Gov’t urged to invest in health impact assessment

Key stakeholders in the health and mining sectors, as well as academia, have urged the government to invest in health impact assessment in the resource extraction industry. They say this will ensure the wellbeing of the populace and sustainable development. At a Stakeholder Meeting on Health Impact Assessment for Engaging Resource Extraction Projects in Sustainable Development (HIA4SD), participants bemoaned the practice where little or no health impact assessment (HIA) is carried out prior to resource extraction leaving resource-rich communities in deplorable conditions. The limited use of HIA was attributed to 2 major reasons; lack of a regulatory/policy framework which highlights HIA as has been done for the Environmental Impact Assessment as well as limited capacity in-country to undertake HIA. Consequently, the absence of a coherent and systematic health impact assessment in the country has resulted in the exploitation of the natural resource. This, has, in turn, made residents vulnerable to various health conditions arising as a result of the resource extraction projects. These health conditions include tuberculosis and HIV. The impact on health, according to the researchers extend beyond disease but also affects health service provision as well as determinants of health such as access to potable water. Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, Volta Region, Prof. Fred Newton Binka expressed worry about the manner the derivatives have been exploited in Ghana and other African countries and called on the government to invest in health impact assessment to derive much from the industry. “Government must make an investment, yes we must extract the derivatives, but we must do it properly. We just can’t be doing it like how we farm; cut and slash, no, technology is there now, and we must invest in that and we must look at the effects that it will have on the human being. If we put an emphasis on that, we will definitely achieve the same goal. We will extract the derivatives and our people will also benefit from it.” Deputy Ranking Member on Health in Ghana’s Parliament, and Member of Parliament for Binduri in the Upper East Region, Hon. Dr. Robert Baba Kuganab-Lem emphasized the need for good governance in the extractive sector. He said, “When we have poor governance in the sector, they cannot remedy whatever effects that the extractive industry brings unto the people. Good sector governance is critical. When it comes to this, we have not done well as a country.” He also called for the health sector to be more involved and own the implementation of HIA for the extractive industry. Ing. Michael Sandow Ali, Head of Mining for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urged Ghanaians not to be worried over the absence of a legal framework on health impact assessment. He shared that on its own, the EPA has been requesting for HIA. He was hopeful that the outcome of the stakeholder meeting and the subsequent project activities could guide the agency in developing a workable guideline on health impact assessment in the country. “This stakeholder meeting is going to really develop a guideline that will help in the health impact assessment in this country so that it is systematized and we will all do it in the same way like we have it for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) itself; we have a guideline so people do it systematically and this one there is no guideline for now and so depending on who the consultant is, he will bring the report based on what he knows,” Ing. Ali said. He assured residents in resource-rich communities that the government was thinking about them and that was the reason why health impact assessment was becoming a crucial thing for them to understand that if there was any impact on their lives in terms of health, they will be taken care of. Dr Mirko Winkler of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Consultant for the Project emphasized health has become a cross-cutting issue of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda and urged the need to incorporate health impact assessment in minimizing the negatives and improving the positives associated with resource extraction. Dr Belinda Afriyie Nimako, one of the researchers explained the rationale for the project. “This research is a research for development project and the aim is to promote the use of the globally-accepted tool of HIA to ensure there is responsible mining in the resource-rich project countries i.e. Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Tanzania and Ghana. That will be the project’s contribution towards Agenda 2030. First, we are generating the evidence, two years on we hope to strengthen the in-country capacity to undertake HIAs. Alongside the these, we intend to use the evidence to influence the regulatory and policy environment such that HIA can be made a specific requirement for resource extraction as EIA is.” At the very least, we need to strengthen the health component of the existing impact assessments supervised by the EPA. The HIA4SD project analyses the conditions under which impact assessments are an effective regulatory mechanism to mitigate negative externalities from natural resource extraction and contribute to the health-related targets of the SDGs 2030 Agenda. The aim of the project is to generate a sound evidence-base at the national and local level on strengths and limitations of current impact assessment practice in engaging these projects to work towards health-related targets of the SDGs.