|dc.description.abstract||Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a proactive tool that assesses and addresses the environmental and social impacts of development projects. It has been identified as a process that can potentially deliver the goal of sustainable development. Public participation is an important aspect of both EIA and sustainable development. In many countries EIA provides the only opportunity for the public to participate in decision-making processes. Nevertheless, research reveals that meaningful public participation in EIA in most countries remains a false promise, with consultations undertaken only as an administrative necessity and with the public having no real power to influence the decisions. It is argued here that, in order for public participation in the EIA process to be effective and promote sustainable development, the process needs to follow participatory principles promoted by deliberative democracy.
This research investigates the EIA process of the Maldives, a developing island nation in the Indian Ocean. The low-lying nature of the country makes it extremely vulnerable to environmental change and, therefore, sustainable development is high on the agenda for the Maldives. It is a worthwhile case to study as the political context of the country is changing with the Maldives’ recent embracing of democracy. Moreover, the EIA regulations of the country were recently amended in an attempt to make the process more robust. These changes provide an interesting context for the research. In addition, there is very little prior literature on EIA in the Maldives and hence this research is an opportunity to contribute to a still limited body of scholarship.
An interpretive phenomenological research paradigm was adopted in designing the research. A multimethod qualitative research design was selected, with documents and semi-structured interview being the primary data sources. A conceptual framework based on the reviewed literature was developed and used to direct the research design. In this respect, four aspects that ensure a deliberative participatory process were investigated: fairness, competence, willingness, and capacity.
The findings reveal that the participatory procedure in the Maldives is neither fair nor competent. Moreover, several socioeconomic barriers that affect the capacity and willingness of the actors to participate were identified: namely, political influence, a lack of human and financial capacity, gender gap, a loss of community spirit, and a lack of environmental and procedural awareness.
This thesis contributes to the scholarship on public participation in the EIA process. It specifically helps to identify key challenges for effective public participation in the Maldives EIA process. In this regard, both procedural and socioeconomic barriers were identified. The recommendations proposed are based on the findings of the research, and, if adopted, can lead to more meaningful public participation and thus potentially help to achieve the goal of sustainable development through the EIA process.||