Doctors calls for mandatory assessment of development projects' impact on citizens’ health

The Malta Association of Public Health Medicine has offered to assist the Planning Authority introduce guidelines and standards on assessing the health impacts of big projects

Major development projects' impact on people's health should be assessed before any permit is granted, the MAPHM said
Major development projects' impact on people's health should be assessed before any permit is granted, the MAPHM said

The impact of major development projects on public health should be assessed before a permit is issued by the Planning Authority, the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM) said on Monday.

In a statement, the MAPHM said it welcomed the Planning Authority’s proposal for the introduction of a standard procedure for carrying out Social Impact Assessments (SIA). This, it said, was an important step forward that would “help mitigate the frequent negative impacts of large developments on the social fabric of the surrounding community”.

However, it said that for SIAs to be fit for purpose, a development’s impact on health should also be considered, including “physical, mental and social well-being”. The MAPHM noted that SIAs tend not to consider the impact of planning on human health as they use narrow definitions of health, focusing on the impact of a few physical risk factors.

Assessments, the MAPHM said, should not be limited to the “absence of disease or infirmity” and should be underpinned by “values such as recognition of human rights, democracy, equity, sustainable development and the ethical use of evidence”.    

It emphasised that the environment a person lives in affects their health and quality of life.

“Our physical, mental and social well-being is dependent on our surroundings. This includes the air we breathe, where we live, work and play, and the way our towns and roads are planned and built,” the MAPHM said.

The association recommended that a legal requirement be introduced for any development that “may potentially impact human health”, including “large scale developments, residential and establishments, policies, plans and any project that may impact on the natural environment and human health”, to undergo a health assessment.  

Moreover, MAPHM called for a task force to be set up within the Planning Authority to develop guidelines and standards for Human Impact Assessments, adding that it was willing to offer its expertise in this regard.   

The association noted that under the current proposal, an SIA will remain discretionary in the case of most projects and would have too narrow a scope. “We believe that the proposed limited application of SIAs is a serious shortcoming that can easily be addressed by having a (publicly available) standardised screening tool that can be applied to screen projects, policies and programmes regarding the need for an SIA.”

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