Mainstreaming HIV and Gender into Environmental Impact Assessment

South Sudanese rebuilding damaged roads and infrastucture.
South Sudanese rebuilding damaged roads and infrastucture. Photo: UNDP South Sudan

Infrastructure development in east and southern Africa (ESA) is critical for the region’s development. Transportation infrastructure—highways, railways, habours, airports—as well as other large capital projects—dams, mines, power plants—can promote much needed economic growth and employment. Such projects feature prominently in the National Development Plans of many countries in the region.

Large capital projects do not come without costs, however. Some of these costs,  which include social and environmental costs, as well as economic ones, are well known. Dams, for example, can dramatically change water supplies, distribution and quality, displace local people and disrupt traditional livelihoods. Often, it is the poorest and most marginalized who face the negative consequences of such large projects without realizing a proportional set of benefits.

Increasingly, large capital projects are also recognized as a driver of the spread of HIV/AIDS, an epidemic that continues to pose major health, human rights and socio-economic challenges to the ESA region and threatens human development objectives, including those represented by the Millenium Development Goals. The link between capital projects and HIV/AIDS depends on a number of factors, but key among them is population migration, both within and between countries, and the changing of sexual networks that ensues. The effects are particularly evident among transport corridors, in cross-border areas, in campsites, hostels and within rural communities of mobile and migrant workers.   Stigma is prevalent, rule of law is absent and access to HIV services is inadequate. The negative effects among women and girls are particularly striking. 

A critical step to breaking the link between capital projects and the spread of HIV/AIDs is strengthening Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) legislation pertaining to these key populations and particularly on issues of HIV and gender. UNDP in partnership with the Southern Africa Institute for Environmental Assessment has commissioned a regional project aimed at strengthening the integration of HIV and Gender issues in EIA processes. Though multilateral donors have guidelines for assessing the potential impact of HIV and gender in infrastructure projects there is still a demand for a proactive and robust approach to address the social and health issues associated with such development. This project will analyze and fill gaps in EIA legislations as a way of bridging the development interface and mitigate risks associated with capital projects.  As a start-up the following countries are being supported under this initiative which includes: Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana. In time, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe will all be part of the project.