Research output: Contribution to journal › Review article
This article critically reviews environmental assessment (EA) practices in Sri Lanka, with a particular focus on ecology. An overview is provided of the domestic and international influences which have shaped the administrative process which is currently a two-tiered scheme. An Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) provides a preliminary screening tool, prior to the requirement for a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). A comprehensive survey of Sri Lankan national archives showed that 463 EAs were completed in the period 1981-2005, with the bulk of these in the more populated Western and North Western Provinces. Two-thirds were IEE surveys, while the remaining third advanced to full EIA. A representative sample of 130 EAs (both IEEs and full EIAs) spanning a broad range of project types, scales, and environmental settings was selected to evaluate the quality of the ecological investigations within the published environmental impact statements (EISs). These were assigned into five classes of "explanatory power", on the basis of their scientific content in relation to survey, analysis, and reporting of ecological interests. Within most EISs, the ecological impact assessment (EcIA) was restricted to the lowest two categories of ecological assessment, i.e., tokenistic presentation of reconnaissance-level species lists without further analysis of the development implications for individual organisms or communities. None of the assessments reviewed provided statistically rigorous analysis, which would be required if ecological impact studies are to include quantitative and testable predictions of impact, which could then be followed up by appropriate post-impact monitoring programs. Attention to key local issues such as biodiversity or ecosystem services, which also have strong social dimensions in the developing world, was also notably underrepresented. It was thus concluded that despite the existence of a sound legislative framework in Sri Lanka, the analysis contained within EISs generally fails to convey meaningful information to the relevant stakeholders and decision makers involved in protecting ecological interests and promoting sustainable development. The introduction of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is considered an important tool to strengthen the institutional capacity of Sri Lankan government to implement current regulations and, in particular, to combat the cumulative effects of incremental development.