ENHANCING ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL DECISION-MAKING
The UNDP/GEF Danube Regional Project (DRP) supports the efforts of Danube Basin stakeholders to reduce water pollution and introduce sustainable management of natural resources. Sustainable pollution reduction can only be achieved with the involvement of those who contribute to, or are affected by, poor water quality. DRP therefore supports a multi-year effort to build the capacities of governments, local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Danube River Basin for improved public access to water-related information and public participation in water management decision-making. The guidelines for this effort come from the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Aarhus Convention and other EU directives on access to information and public participation.
The project activity, called "Enhancing Access to Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making" has been implemented in five Danube riparian countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia. The experience, lessons learned and best practice models developed in these countries will be of value for water management stakeholders throughout the entire Danube Basin.
Support was given at national and local community level as well as at regional level, in the form of capacity building and experience sharing. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) has also benefited from the activities through an assessment of its present capacities and mechanisms for ensuring public access to information and participation, as well as recommendations for their improvement.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THE EXPERIENCE GAINED?
Are you at the "front lines" of providing public access to water related information? Is water pollution affecting you and your family's or your community's quality of life? Are water management decisions affecting your business or livelihood?
Then we can help, especially if you are:
- National, regional and local government employees responsible for:
- Managing water and environmental information
- Providing public access to water-related information
- Ensuring public participation, including in the WFD implementation process.
- Environmental NGOs and community members interested in obtaining information and influencing management decisions concerning water pollution.
- Industry, farmers or businesses contributing to water pollution and/or affected by decisions concerning pollution management and information provision.
WHAT ARE THE OUTPUTS?
National Needs Assessment Reports assess the capacity of governments in the five participating countries as of 2004 for providing access to information and public participation in decision-making concerning water pollution reduction in the Danube Basin. Two reports highlight the experience and lessons learned during Study Tours to the USA and the Netherlands where project participants got familiar with mature access to information systems. In addition, two reports have been prepared assessing the capacity of ICPDR with regard to access to information and public participation and recommending measures for improvement.
Overall highlights from the reports include:
1. NATIONAL NEEDS ASSESSMENTS (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, BULGARIA, CROATIA, ROMANIA, SERBIA):
- Overview of national legal frameworks (including implementation and enforcement) and institutional arrangements for public access to water-related information.
- Assessment of barriers to providing public access to information.
- Identification of priority issues to be addressed by the DRP component.
2. ICPDR INFORMATION ACCESS:
- Overview of information on file and ICPDR vehicles for information dissemination.
- Suggestions and models for increasing information dissemination and accessibility.
3. ICPDR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION REPORT AND OVERVIEW OF DIFFERENT INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
- Public participation opportunities under current ICPDR structures and instruments.
- Overview of public participation mechanisms at other international river basin commissions and water-related international institutions and regimes.
- Analysis of key features, advantages and drawbacks.
- Options and recommendations for improving public participation at ICPDR.
4. STUDY TOUR REPORTS (USA, THE NETHERLANDS):
- Agenda and participants for each of the Study Tours.
- Experiences and lessons learned.
- Planned follow-up actions by national participants based on the experience gained.
OTHER OUTPUTS AND ACTIVITIES
A number of other useful reference documents were also developed, as well as reports explaining the various activities undertaken during the project:
1. MANUALS FOR GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
Manuals provide practical guidance to government staff in each country on how to provide active and passive access to water information; examples on dealing with difficult issues and advice on how to involve the public in water related decision-making. The manuals for Romania and BiH also discuss public participation in WFD related decision making.
2. INFORMATION DATABASES
The project provided assistance for the development of a national Water Data Base in BiH including information sources, substances, emissions, stakeholder contacts, etc.
3. PROPOSALS FOR IMPROVING NATIONAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Legal texts and internal instructions were drafted, e.g. for dealing with information confidentiality issues.
Government staff and stakeholders were trained to raise their capacities in information provision and access, as well as the use of some of the newly developed tools.
5. STUDY TOURS
Stakeholders from the participating countries got familiar with mature access to information systems during study visits to the USA and the Netherlands. Integrated Study Tour Reports highlight the experience gained and how it will impact country activities.
6. DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS
Five local projects, one in each participating country, tested a variety of approaches for informing and involving local communities in the resolution of local pollution problems.
7. INFORMATION DISSEMINATION AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION TOOLS
Various tools were established or their functioning improved (e.g. river basin committees, websites) to provide a platform for on-going community and regional discussion and resolution of water pollution issues.
8. INFORMATION BROCHURES
Brochures were developed for citizens and NGOs in the five participating countries on their right to access water-related information, what information is available and where, the procedures for requesting information and what to do if a request is refused.
FURTHER INFORMATION SHEETS UNDER THIS THEME
The following DRP Information Sheets under the theme Public Participation in Danube Pollution Reduction will be available on the DRP and REC websites from 1 January 2007:
1. BACKGROUND STORY
A background and context to public participation in the Danube River Basin.
2. NATIONAL ACTIVITIES (FIVE INFORMATION SHEETS): BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, BULGARIA, CROATIA, ROMANIA AND SERBIA
A more detailed overview of activities, products and tools developed in each of the five countries participating in the project component.
3. DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS (FIVE INFORMATION SHEETS)
Activities, lessons learned and models at the five local demonstration projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia.
For more information, as well as to view the documents produced by the project, please visit the following websites:
UNDP/GEF DRP: /drp/en/activities_3_public_participation.html
REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER FOR CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE (REC): http://www.rec.org/REC/Programs/PublicParticipation/DanubeRiverBasin/