The development and operation of natural resource extraction projects (e.g. minerals, metals, oil and gas) affects public health, ecosystems and societies in producer regions. The HIA4SD Project intends to analyse the conditions under which impact assessments are an effective regulatory mechanism to engage natural resource extraction projects in working towards the health-related targets of the SDG 2030 Agenda.
Extractive projects have considerable potential to strengthen local health systems and improve people's wellbeing in the areas where they are implemented. The past has shown, however, that adverse impacts on health determinants (e.g. local health systems, access to water and sanitation, food availability) and health outcomes (e.g. HIV/AIDS, vector-related diseases, non-communicable diseases) often prevail. Currently, we have only a fuzzy understanding of interactions between natural resource extraction projects and health systems, including economic considerations and observed health impacts.
At the regulatory level, impact assessments are typically used to identify and mitigate negative externalities. To this end, all countries worldwide are legally required to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA) prior to constructing a large infrastructure project. Yet, despite its universal application, environmental outcomes caused by large infrastructure projects differ widely; the execution of EIA in itself does not seem to be sufficient to guarantee the minimization of negative environmental externalities. In the area of health, the use of specific health impact assessments (HIA) is less common. Currently, no country in Africa actively promotes HIA, let alone regulates it. Existing evidence on the strengths and limitations of the institutional framework and capacity for impact assessments in general and HIA in particular is scarce in African countries.
A better understanding of the links between resource extraction and health impacts on one side and of the framework conditions that determine the effectiveness of health impact assessment on the other side, allows for the design of policy measures that can more actively engage natural resource extraction projects in sustainable development.
The overarching objective of the HIA4SD project is to conduct research – complemented by a strong capacity building component – that will inform and facilitate a policy dialogue for strengthening the application of impact assessment as a regulatory mechanism to: (1) avoid negative effects of natural resource extraction projects on public health; and (2) actively engage natural resource extraction projects – and any other large infrastructure developments – in the SDG 2030 Agenda and, thus, development in Africa.