to affect the environment, but also, the revenue from the operations are not substantial.
What will it cost to do an EIA?

It depends, because for an EIA, you look at the activity in that environment. So, the impact will be different from another area, and the cost will be different because there are so many things that you will consider.

Also, if you are dredging near a community, then that community has to be considered, socio-economics has to be different. With that, there is no comparison with cost; it depends on the activity and the environment.

On the NIWA guidelines for operation?

I think NIWA has identified the environment as a critical aspect that has to be considered in dredging. Lately, they have been trying to put more emphasis on awareness with regards to the EIA of the dredgers’ activities.

Also, I think in the past, we had seen some of these effects of dredging activities. There had been some complaints that, maybe some dredging activities were affecting the flow of water to some communities or the access of water from some communities.
So, I think NIWA is being more proactive in ensuring now that moving forward, these new guidelines are to help reduce any adverse effect of dredging.

EIA Act says there should be huge portion of land before the EIA is done, is that not a loophole?

Well, it is. That is where NIWA and the State Government have stepped in. For the Federal Government, what it says is that it gives conditions under which it makes an EIA mandatory.

It does not say that the EIA should not be done, but it makes it mandatory once you do some things like the size of the land, if it is like a pipeline project, the length of the pipeline, for different projects, different guidelines as mandatory.

Now, Lagos State and NIWA in their wisdom have realised that for that, it makes it a requirement for the Federal Ministry of Environment. But for NIWA and Lagos State, no matter what you are doing, once it is inside the waterways, is dredging, which should have an impact, an EIA has to be done. It does not conflict with the FME.

IS that the best practice?

Different countries have different standards. Our laws too are evolving, so, every time they review these laws, they obviously improve on them.