USAID’s environmental procedures are a specific implementation of the general Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.
Familiarity with the general EIA process makes USAID’s procedures much easier to understand—and is required to understand how to simultaneously satisfy USAID and host country EIA procedures, something that USAID staff and implementing partners are increasingly required to do. Beyond this, effective compliance during USAID project design and implementation requires an understanding of key EIA terms and concepts and the effective application of core EIA skills.
This section summarizes the EIA process and introduces key EIA concepts and skills, providing links to more detailed resources in each case.
EIA is a formal process for identifying:
- likely effects of activities or projects on the environment, and on human health and welfare.
- means and measures to mitigate & monitor these impacts
The basic elements of the EIA process are essentially standardized internationally.
Key EIA Terms and Concepts
Environment: The “environment” in EIA is not just the biophysical environment, but the social and cultural environment as well. EIA, including USAID’s specific environmental procedures,* is concerned with the potential effects of activities on the biophysical environment, on societies and communities, and on human health and welfare.
*While 22 CFR 216 defines “environment” as the “natural and physical environment” (22 CFR 216.1(a)(c)), other language in the regulation makes clear that human health and social impacts, among others, must be addressed.
Activity: The EIA process—and USAID’s environmental procedures--evaluate the impacts of activities. An activity is a desired accomplishment or output: E.g.: a road, seedling production, or river diversion to irrigate land. Accomplishing an activity requires a set of entailed actions. (For example, “market access road rehabilitation” is an activity. Entailed actions include survey, grading, culvert construction, compaction, etc.)
The EIA process needs to be cognizant of the entailed actions, but reaches findings at the ACTIVITY level.
Baseline situation: the existing environmental situation or condition in the absence of the activity. Trends and variability are part of the baseline situation; it is not just a static snapshot in time. For example, this chart of groundwater levels shows both seasonal variability and a trend over time. BOTH are part of the groundwater baseline situation.
Impact: The change from the baseline situation caused by the activity.
Mitigation is the implementation of measures designed to eliminate, reduce or offset the undesirable effects of a proposed action on the environment.
Monitoring is the essential complement of mitigation. It is BOTH (1) determining whether mitigation is being implemented as required; and (2) determining whether mitigation is sufficient and effective.
The EIA Process
In summary, the EIA process can be divided into two phases, as depicted in the diagram below. Only activities with the most serious potential adverse impacts go to the second phase --- a full EIA study. Most ---but not all – USAID activities have low or moderate risks. For these activities, the EIA process goes no further than a preliminary assessment.
In USAID terminology, a preliminary assessment is an “Initial Environmental Examination” (IEE). A full EIA study is an “Environmental Assessment.” Host country EIA systems – with which USAID activities must also comply – will generally have different names for these documents.
Follow-thru on the EIA process during activity implementation (not depicted in the diagram below) consists of IMPLEMENTING the mitigation measures identified by the EIA process and monitoring this implementation and its effectiveness.
In more detail:
- All EIA processes begin by understanding not just WHAT is being proposed, but WHY it is being proposed.
- The proposed activities are then SCREENED. That is, a set of simple questions or criteria are applied that are intended to identify activities that are either pose very low or very high risk of significant adverse impacts. These questions do NOT require analysis or detailed knowledge of the proposed sites, techniques or methods. Each EIA system has different screening questions/criteria. Common ones are to ask if the activity involves:
- Penetration road building?
- Large-scale irrigation?
- Introduction of non-native crop or agroforestry species?
- Activities of moderate or unknown risk are subjected to a PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT, of which the USAID IEE is one example.
- The purpose of the preliminary assessment is to:
- Allow the preparer to determine whether or not significant adverse impacts are likely
- Allows the reviewer to agree or disagree with these determinations
- Sets out mitigation and monitoring for adverse impacts
- The EIA process moves onto a full EIA Study IF:
- screening indicates that one or more proposed activities is “high risk,” OR
- the preliminary assessment indicates that one or more proposed activities is likely to have significant adverse impacts
- The full EIA study (USAID term: environmental assessment) has very similar structure and objectives to a full preliminary assessment, but it also has some key differences:
- A formal scoping process precedes the study to identify issues to be addressed
- Analysis of environmental impacts is much more detailed
- Alternatives to the proposed action* must be formally defined. The impacts of each alternative must be identified & evaluated, and the results compared
- Public participation is required
- A professional EIA team is usually required
Core EIA Skills
Life-of-project compliance for USAID-funded activities requires effective application of the following core EIA skills:
- Characterizing the baseline situation, focusing on the aspects of the baseline situation likely to be affected by the proposed activity, or upon which the activity depends for its success.
- Identifying potential impacts of concern, starting by researching the set of such impacts typical of activities in the sector, and determining which of these “typical impacts” are actually of concern is a specific activity context.
- Designing mitigation measures, with an emphasis wherever practical on choices of technique, site, and other design measures that prevent impacts
- Designing monitoring to determine if mitigation is (1) implemented as specified; and (2) sufficient and effective.
The EIA process and key terms:
- GEMS training presentation “EIA: A Framework for Environmentally Sound Design and Management” PDF (1 MB)
- EIA Topic Briefing PDF (1 MB)
How USAID’s procedures implement the general EIA process: GEMS training Presentation: 22 CFR 216 – USAID’s Pre-implementation EIA Process
Core EIA Skills: Characterizing the baseline situation and identifying impacts of concern:
- GEMS training Presentation: Baseline Characterization, Impact Identification and Mitigation Design PDF (1 MB)
- EIA Topic Briefing PDF (1 MB)
Core EIA Skills: Mitigation & Monitoring. Consult the Mitigation, Monitoring, and Reporting page.