Indirect Effects of Port Construction

The Dutch government is committed to making the worldwide development and expansion of seaports more sustainable.  In the planning stages of these projects, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) studies play an important role, as many other decisions are based on them.

The government asked the Environmental Impact Assessment (MER) Commision to identify sustainable good practices for ESIAs. The MER Commission then tasked CREM with the analysis for the social economic dimensions of ESIAs. For this assignment, ESIAs for port construction in Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and South America were analyzed.

Social economic risks for port construction

There were differences in quality between the ESIAs as far as the applied methodology, transparency, substantive points of interest and the degree of stakeholder involvment were concerned. Direct social economic risks of port construction such as all sorts of nuisances for local communities (dust, noise, traffic congestion, etc) and issues around land ownership and use are adequately treated in most ESIAs.

Significant indirect risks

However, this is much less the case for all kinds of indirect risks, and it is precisely these risks that have the potential to be very significant. For example, the effects of a constant influx of workers and sailors in ports can cause problems for local cultural patterns, health and infrastructure. Local food prices may also go up. The extraction and production of construction materials (including sand, gravel and wood) for port construction can also lead to socioeconomic problems. Other indirect risks should also be noted, such as the export of unsustainably extracted resources from a country or that a terminal designed for the import of coal can work against a transition to sustainable energy.

Human rights, corruption and fair trade

An important recommendation is to give more atttention to these sorts of potential indirect impacts in ESIAs. It was notable that the ESIAs studied contained little or no risk analysis in the area of working conditions, safety and all kinds of fundamental human rights. OECD guidelines regarding corruption and bribery, tax evasion and fair condition were also not addressed.

More info: Victor de Lange