AECOM is the provider for social services for Sovereign Metals’ Malingunde graphite project in the Lilongwe District in Malawi.

AECOM’s scope of work highlights the importance of consulting firm’s when it comes to stakeholder engagement, social impact assessment, and the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP).

AECOM received a request for proposal from Sovereign Metals’ Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP), Dhamana Consulting of Perth, Australia.

AUTHOR: Karien Lotter is a senior social scientist at AECOM. She holds a Master’s degree in Research Psychology. With nine years’ consulting experience in the mining and infrastructure industries. She has conducted numerous Social Impact Assessments (SIAs) and Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) across Africa, is proficient with stakeholder engagement and social surveys, and is well-versed in international best practice. Lotter has worked extensively with multi-disciplinary teams, has gained management experience both in the field and at the office and has been increasingly involved in business development as part of a larger team.

The EAP had approached three consulting firms, two in South Africa and one in Malawi, based on industry intelligence and recommendations from other professionals in the field.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 6 2018

Dhamana Consulting is the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) service provider, while AECOM is conducting two of the more than ten specialist studies, in addition to the stakeholder engagement for the ESIA process.

This makes AECOM, with support from its local consultant, the sole provider of social services for the project.

The ESIA process, including the stakeholder engagement and resettlement components, are regulated by Malawian legislation, meaning there are specific legal requirements to be met in this regard.

Considerable experience

As an integrated infrastructure delivery firm, AECOM has considerable experience in the full suite of environmental and social assessments required for a variety of permitting purposes, planning resettlements, and compiling RAPs for development projects that require land acquisition and which will result in the displacement of people and their assets.

AECOM has expertise in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as good international industry practice. Studies are routinely conducted according to the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standards, which govern environmental and social impact assessment and management.

AECOM also advise clients during the pre-construction phase about environmentally- and socially-sound development options and solutions.

The ‘social’ aspects of ESIAs includes conducting social impact assessments, resettlement planning, stakeholder management, and due diligence studies.

In essence, as a social specialist, I deal with people and communities with a vested interest in or who are affected by the development process.

In addition conducting studies to IFC standards is usually an indication that the environmental and social assessment considered everything it should have, and that appropriate mitigation and management measures have been developed to minimise the project’s impact on the people and their environment.

The ESIA process, which AECOM’s own scope of work forms a part of, will run for about a year, as from November 2017.

The aim is to submit the ESIA report to the Malawian Environmental Affairs Department in late 2018, in support of an application for environmental authorisation.

In addition, the RAP will be submitted to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development for comment and approval.

Resettlement Action Plan

The RAP sets out the plan according to which displaced people will be compensated for losses, physically relocated if required, and how livelihoods will be restored.

In terms of the Malawian graphite project,the extent of physical and economic displacement is currently being investigated, in collaboration with Sovereign Metals.

The aim is to minimise displacement through, inter alia, working with the team undertaking the feasibility studies to ensure that social and environmental impacts are considered during the design phase.

The RAP serves as a mitigation measure to address the impact of land acquisition required by the project.

During the RAP process, all land owners and users who stand to be affected by land acquisition, as well as their assets, are identified.

Assets are mapped in collaboration with the Ministry of Lands.

Full replacement costs are calculated by means of a market asset valuation assessment.

Resettlement planning is a very interactive process, because you negotiate and reach agreement on every aspect of resettlement, in order to promote a common understanding and consensus of the conditions under which project-affected people will be moved out of the project area.

Challenges associated with the remote location, in particular, are being mitigated by the good working relationship with Sovereign Metals’ in-country team and our local consultant, C12 Consultants.

Both groups provide on-going support to enable us to conduct our work, even when we are not in-country.

Social impacts

The social aspects of development projects are often the most challenging, and can pose a significant risk to the successful implementation of projects, by virtue of the fact that one is dealing with people with complex emotions, hopes, concerns, and expectations.

Assessing a project’s impact on the biophysical environment does not require the scientist to establish and maintain a relationship with his subjects; assessing impacts on people depends on this, rendering the assessments complex and dynamic.

People have the ability to actively oppose projects and prevent them from being implemented if they feel that they will suffer as a result.

People have expectations of benefiting from projects, and have a need for their concerns to be heard about developments taking place around their home.

Importantly, a new Mining Act anticipated to be promulgated in Malawi this year will make it compulsory for all mining companies to undertake Community Development Agreements (CDAs).

This is an important change.

Companies must commit a predetermined percentage of their profits to community development.

This can range from building infrastructure such as roads, schools, and boreholes, implementing education and awareness programmes, or providing training.

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