The​ first​ Environmental​ Impact​ Assessment​ (EIA)​ portal​ in​ Cambodia | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Cambodia​ aims​ to​ fasten​ its​ economic​ growth​ while​ fully​ committing​ to​ sustainable​ development.​ To​ avoid​ adverse​ impacts​ from​ the​ development​ and​ promote​ long​ term​ benefits​ to​ economic,​ social​ and​ environmental​ change,​ the​ practice​ of​ Environmental​ Impact​ Assessment​ (EIA)​ shall​ be​ enforced.​ And​ since​ EIA​ has​ become​ an​ essential​ feature​ of​ sustainable​ development​ for​ improving​ well-being​ and​ equity​ from​ the​ development,​ the​ public​ must​ fully​ participate​ in​ policy​ debates​ and​ seek​ legal​ redress​ and​ claim​ what​ they​ deserve​ from​ the​ project’s​ impacts.​ And​ yet​ these​ EIA​ reports​ are​ not​ widely​ disseminated​ to​ the​ public.​ In​ fact,​ there​ are​ available​ EIA​ reports​ but​ having​ no​ access​ to​ these​ reports​ means​ that​ they​ remain,​ in​ practice,​ invisible​ at​ the​ national​ and​ local​ level.

With​ the​ purpose​ of​ supporting​ the​ movement​ towards​ public​ disclosure​ by​ government,​ Open​ Development​ Cambodia​ (ODC)​ launched​ the​ Environmental Impact Assessment​ profile​ page​ in​ the​ workshop​ on​ Promoting​ Environmental​ Impact​ Assessment​ (EIA)​ and​ Sustainable​ Development​ in​ Cambodia​ on​ 26​ February​ 2019.​ The​ content​ and​ functionality​ of​ ODC’s​ EIA​ page​ contains​ tabular​ information,​ digitized​ EIA​ reports,​ and​ map​ visualization.​ Each​ EIA​ report​ is​ accompanied​ by​ summary​ information​ which​ makes​ the​ content​ more​ accessible​ and​ useful​ to​ a​ wide​ range​ of​ actors​ spanning​ the​ general​ public,​ government,​ NGOs,​ businesses,​ academia​ and​ the​ media.

At​ the​ launch,​ Mr.​ Thy​ Try,​ Executive​ Director​ of​ Open​ Development​ Cambodia,​ stressed​ the​ importance​ of​ EIA​ reports​ in​ academic​ study​ and​ public​ participation​ in​ EIA​ monitoring​ process.​ “The​ platform​ will​ enable​ the​ public,​ academia,​ environmentalists,​ and​ locals​ to​ easily​ access​ to​ information​ and​ summaries​ of​ EIA​ reports​ in​ digital​ format​ and​ with​ that​ they​ can​ monitor​ ministry-approved​ development​ projects​ to​ see​ if​ these​ projects​ have​ any​ negative​ impact​ on​ their​ livelihood​ and​ the​ environment.”​ Based​ on​ the​ needs,​ he​ reflected​ the​ essence​ for​ ODC’s​ EIA​ profile​ page​ which​ displays​ the​ draft​ version​ of​ EIA​ reports​ shared​ by​ the​ government​ to​ related​ NGOs.

This​ free​ and​ open​ digital​ portal​ for​ the​ public​ to​ access​ development-related​ information​ forms​ part​ of​ a​ growing​ network​ of​ initiatives​ seeking​ to​ promote​ openness​ and​ transparency​ around​ large-scale​ investment​ and​ development​ projects.​ Similarly,​ OpenLandContracts.org,​ launched​ by​ the​ Columbia​ Center​ on​ Sustainable​ Investment​ (CCSI),​ serves​ as​ a​ global​ repository​ of​ publicly​ available​ investment​ contracts​ for​ land-based​ investments.​ The​ repository​ launched​ in​ 2015​ with​ 69​ documents​ and​ today​ features​ more​ than​ 500​ documents.​ It​ publishes​ both​ the​ full​ text​ of​ contracts​ in​ addition​ to​ annotations​ –​ or​ summaries​ –​ of​ key​ contract​ provisions.​ Giving​ a​ keynote​ remark​ via​ video​ at​ the​ workshop,​ Ms.​ Jesse​ Coleman,​ a​ Legal​ Researcher​ at​ CCSI,​ applauded​ the​ launch​ of​ the​ first​ EIA​ digital​ portal​ in​ Cambodia.​ She​ reflected​ on​ the​ primary​ objectives​ of​ OpenLandContracts.org,​ and​ how​ the​ repository​ is​ being​ used​ by​ researchers,​ policy​ advocates,​ legal​ advisors,​ and​ civil​ society​ actors.​ She​ also​ noted​ the​ challenges​ the​ open​ data​ community​ are​ facing.​ In​ many​ countries,​ contract​ transparency​ around​ land-based​ investments​ lags​ behind​ transparency​ around​ extractive​ industry​ projects.​ Much​ more​ can​ be​ done​ to​ support​ effective​ use​ of​ disclosed​ information.​ Jesse​ noted​ that​ she​ looked​ forward​ to​ working​ with​ key​ partners​ like​ ODC​ to​ continue​ advancing​ shared​ objectives.​

Beside​ the​ launch​ of​ EIA​ profile​ page,​ the​ workshop​ also​ served​ as​ the​ floor​ for​ sharing​ and​ discussion​ on​ the​ topic​ of​ EIA​ and​ sustainable​ development​ in​ Cambodia.​ One​ of​ the​ topics​ was​ ‘the​ challenges​ and​ opportunities​ of​ the​ EIA​ implementation​ in​ the​ context​ of​ extractive​ industry​ and​ land​ sector​ in​ Cambodia’.​ Ms.​ Mout​ Chantheany,​ EISEI​ Coordinator​ of​ Development​ and​ Partnership​ in​ Action​ (DPA),​ was​ one​ of​ presenters​ and​ panelists.​ In​ Ms.​ Mout’s​ presentation,​ she​ addressed​ her​ organization’s​ experience​ on​ EIA​ in​ Extractive​ Industry​ in​ Cambodia.​ She​ concluded​ her​ presentation​ by​ providing​ many​ recommendations​ to​ improve​ the​ practice​ of​ EIA​ in​ the​ extractive​ industry​ sector​ in​ Cambodia,​ one​ of​ which​ was​ urging​ the​ government​ to​ disclose​ every​ EIA​ report​ and​ widely​ disseminate​ the​ reports​ while​ engaging​ with​ the​ public.​ “Short​ timeframe​ and​ transparency​ of​ the​ information​ could​ be​ solved​ by​ establishing​ an​ official​ EIA​ website,​ increasing​ the​ availability​ of​ information​ related​ to​ environment​ and​ hosting​ a​ public​ forum​ with​ multiple​ stakeholders.”

Adding​ to​ Ms.​ Mout​ on​ the​ disclosure​ and​ the​ dissemination​ of​ EIA​ reports,​ Mr.​ Sey​ Peou,​ NECA-Network​ Coordinator​ of​NGO​ Forum​ Cambodia​ raised​ his​ concern​ toward​ the​ actual​ practice​ and​ how​ to​ make​ sure​ the​ practice​ is​ complying​ with​ the​ EIA​ standard.​ Over​ the​ period,​ NGO​ Forum​ Cambodia​ only​ receive​ around​ 400​ copies​ of​ EIA​ draft​ reports​ to​ review​ and​ comment​ on.​ He​ stressed​ that​ the​ number​ seems​ enormous,​ but​ it​ is​ actually​ not​ many​ compared​ to​ the​ actual​ number​ of​ projects​ being​ implemented.​ Additionally,​ he​ also​ mentioned​ that​ one​ of​ the​ main​ difficulties​ is​ monitoring​ the​ incorporation​ of​ the​ NGOs’​ EIA​ recommendations​ into​ the​ Environmental​ Management​ Plan​ (EMP)​ because​ the​ final​ EIA​ reports​ were​ not​ shared​ by​ the​ Ministry​ of​ Environment.​ He​ urged​ every​ stakeholder​ to​ take​ part​ in​ monitoring​ the​ EIA​ report.​ “It​ is​ very​ important​ that​ every​ stakeholder,​ especially​ affected​ communities,​ participate​ in​ monitoring​ whether​ companies​ are​ complying​ with​ what​ was​ listed​ in​ their​ EIA​ reports​ or​ not”,​ said​ Peou.

In​ this​ workshop,​ there​ was​ a​ total​ of​ 30​ participants​ from​ international​ and​ local​ NGOs,​ private​ sectors,​ as​ well​ as​ university​ students​ and​ journalists​ whose​ work​ relates​ to​ EIA.​ There​ were​ also​ comments​ and​ feedback​ from​ the​ stakeholders​ on​ ODC’s​ EIA​ page.​ With​ the​ comments​ and​ the​ difficulties​ that​ the​ panel​ was​ raising​ and​ discussing,​ ODC’s​ EIA​ profile​ page​ may​ serve​ as​ the​ starting​ point​ for​ open​ EIA​ reports​ in​ Cambodia.​ Currently,​ 10​ drafts​ of​ EIA​ reports​ have​ been​ published​ on​ ODC’s​ website.​ ODC​ also​ called​ for​ EIA​ report​ contributions​ from​ the​ public​ in​ both​ draft​ and​ final​ versions​ so​ that​ they​ can​ be​ published​ on​ ODC’s​ website.​

What​ is​ Environmental​ Impact​ Assessment​ (EIA)?

Environmental​ Impact​ Assessment​ (EIA)​ is​ a​ comprehensive​ analytical​ tool​ evaluating​ key​ effects​ of​ proposed​ large-scale​ development​ projects,​ often​ involving​ the​ extraction​ of​ natural​ resources​ or​ construction​ of​ infrastructure.​ EIA​ reports​ represent​ an​ important​ instrument​ highlighting​ both​ positive​ benefits​ of​ the​ development​ as​ well​ as​ negative​ impacts​ on​ a​ wide​ range​ of​ environment-related​ dimensions​ including​ natural,​ economic,​ and​ social​ spheres​ of​ life.​ EIA​ is​ required​ by​ law​ for​ most​ large​ development​ projects​ in​ Cambodia​ and​ it​ is​ reinforced​ by​ the​ fact​ that​ laws​ about​ EIAs​ and​ best​ practice​ guidelines​ enshrine​ the​ requirement​ for​ public​ consultation​ and​ participation.

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