Assessing national capacity on environmental and social safeguards in Africa

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Development partners have a key role to play in supporting Africa’s endeavours in the areas of environmental capacity and good governance, in line with the requirement of the “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness”. The African Development Bank stands ready to address the capacity gaps and to increase the reliance on country systems in delivering its development interventions at a time when developing the capacities of national administrations to manage the environment is particularly urgent and amidst an agenda of global importance.

The Bank has made a commitment to understanding its regional member country safeguards systems and their laws, regulations, rules and procedures on the policy areas of environment, involuntary resettlement, and their implementing institutions.The Bank has therefore concluded a pilot assessment of the use of “country systems” for environmental and social safeguards and their implications for Bank-financed operations as part of the process of designing an Integrated Safeguards System (ISS) – a cornerstone of its strategy to promote growth that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

One of the main strategic objectives of the ISS, which was adopted in December 2013, is to contribute to the strength and capacity of Country Safeguard Systems (CSS) for integrating environmental and social considerations into policy, program and project decision-making, enabling the Bank to rely to an increased extent on the regional member countries’ (RMCs) Environmental and Social Assessment requirements, procedures and practices.  

The report, “Assessment of the use of ‘Country Systems’ for environmental and social safeguards and their implications for AfDB-financed operations in Africa”, published as the second issue of the Safeguards and Sustainability Series offer a synthetically view of the six national assessments of country environmental and social safeguards and compliances systems for South Africa, Angola, Cameroon, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. The study determines the comparability of existing legal and regulatory safeguards in RMCs to AfDB environmental and social safeguard policies as described in the ISS. Six RMCs – South Africa, Angola, Cameroon, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Tanzania – were thus chosen on account of their geographical, linguistic and socio-economic representation of the diversity of African countries.

This study shows that capacity constraints cut across all RMCs – from fragile and conflict-affected states to Middle Income States. It calls for the need to collectively strengthen capacities of country systems through our projects through the following actions: adding project components on capacity-building to implement Environmental and Social (E&S) covenants; sensitizing country teams on the ISS during project preparation up to loan negotiations and beyond, and considering environmental and social safeguards and sustainability matters during project launch.

The study revealed that all the environmental and social aspects required in the Bank’s new ISS are not fully matched by legal and operational frameworks in the six countries covered by the study, especially on social themes including gender, working conditions, vulnerable groups, etc. The study also indicated a strong correlation between each study country’s level of governance and socio-economic development and the performance of its environmental and social safeguards system.

The study concludes that there is a need to support the sensitization, information and education of local populations, civil society and the private sector and the upgrading of national civil servants. It also notes that the establishment of monitoring and evaluation and management of complaints, grievances and redress mechanisms, among other institutional and organizational measures, would provide a flexible but efficient and results-oriented Environmental and Social Assessment process at the national level.