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Qualitative and Quantitative Parameters in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Introduction

To assess or evaluate any subject various parameters are taken into consideration. The parameters can be segregated into two broad categories quantitative parameters and qualitative parameters. Quantitative parameters basically account for the amount/quantity for the concerned subject i.e., how many? Whereas Qualitative parameters are descriptive and are not constrained to some fixed answer or values i.e., they can be subjective. Both quantitative and qualitative measures of study have some advantages and disadvantages, in a quantitative study a big advantage is that the results or the outcome is valid, reliable and generalized, it is further advantageous for studies involving numbers. The disadvantage of quantitative parameters is that it is difficult to measure phenomena like human behavior affected by climate change and since this method involves numbers so it’s difficult to have a subjective evaluation of a problem/situation. On the other hand, a qualitative study can be easily used to record behavioral studies like how human health is getting affected by climate change, qualitative parameters contain rich descriptive data. However, the disadvantage of qualitative data is that it is more time-demanding exercise also since the data is generally subjective therefore is considered as anecdotal information by some researchers.

Related: Importance of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Related: Quantitative Research – Definition, Characteristics, Methods & Examples
Related: Qualitative Research – Definition, Pros & Cons, Methods & Examples

Environmental Planning – Role of parameters

Environmental planning is the procedure of assessing how political, economical, social, and governing factors distress the natural environment when considering development in any project. The main objective of environmental planning is to come up with a solution for society and the environment (Basiago, 1999). With successful environmental planning, societies can be made more liveable by being able to use the area in a productive manner, and also planning should be done in such a way that the environment should be able to sustain itself for future generations. In order to decrease the impact on the environment, it is vital to monitor the anthropogenic activities leading to climate change and degradation of the environment. Many of the mining projects affect climate change. In order to stop this, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is carried out beforehand to foresee the impacts of any development or proposed project on the environment. By using EIA both economic and environmental benefits can be accomplished, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design and further the impacts of regulations and laws. The EIA process consists of 8 stages: Screening, Scoping, Impact analysis, Mitigation, Reporting, Review of EIA, and finally Decision-making. To carry out EIA a statement needs to be passed i.e., Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) it contains information regarding the project/development proposal. EIA also specifies some parameters concerning environmental and site-specific data that needs to be analyzed.

Related: What is Environmental Planning?, Environmental Planner | Roles, Responsibilities & Future Prospects

Parameters of Environmental Impact Statement

  1. Land Ownership: Specifics related to land ownership, tenure, and existing land use are an important basis of the EIS. The ownership of traditional land and archaeological sites of significance must be reviewed when an area is identified as a project site. Two areas which require particular investigation and identification are:
    1. Anthropological land ownership regions.
    2. Archaeological sites of significance.
  2. Climatic Data: A climatic database should be made through collecting the data consisting of parameters such as precipitation, maximum/minimum temperature, wind speed and wind direction, evaporation, relative humidity, barometric pressure, etc.
  3. Flora (Vegetation): A comprehensive flora study including an inventory of terrestrial & aquatic flora; population along with density data for vegetation species; identification of any rare or endangered species, etc. should be done.
  4. Fauna (Animals): A comprehensive fauna study including an inventory of terrestrial, aquatic and avifauna and bats; habitat; population and density of animal species; permanent or migratory populations (along with identification of trans-migratory routes); identification of any rare or endangered species should be done.
  5. Terrain Analysis: This study should address geographical parameters such as geomorphology; geology; drainage (natural); hydrogeology; erosion potential; soil classification etc.
  6. Air Quality: Air quality studies and analyzing those with climatic data and projected emission data from the mining/mineral processing or extraction activities to forecast expected levels of particulate matter; noxious fumes; dust containing silica/silicates and concentration of sulphur dioxide and other harmful gases.
  7. Water Quality: Water quality studies along with its analysis on hydrology and hydrogeology data coupled with projected discharge data (chemical waste) from the mining/mineral process to develop profiles for groundwater & surface water quality.
  8. Waste Disposal and Chemical Safety: Identification of chemicals that will be used on the site, i.e., a possible inventory; proposed storage & handling procedures; and waste disposal arrangements should be considered from an early stage. (UNEP Guidelines (EIS))

Related: Environmental SustainabilitySustainable Development Goals United Nations, Impact Of Environmental Pollution

Comparison of Parameters

A comparison of these parameters can be seen in the following table:

Qualitative and quantitative parameters in Environmental Planning

Table 1 shows that out of 8 parameters, five are qualitative parameters and three are quantitative parameters. Qualitative parameters – land ownership, terrain analysis, air quality, water quality, and waste disposal & chemical safety are difficult to normalize and analytically summarise the data whereas Quantitative parameters – climatic data, flora, and fauna can be easily expressed in terms of quantity, example: population and density data of flora/fauna species and also common numerical climatic data such as average rainfall data, wind speed during a particular course of time. It is comparatively easier in the case of quantitative parameters to study the projected impact post-implementation of any project on the environment.

Water as a scarce resource

In environmental planning, qualitative and quantitative parameters can also be seen through a natural resource like water. Water is a natural resource with the utmost potential. Water has many applications in distinct sectors which include agricultural, industrial, household, recreational, and environmental activities. In terms of comparison of qualitative and quantitative parameters, water can be seen as a scarce resource. In some regions water is not accessible by everyone in adequate quantity i.e., it is not equitable and this problem is prominent in rural areas especially in lower and the vulnerable sections of society living in poor dwellings or slum conditions, as they do not have access to potable water. These rural communities do not have the population or revenue to maintain and properly operate their water supply systems nor do these rural water systems have the financial ability to newly develop or upgrade existing water sources (Riggs, 2016). In some regions, water is adequately available but the quality of water is not optimal as it contains impurities, higher pH value, turbidity, etc. This could be due to the polluted source from which the water is being fetched as it may contain impurities such as increased concentrations of N2O. The negative effects of bad water quality reflect on the health and well-being of people due to the spread of water-borne diseases.

Water equity and water quality (illustration)

Therefore, both accessibility and the quality of the resource in which it is being consumed is important to ensure livability in any area. So, equity can be considered as a quantitative parameter and the characteristics can be considered as a qualitative parameter.

In environmental planning, both qualitative and quantitative parameters are important and have certain advantages and disadvantages. One can be advantageous in some situations but not in every situation. To ensure good environmental planning practices it is vital to take into account both qualitative and quantitative parameters to analyze both descriptive and analytical data and plan accordingly to promote orderly development without degrading environment.

Author Bio: Vibhu Singh, a student of Bachelors of Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh)

References

  • Basiago, A. D. (1999). Economic, social, and environmental sustainability in development theory and urban planning practice.
  • Dias, R., & Posner, R. (2018). Using both qualitative and quantitative data in parameter identification for systems biology models. Nature Communications.
  • Riggs, D. E. (2016). Journal of National Environmental Health Association.
  • UNEP Guidelines (EIS). (n.d.). 1994: UN staff members.