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UNDP releases guidelines to address the HIV risks of large infrastructure projects

Infographic on HIV and Gender Mainstreaming in Environmental Impact Assesment Infographic on HIV and Gender Mainstreaming in Environmental Impact Assesment

Tunis, 25 September 2013 —Governments and partners on the African continent must reduce the impact of large infrastructure projects and mining operations on the spread of HIV, according to new guidelines released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with other UN and international organizations.

The Guidelines for Integrating HIV and Gender-Related Issues into Environmental Assessment in Eastern and Southern Africa was published jointly with the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment (SAIEA), and launched at a technical meeting hosted by the African Development Bank.

“Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa can lift millions of people out of poverty, but the spread of HIV may impede and even reverse these development gains,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Director of UNDP Africa. “We must prevent the adverse impacts of capital projects on the environment and on health, and reduce associated HIV risks—particularly for women and girls who are the most vulnerable in that regard.”

Six of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the last decade are in sub-Saharan Africa. With increased foreign direct investment targeting commodities and mineral resources, demand has escalated for improved railways, roads, dams, power stations, and other infrastructure. In 2010, total foreign direct investment in Africa was more than US$55 billion, five times what it was a decade earlier and much more than the total sum that Africa receives in aid.

While these projects promote jobs and growth, they can also increase the vulnerability of people working on these sites and surrounding communities—particularly women and girls—to HIV.   The execution of large capital projects frequently causes population movements and changes to sexual networks, raising HIV risks for construction workers, miners, truck drivers and sex workers, among others.  For example, the construction of the Trans-Kalahari highway from South Africa through Botswana and Namibia has contributed to a three-fold increase in HIV prevalence in the remote Ghanzi district of Botswana.

Despite the adoption of regulations in many countries to mitigate adverse socio-economic impacts of capital projects, such projects can influence outcomes relating to health, the environment, and even gender relations.

The Guidelines for Integrating HIV and Gender-Related Issues into Environmental Assessment in Eastern and Southern Africa call for governments to recognize HIV risks and take the necessary steps to mitigate them in developing large infrastructure projects and mining operations.

The guidelines aim to help countries address barriers to implementation of existing environmental, health, gender, and labour policies, laws and regulations in the planning and execution of large infrastructure projects. Such barriers can include legislative and institutional weaknesses, poor environmental assessment practices, weak mitigation plans, and insufficient monitoring of HIV and gender-related interventions. The guidelines also call for infrastructure developers, contractors, and suppliers to consider health as wealth, and urge them to dedicate sufficient resources to community-based HIV prevention and gender empowerment programmes.

UNDP and partners are supporting 10 countries in East and Southern Africa to include HIV and gender-related issues into current environmental assessment practice: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

This work has informed development of the guidelines, which are consistent with recommendations from international and regional declarations responding to HIV, including the Maseru Declaration on the Fight against HIV and AIDS and the Abuja Actions towards the Elimination of HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa by 2030.

“These guidelines aim to benefit national environmental authorities, government ministries, assessment practitioners, research and academic institutions, and civil society organizations in the region," Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of UNDP's HIV, Health, & Development Practice, said.

"Knowledge gained from using these guidelines is expected to inform policy reviews, promote partnerships and synergies among stakeholders, and strengthen monitoring and compliance processes associated with environmental assessments.”


More on the Initiative for Mainstreaming HIV and Gender into Environmental Impact Assesments

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.