Using Technology to Serve Mother Nature
Across the world, procedures known as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) are essential in promoting sustainable development by determining the possible effects that development projects can have on their surrounding environment. In the Dominican Republic, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources uses EIAs to determine whether or not to grant permission for proposed projects, such as building a beach resort or opening a chemical plant. A lengthy process, EIAs require coordination between technical experts, administrators, and developers.
However, with the support of USAID, the Ministry now has two technological tools which will help to make the EIA review process more efficient, transparent, and expeditious, while also allowing for effective accountability in the granting of environmental permits.
One of these tools is an Internet-based administrative tracking system to monitor requests from projects that require an EIA as part of the application process for acquiring an environmental permit. The second tool is NEPAssist, a system based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This system allows those organizations involved in the EIA process to integrate geographical referenced data, such as protected areas or flood zones, to assess the environmental and social impacts of development projects in general, with a particular emphasis on the impacts of infrastructure projects. The two systems have been adapted to the specific needs of the Dominican Republic.
The integrated implementation of both systems is an astounding achievement for the Dominican Republic, as it quickly puts critical information in the hands of the people responsible for making environmental management decisions. This reduces the administrative burden of processing EIA’s on the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, while also allowing them to maintain full control over the entire process. The new tools also promote public participation and assure transparency of the evaluation and its results. Development project managers can now easily access information regarding the state of their application. The public can also access information on those projects requiring EIAs, thus promoting transparency in the process and civil society participation.