The Access Initiative

New Tool Reveals How Jamaica’s Development Projects Impact People and Planet

By Carole Excell and Stephanie Ratte (Posted: November 20, 2014)

Portland Bight (PBPA) is Jamaica’s largest protected area, extending more than 200 square miles of land and 524 miles of sea. The region is home to 30,000 acres of mangroves, four dry limestone forests, and several threatened species, including the critically endangered Jamaica Iguana. But last year, the Jamaican government revealed plans to lease Goat Islands, two cays located in the protected area, to China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to develop a sprawling $1.5 billion trans-shipment port. The project is expected to flatten the Goat Islands and dredge sizable areas, impacting fishing, tourism, biodiversity, and coastal resilience. What’s also troubling is that the government has released scant information about the project, preventing citizens from learning about how the port may impact them or voicing their concerns at an early stage of development.

This is not an isolated incident: Like many governments, Jamaica does not proactively disclose applications at an early stage for development projects like shipping ports, highways, housing developments, and more. What information is released—such as environmental impact assessments—is presented in a format that’s difficult for citizens to access and understand. Enter Development Alert!: The new tool from WRI’s Access Initiative and the Jamaica Environment Trust aims to promote transparency and public involvement around development projects that affect the environment and public health—projects like those planned in Goat Islands. Development Alert! proactively collects and consolidates information from different government agencies on applications for new development projects, obtaining this information through requests made using the country’s Access to Information Act. The free, mobile-friendly website plots recently approved or proposed large-scale development projects on an interactive map and acts as a hub for data and information about these projects. The map includes overlays of the boundaries of protected areas, fisheries, forest reserves, and land cover so users can easily see which projects are located in environmentally sensitive areas. Types of development projects featured include mining and quarrying; water management, treatment, and sanitation; housing developments; transportation systems and highways; tourism projects like hotel construction; hazardous waste; and more. Through the site, users can:

  • View proposed and approved projects and learn about the potential impact of developments happening in their area
  • Report a development they’ve seen in their neighborhood to help increase awareness about new projects, and
  • Get involved by commenting on a development and voicing their concerns. The website allows users to email public authorities directly and provides details about scheduled public hearings.

A Clearer Picture of Development in Jamaica

In Jamaica, Development Alert! currently identifies 32 projects that are likely to have significant health, environmental, social, or cultural impacts, including four projects classified as high impact. Of these, 11 are located in or around protected areas. Development Alert! shows, for example, that the trans-shipment port in Goat Islands is not only within the Portland Bight Protected Area, but is also located within a fishery—the Galleon Harbour Nursery—and the Great Goat Island forest reserve. The fishery acts as a critical habitat for rebuilding fish populations and safeguarding marine resources, while the forest reserve protects the biodiversity found within these natural and nationally important ecosystems. Users can click on the project to see that CHEC submitted an application on January 1, 2014 to conduct a geotechnical survey, and that the government has already approved this survey through the grant of a beach license. The license allows the company to investigate the suitability of the area, including the bearing capacity of the soil and rock, by conducting a survey of the “foreshore and floor of the sea at Galleon Harbour.” As the map shows, this area is protected as a Special Fisheries Conservation Area. The survey is done through the drilling of 27 boreholes on and offshore. By signing up for alerts, posting comments, or emailing the government agency listed, anyone can voice their concerns about the Goat Islands project.

Shedding Light on Development and Empowering Communities

Development Alert! aims to bring an unprecedented level of transparency and participation to energy, transportation, mining, and other types of development projects in Jamaica. It will help shed light on potentially harmful projects, and provides resources to ensure the public can understand their rights to participate in decisions about their country’s development. Strengthening the involvement of those most affected by development decisions can lead to better, more inclusive decision-making. Over the coming months, the Access Initiative hopes to launch similar platforms in other countries. Visit to explore the tool and learn more.

Greenwatch Uganda Champions Information Rights

By Lalanath de Silva (Posted: March 4, 2008)

Laws alone are not enough to ensure environmental protection. Civil society organizations often play a critical role in bringing those laws to life. In Uganda, Greenwatch has done exactly that for the country’s laws on access to environmental information, the first of which passed in 1998.

Under Ugandan environmental law, the public has several opportunities to make its voice heard about new development projects. Projects that might affect the environment of Uganda have to be approved by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). Before such projects are approved the developer must perform an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA), which studies the environmental impacts and examines environmentally friendly alternatives. The law requires that the press announce that the assessment has been performed and that the written results are made available to the public for comment. If comment shows that a project is controversial, NEMA must hold a public hearing.

The public can also challenge NEMA decisions in the Ugandan courts, and that’s where the civil society organization Greenwatch, Uganda (Greenwatch) has distinguished itself. As early as 1999, the organization began suing the government to honor the regulations requiring the assessments.

Although the court refused to stop the signing of the agreement, Greenwatch and other advocates of greater public participation consider the case a partial victory: for the first time, a Ugandan court recognized that concerned advocates could bring a case to vindicate environmental laws. Justice Richard Okumu Wengi of the High Court of Uganda also declared that an assessment and NEMA approval were required before the project could go forward.Greenwatch’s first court challenge of a NEMA decision was to a hydro-electric project funded by the International Finance Corporation and other banks. A utility company – AES Nile Power – was attempting to sign a power purchasing agreement with the Government of Uganda, but the company had not performed an assessment nor had it obtained NEMA approval.

(Citation: NAPE VS AES Nile Power Ltd High Court Misc. cause No. 26 of 1999)

AES Nile Power then proceeded to perform an EIA, and NEMA approved the project. Yet when Greenwatch requested information on the project and the power purchase agreement, the Ugandan Government refused. Review of the power purchase agreement would tell the public if the electricity produced would be affordable and would ease the burden on the environment. Greenwatch sued the Attorney General of Uganda to obtain the document. The court decided that the power purchase agreement and all connected documents were both public documents and therefore ought to be made available to the public.
(Citation: Greenwatch Vs AG & UETCL)

recent UN report concludes that while Uganda has made remarkable progress in the application of EIA procedures, there is a need to improve key aspects of its application. The report states that there is a “need to further develop approaches to ensure effective public participation in EIA, as well as need to create and strengthen regional and sub-regional EIA networks to complement national efforts for promotion of EIA.”

Greenwatch has also successfully used the space provided for public participation at EIA public hearings to stop the spraying of herbicides on Lake Victoria – the second largest lake in the world and the largest in Africa. Greenwatch produced convincing evidence to show the dangers of pesticide spraying. Greenwatch also showed that the entire operation might not be financially viable because the Ugandan company’s parent company in the U.S.A was bankrupt.

Greenwatch continues to advocate in the public interest today. Most recently, it obtained an interim order against Warid Telecom (U) Ltd., stopping the construction of a telecommunication tower in a residential area. The company had failed to perform an EIA and the residents had fears of a cancerous gas affecting them and the construction noise creating a nuisance. Warid Telecom has challenged these allegations saying that there is no scientific basis for any of them. The application for a temporary injunction will be heard soon.

Greenwatch has been closely associated with The Access Initiative coalition in Uganda and has blazed a trail championing citizen rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice (“access rights”) in environmental matters. It also works closely with the Government of Uganda to train public officers and judges in environmental law.

“Every person has a right to information under the Ugandan Constitution,” says Kenneth Kakuru, the Director of Greenwatch, Uganda. “An Environmental Impact Assessment is a public document.”

Resources and Legal Citations:

Full Judgments and more information can be obtained from the Greenwatch website,

Freedom of Information Victory in India

By Lalanath de Silva (Posted: January 28, 2008)

For the first time in its ten-year history, the National Environmental Appellate Authority* (NEAA) has overturned a decision by the Government of India, quashing an environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. In its decision, the Appellate Authority cited a failure of public participation and access to information.

On December 19, 2007, the NEAA quashed environmental clearance for the Polavaram Multipurpose project granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The project, which would have displaced close to 3000 families (totaling about 200,000 people) in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chattisgarh, was to have included a hydroelectric power component of 960 MW and irrigation facilities. The project was proposed by the State of Andrah Pradesh.

The project was opposed by civil society organizations on the grounds that the required Environmental Impact Assessment had been performed inadequately, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests had failed to conduct any public hearings in the affected States of Orissa and Chattisgarh.

During the hearing, both States contended that the legally required environmental clearance was granted by the Ministry of Environment without considering the opinion of the states though they were affected by submergence.

Immediately after the Appellate Authority’s decision, the State Government (Andrah Pradesh) filed a petition for the Andra Pradesh High Court (the highest court in the State) to review the case. The Court has now temporarily suspended the decision of the Appellate Authority and fixed a hearing for February 11.

The NEAA found that:

  • People to be affected by the project had no access to the executive summary in the notified place
  • People to be affected by the project had no opportunity to participate in public hearings and express their view on the likely environmental impact of the construction of the project

The Appeal against the clearance was filed by Dr R. Sreedhar of Academy for Mountain Environics and represented by Ritwick Dutta. Dutta is a leader of the TAI network in India, and is preparing to launch a formal, TAI assessment of access to justice, public participation, and access to information in Northern India.

*The National Environmental Appellate Authority is the only competent Authority set up by Parliament through an Act to hear appeals from aggrieved/ affected persons against the grant of environmental clearances by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to different projects across the country.