The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has noted with great concern that little attention has been given to integrating HIV and gender issues into environmental assessments.
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says there is a growing recognition of the need to more carefully consider health, particularly HIV/Aids, and gender-related concerns in national development planning processes.
Although many development projects are implemented following an environmental assessment process, as provided for in the Environmental Management Act, Shifeta said little has been done to integrate HIV and gender-related issues, which hampers the mission to achieve economic development, when it comes to undertaking major capital projects in Namibia.
According to him, there is evidence that links large-scale projects, such as infrastructure development, including construction of roads and dams, with increased prevalence of HIV arising mainly from contact between local communities and large numbers of migrant workers.
“Capital projects also cause negative effects on the social fabric of many local communities. Therefore, failure to mainstream health and gender issues in the EIA process and the resultant high prevalence of HIV in project operational areas negates attempts to improve the livelihoods and socio-economic welfare of the people in rural areas,” he said.
In addition, noted, there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the potential impacts of HIV and gender issues within communities and other interested and affected people, and to sensitise them to what can could done to mitigate these negative impacts.
It is against this background that the ministry launched customised guidelines for mainstreaming social issues, particularly HIV/Aids and gender, into EIAs for capital projects. He said integrating health and social issues into social and environmental impact assessments is one practical way to ensure that capital projects purposefully consider these issues during the project life cycle and EIA process.
The UNDP Regional Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration and Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment, commissioned the project to investigate current environmental assessment practice in 10 countries, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with respect to the inclusion of HIV and gender-related issues.
The minister said analysis of the Environmental Management Act and its regulations and the EIA process in Namibia reveals that HIV and gender issues can be factored into the process at many different stages of the assessment.
“HIV/Aids is one of most significant threats to socio-economic development in Namibia. It affects individuals, families, communities and the nation at large. It has no respect for class, educational attainments, race, tribe or economic status and it poses serious threats to development and is likely to seriously affect the achievement of Namibia’s Vision 2030 goals on overall health and development,” Shifeta said.
Therefore, he said HIV/Aids is not just a health problem, but also a developmental issue affecting all sectors of society, as it contributes to the reduction of food security, reduces economic productivity and erodes household incomes.
It also leads to a decline in the capacity of families and communities to care for their children and elderly dependents and negatively impacts on delivery of services.