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Environment Capacity Development Projects in Selected South Asian Countries

sector: Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development | country: India Sri Lanka

1. Developing environmental management capacities of national and provincial agencies requires long-term sustained support. Environment agencies need to stay abreast of the latest advances in global environmental technology, which is not easy in a developing member country given the competing demand on limited resources and the externality nature of environmental management. Where an external donor agency is the primary source of such assistance, a programmatic approach – a long-term process that assists ongoing Capacity Development, with each intervention forming part of a longer-term agenda to build environmental management capacity at national or provincial level – has a better chance of success than an isolated technical assistance (TA). Lack of such sustained assistance affected the long-term outcomes of the Sri Lanka environmental impact assessment TA. [Executive summary; Main text, para. 55-58,95]

2. Sector-specific environment capacity development stands a better chance of success if associated with a project or a program. An environment-strengthening technical assistance (TA) that is associated with infrastructure lending can be more effective in reforming environmental practices if loan tranches are linked to progress on the TA project’s milestones. The Environment and Social Division TA in Sri Lanka benefited from this approach. Evaluation noted that the success of the Sri Lanka’s National Highways Project was inextricably linked to the successful execution of associated TA on safeguard capacity building at Road Development Authority. [Executive summary, Main text, paras. 19,96]

3. Municipal clean development mechanism (CDM) projects have long-term development benefits. Although complex in nature owing to scale and multitude of stakeholder involvement, municipal CDM projects in populous countries and regions (as in the case of the CDM technical assistance in India) may well offer an unusually attractive combination of environmental and social benefits. Because of this, continued TA will be relevant if good ownership is evident. [Main text, para. 97]

4. Access to primary data is essential for robust environmental scrutiny. Lack of an agreed data-sharing protocol among scientific and consulting community and government establishments is emerging as a major source of inefficiency in administering environmental safeguards, because it leads to needless duplication and delays. It increases the cost of the process, reduces its credibility, and imposes an unnecessary burden on the regulated community. Credibility of an initial environmental examination (IEE) or environmental impact assessment (EIA) is directly related to the quality of data used in its preparation. In a number of cases, the data used to justify IEE or EIA conclusions are not attached to the reports themselves and remain unavailable to third parties. While limited access to certain types of natural resource data may be justified on the grounds of national security or strategic considerations, large-scale de facto privatization or withholding of EIA-related data is not in the public interest. The EIA process in Sri Lanka suffers from this problem. [Main text, para. 98]

5. Decentralization of environmental assessment and management functions needs to be accompanied by strong local capacity. In both India and Sri Lanka, decentralization of environmental assessment was not supported with adequate institutional capacity at provincial levels and led to inefficiencies. The environmental clearance process (2006) in India enshrines decentralization of decision making at the state level. However, due to varying levels of economic development in states, it often meets limited capacity and skills in scoping and reviewing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) at the state environment departments, state pollution control boards (SPCBs), and the appraisal committees. In Sri Lanka, absence of enabling statutes and capacity constraints limits devolution of EIA decision making to the provinces. [Main text, para. 99; Appendix 3&5]

6. Ensuring the effectiveness of technical assistance (TA) requires support that focuses on relatively few areas than spread over multiple sectors and states. Unduly broad terms of reference (TOR) tend to weaken TA focus. A TA with a very large scope tends to hide an uncertain grasp of key issues and rarely serves anyone’s interest and ends up becoming irrelevant. The result is excessive cost and duration of the project and a rising gap between the volume of consultant outputs and the readiness of the client to use them; this is even more critical when the absorptive capacity of the executing agency is weak. As an example, the environmental management cluster TA in India, which registered an unsuccessful performance, had with five components, four implementing agencies, and 157 person-months of consulting inputs took more than 7 years to complete. [Main text, para. 78,100; Appendix 3]

7. Effective cluster technical assistance (TA) management requires centralized coordination from ADB. Shared responsibility for cluster TA management is ineffective. The environmental management cluster TA in India has clearly demonstrated the importance of one ADB officer managing the overall cluster instead of different officers being responsible for different components (which contributed to administrative inefficiencies and lack of synergy among components). Involvement of different mission leaders in developing a cluster TA can well be justified, but extending that approach to implementation is not. [Main text, paras. 42, 48, 62, 101]

8. Frequent dialogue with technical assistance (TA) counterparts can improve project performance. Institutional reform is a slow and demanding process, one that requires close partnership between ADB and the executing agency, built on trust. Periodic supervision missions from ADB headquarters stand less of a chance to generate that trust. Resident missions, on the other hand, are close to the scene of action and can better appreciate the context and dig deeper into possible sources of implementation difficulties. Limited field presence in the early days of the environmental management TA for continued and intensive discussions, not only with India’s State Pollution Control Board but also its Ministry of Environment and Forestry, was among the factors that hampered project performance. This lesson supports a similar finding in India’s country assistance program evaluation of 2007 – that greater delegation to the resident mission will boost client responsiveness. [Main text, para. 42,102]

9. Absence of a mandate reduces the executing agency’s efficacy in knowledge transfer through the technical assistance (TA). Executing agencies are responsible for adopting and disseminating the TA product and require a clear mandate, complementary institutional preconditions, and skills to do so. In the absence of these, the transfer of know-how, expected of TA projects, will not occur or be seriously diminished, as was demonstrated in the cleaner production financing component of the environmental management TA in India. [Main text, para. 103; Appendix 3, para. 69]

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