Water Sanitation Health

Health Impact Assessment

Health impact assessment in water resources development

Dam photograph

WHO defines Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, programme or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population. The WSH programme focuses its HIA efforts related to water resources development on HIA methodology development and HIA capacity building. It maintains close links with WHO's broader HIA programme and with the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) with which WHO has a Memorandum of Understanding.

WSH provided substantive inputs into the work of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), with a focus on HIA. It has established contact with the follow-up activity to WCD, UNEP's Dams and Development Project, based in Nairobi

HIA methodology development

Work on assessing the health impact of water resources development started in the 1980s under the auspices of the joint WHO/FAO/UNEP Panel of Experts on Environmental Management for Vector Control (PEEM). It evolved from a focus on methodology development through design of best practice procedures to the creation of an enabling policy environment.

WHO perspectives on HIA methodology and procedure can be found in a number of HIA presentations prepared for international conferences such as the annual conferences of IAIA. In October 2000 an inter-regional meeting was held in Arusha, Tanzania, on the harmonisation, mainstreaming and capacity building of HIA in WHO.

The proposed HIA methodology and procedures have been tested in many settings during their development. Most recently, they have been applied in the assessment of malaria transmission risks in Indonesia.

HIA capacity building

Capacity building for HIA implies the creation of an enabling policy environment, effective institution strengthening and targeted human resources development. Together with the WHO Collaborating Centres the Danish Bilharziasis Laboratory and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (IMPACT Consortium), the WSH programme has developed and tested a problem-based learning course for the development of intersectoral decision-making skills in support of HIA. The report on the course development process was published in 200. The Manual for this course was launched in April 2003 at a Danida-sponsored HIA Symposium in Copenhagen.

WSH is currently working with the Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic on a national programme of HIA capacity building in connection with the proposed Nam Theun 2 dam. A four-day national workshop for members of the Ministry of Health HIA Task Force was held in March 2003.