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The national growth and transformation plan that we have embarked upon is an ambitious plan indeed. According to the plan Ethiopia will record substantial economic growth and will be well on the way to become a middle income country. In order to achieve some of our economic development targets, domestic business must be encouraged and a conducive environment must be created by Government for the business community to play its role effectively. As I argued many times before in this column, not doing so is like shooting ourselves in the foot and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Yet that is exactly what is happening sometimes.
The infrastructural works we see being implemented are impressive to say the least and our capital city and other towns in the country are developing at a remarkable pace indeed and I can’t wait to see the light train beginning to provide service to countless commuters, relieving some of the problems many face to get to work. Such works bring along some challenges however as well and it seems to me that the social and economic impacts of public works are hardly studied, leave alone considered. As a result harm is done, some of which could be prevented if some more time had been taken and if those affected were invited to share their points of view and suggestions during the planning phase. Thus negative impacts could be avoided to a certain extend and measures could be taken to minimise damage, allow sufficient time for those affected to take their own measures and perhaps even to consider some form of compensation for revenue lost. Since last week for example, I can hardly reach my office anymore. The entire area has turned into something that looks like a warzone and all access roads to the office have become as good as impassable. Nothing in my mind had prepared me for the kind of chaos that has been created almost overnight. I am seriously looking for alternative office space and I am sure I am not the only one. The owner of the building will lose most of his revenue, while tenants are relocating.
Then, the other day I invited some visitors for lunch around my office and we walked to one of my favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood. To my surprise, the restaurant was closed and when we looked around, it seemed no wonder at all, with no road access and parking place around anymore. We then walked to an otherwise busy other restaurant next to the fuel station. Guess what? We were the only customers! Again, the place was completely isolated as a result of the railway construction. Tankers cannot reach the fuel station anymore and the place has dried up. Businesses are seriously affected and it will not surprise me if a number of them will not be able to survive. This includes buildings, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, supermarkets, shops and fuel stations. The negative impacts of the project are beginning to become all too clear. While we look forward for the light train to help relieve some of the public transport problems, it should not go at the expense of so many businesses along the track.
Surely, some of the consequences of the manner in which projects are implemented can be foreseen. Apart from the shorter term negative consequences, there will of course be the longer term benefits. All consequences of any project, short term and long term, positive and negative, should be assessed though. This applies to all kinds of projects or activities, small or big, implemented by authorities, the private sector and development organizations alike. Seemingly harmless initiatives have sometimes developed into almost disasters. Think of the introduction of the water hyacinth for example into Africa, suffocating large part of main lakes, threatening the livelihoods of entire fishing communities.
Consequences may be social, economic and environmental and it is now common to carry out an impact assessment before carrying out significant projects. It identifies the main options for achieving the objective and analyses their likely impacts in the economic, environmental and social fields. It outlines advantages and disadvantages of each option and examines possible synergies and trade-offs. It is a way to assess the impacts on society of certain development schemes and projects before they go ahead – for example, new roads, industrial facilities, mines, dams, ports, airports, and other infrastructure projects. The results of the assessment are then incorporated into the planning and approval processes of the project, in order to categorize and assess how major developments may affect populations, groups, and settlements. Impact assessments are also of increasing importance in terms of corporate social responsibility.
It is important to stimulate the economic growth we witness in this country and in Africa in general, but it must be done in a sustainable way, considering all possible consequences of any project or business we embark upon and doing no harm.