An Instrument for Managing the Social Consequences of Development

Social Impact Assessment (SIA): An Instrument for Managing Social Consequences of Development


The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process can be defined as a systematic process for identifying, predicting, evaluating, monitoring and managing impacts (positive and negative) associated with a development or planned intervention (policies, plans, programmes, projects). The EIA process also proffers mitigation measurers to avoid, reduce or minimize the negative impacts, and as well enhance positive impacts (benefits).The mitigation measures entail identifying possible alternative site, project, process design, including that of not proceeding with the planned intervention. .

The environment can be broadly classified into Biophysical and Human (Social). The Biophysical characteristics include the following: Physical features e.g. topography, geology (including groundwater), drainage, and aquatic systems; Biodiversity (flora & fauna); Aquatic life and wildlife; Landscape conditions; Climatic and meteorological conditions; Main characteristics of air, water & soil quality, and noise & thermal pollution. The Human (social) environment encompasses socio-economics, political systems, cultural, and human health.

The International EIA laws, including the Nigerian EIA Act No. 86 of 1992 recognises biophysical and social impacts in the context of EIA. The human (social) and biophysical (ecological) impacts are inherently and inextricably interconnected. Both are the two inseparable domains of the EIA system. Changes in one domain will affect the other. However, EIA practitioners, regulators and project proponents, especially in developing countries, do not usually give adequate attention to the realm of social dimensions.

What Are Social Impacts?

According to an official document of International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) (Special publication series No.2, May 2005), social impacts arise in conjunction with a planned intervention if there are changes to one or more of the following:

1) People’s way of life- how they live, work, play and interact with one another on a daily basis;
2) Their culture- their shared beliefs, customs, values and language or dialect;
3) Their community- its cohesion, stability, character, social services and infrastructural facilities;
4) Their political systems- the extent to which people can participate in decision –making processes that affect their lives, the level of democratization that is taking place, and the available resources for this purpose;
5) Their environment- the air, soil & water quality, the availability and quality of the food people eat, the level of hazard or risk, dust and noise they are exposed to, the adequacy of sanitation, their physical safety, and their access to and control over resources;
6) Their health and wellbeing- health is described as a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity;
7) Their personal and property rights- particularly whether people are economically affected, or experience personal disadvantages which may include a violation of their human rights.
8) Their fears and aspirations- their perceptions about their safety, their fears about the future of their community, and their aspirations for their future and the future of their children.

Definition & Principles of Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

SIA is a process for analyzing, evaluating, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences (both positive and negative impacts) of planned interventions. Its primary purpose is to mitigate negative impacts and enhance a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human (social) environment.

There are many International Agreements and Declarations that contain notable statements, which support principles of SIA. Article 1 of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development states that:: “ The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.”

Principle 1 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that: “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” Principle 17 of the Declaration further calls for impact assessment to be undertaken for development activities. Development processes that infringe on the human rights of any section of society are unacceptable.

The following is a list of international principles, on environmental management, which has been rewritten by the SIA community (spearheaded by IAIA), to apply more directly to social issues:

1) Precautionary Principle- whereby preventive measures are taken, considering the costs and benefits of action and inaction, when there is a scientific basis, even if limited, to believe that the people’s ways of life and the integrity of their communities will be affected by the planned interventions.
2) Uncertainty Principle- by which it must be recognized that our knowledge of the social world and of social processes is incomplete and that social knowledge can never be fully complete because the social environment and the processes affecting it are changing constantly, and vary in space and over time
3) Intragenerational Equity- by which the benefits from the range of planned interventions should address the needs of all, and the social impacts should not fall disproportionately on certain groups of the population, in particular children and women, the minority groups and other disadvantaged or marginalized members of society, certain generations or certain regions.
4) Intergenerational Equity- which requires that planned interventions should be managed so that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and aspirations.
5) Recognition and Preservation of Diversity- by which it is recognized that communities and societies are not homogenous. They are demographically structured based on age and gender, and they comprise different groups with various beliefs, values systems and different skills. Care must be taken to ensure that planned interventions appreciate the existence of the social diversity and preserve it.
6) Internalization of Costs- which requires the full social and ecological costs of a planned intervention to be internalized through the use of economic and other instruments (that is, these costs should be included as part of the cost of intervention); and no intervention plan should be considered as cost-effective if it achieves this by creation of hidden costs to present or future generations or the environment.
7) The Polluter Pays Principle- which requires that the full cost of mitigation measures for social impacts should be borne by the proponent of the planned intervention.
8) The Prevention Principle- by which it is generally preferable and cheaper in the long run to prevent negative social impacts and ecological damage from happening than having to restore or rectify the damage after the event.
9) The Protection and Promotion of Health and Safety- which requires that all planned intervention

s should be assessed for their accident risks and their health impacts. Safety entails assessing and managing the risks from hazardous substances, technologies or processes, with a view to minimizing their harmful effects, including not bringing them into use or phasing them out as soon as possible. Health impacts cover the physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing and safety of all people, giving particular attention to the most vulnerable groups of the populations such as the economically deprived, children and women, the elderly, the disabled, indigenous groups, as well as the population in the risk zone of the planned intervention.
10) The Principle of Multisectoral Integration- which requires that social issues should be properly integrated into all projects, policies, infrastructure programmes and other planning activities.
11) The Principle of Subsidiarity- which requires that decisions about the approval of planned interventions, or conditions under which they might operate, should be taken as close to the affected people as possible, with local citizens having an input into the approval and management processes.

Activities in Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

SIA comprises at least the following activities. It:

a) collects baseline data on social issues (social profiling) to allow evaluation of the impacts created by the planned interventions;
b) identifies and describes the activities which are likely to cause impacts (scoping);
c) predicts potential significant impacts and how different stakeholders are likely to respond;
d) assists in evaluating and selecting alternatives (including a ‘no development option’);
e) recommends mitigation measures for negative impacts;
f) provides compensation (non-financial as well as financial) for the affected persons;
g) develops coping strategies for dealing with residual or non-mitigable impacts;
h) assists in devising and implementing monitoring and management programmes;
i) contributes to skill development and capacity building in the community.


The continued impoverishment of the oil- bearing communities of the Nigeria’s Niger Delta is an indication of a failed Social Impact Assessment (SIA) system in Nigeria. A well- implemented SIA should address social problems arising from development and industrial activities, and also promote the socio-economic status and general well-being of host communities. The Nigerian government should give the SIA its rightful place in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. This would go a long way in minimizing social unrest in the highly industrialized but socially marginalized communities of the Niger Delta.

Written by
Tayo Akeem Yusuf
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