When I was young I wanted to be a movie scriptwriter. I ended up being just a sociologist, but I still remember something I read back then about how a good script sequence should look like. For example, in the classic “boy meets girl” plot, first the central characters are presented, then they meet; then something happens to them –they may fight and later reconcile, or whatever– and after that comes the (usually happy) ending. My brief and hapless movie career did leave me a valuable lesson that I still find useful: the importance of following a cogent order on environmental and social projects, with quality and participative diagnostics, eventual impacts adequately pondered, and mitigation steps that include clear, realistic and well-funded proposals that are suitable for the main stakeholders.
Directive B.5 of the Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy (OP-703) is stark clear—all high-risk operations (Category A and B) must have an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP), depending on the nature and importance of their potential impacts. It also says that their preparation and implementation are the responsibility of the borrower, although we at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Environmental and Social Safeguards Unit usually are ready (and more than happy) to help in order to ensure their observance.
We at the IDB have long insisted on the importance of taking an integral approach to the implementation of safeguards, adopting a view capable of coordinating the environmental and social aspects of each operation.
A recurrent subject in Latin American and Caribbean countries is that, in general terms, their legislation and professional practice in the area of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are quite consolidated. Although with ups and downs and diverse levels of efficiency among countries, experts tend to agree that the past few decades saw progress in these areas in the region. However, it can be said that in terms of implementation of Social Impact Assessments (SIAs) we are still in the initial stages. While there are a few exceptions, in general legislation, methodologies and professional practice in these fields continue to be limited. Given the scarcity of literature in Spanish to help adopt best international practices, the document “Social Impact Assessment: Guidance for Assessing and Managing the Social Impacts of Projects,” prepared by Professor Frank Vanclay and published by the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), was recently translated into Spanish with support from the IDB.
Additionally, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) in Latin America and the Caribbean have often focused mostly on the environmental aspects. It is quite common that, although on the first page of evaluations the word “Social” is present, in the body of the study we find only a few vague references to social aspects in the baseline that typically end up dissolving into some general recommendations in the ESMP. In other words, although the terms “and social” may be added to the title of documents, many of these key planning and management tools continue to focus almost exclusively on the (undeniably important) environmental aspects of projects.
In order to strengthen the social aspects of the ESIAs with a socio-environmental approach, we at the IDB have been working together with AySA, Argentina’s water and sanitation public operator in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, on the Water and Sanitation Program for the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area and Conurbation. The pilot experience consisted of the IDB hiring a social consultant that for a while worked alongside the social team of AySA’s Environmental Directorate. Together, they worked on areas such as:
- Strengthening the ESIAs social baseline content, adding social aspects to preexisting environmental considerations (dust, noise, etc.)
- Taking specific mitigation and monitoring steps on projects’ socio-environmental issues
In addition, other aspects have also been strengthened, such as claims-and-complaints handling procedures, or key consultations made during the planning, construction, and operation stages of a program.
Going back to what I said about a script’s structure, Environmental and Social Assessments should learn to better merge their socio-environmental aspects following a logical sequence. Also, impact assessment documents must be consistent with their baselines, their socio-environmental impact matrices, and the analysis of the participation activities that were conducted. All these factors may make it more likely that our project reaches a “happy ending.”