UNDP South Africa participates in the Africa Regional Health, Gender and Capital Projects Initiative.

An Infrastructure Project at Medupi Power Station in Lephalale, Limpopo Province

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in South Africa is among 19 countries in Africa that are participating in the Health, Gender and Capital Projects initiative started by Regional Service Centre and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Infrastructure development is a key driver of the African development agenda. It is a vital enabler for economic growth and structural transformation contributing significantly to human development, poverty reduction and the realization of post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

However, besides the significant biophysical environmental impacts that the execution of large capital projects bring, there are broader health impacts and public health implications which do not often attract the same attention. Activities associated with large capital projects impact on environmental, social, and institutional determinants of health and the resulting broader health impacts could include changes in diet, nutritional status, increased risk of infectious and non-communicable diseases, stress and mental health disorders, as well as substance abuse, alcoholism, violence, crime, conflict, and can cause various forms of accidents and injuries.

Accordingly, the AfDB and UNDP’s Regional Service Centre for Africa have partnered in the implementation of the Health, Gender and Capital Projects initiative. The objective of this project is to stimulate increased access to health, HIV and gender services for construction/migrant workers as well as women and girls within project sites and project communities during and after the execution of large capital projects, including the extractive sector. The ultimate goal is to contribute to sustainable social and economic transformation on the African continent. This partnership comes at a critical point in Africa’s growth and development as Africa is currently experiencing an unprecedented economic boom with increased foreign direct investment targeting commodities and mineral resources including oil and gas.

“Demand has escalated for improved railways, roads, dams, power stations, and other large infrastructure. South Africa’s National Development Plan Vision 2030 has indeed prioritized infrastructure development; mainly large capital projects such as mining, transport, community services, trade, transport, energy and water to the tune of $113 billion.” Said Mr. Walid Badawi, UNDP Country Director, in his opening remarks at the 2nd Regional Technical Meeting on Health, Gender and Capital Projects, held in Pretoria in 2015. 

 Through this project much awareness has been created and continues to be created around the entire continent on the health and gender-related impacts of the execution of large capital projects.

One of the key features of this partnership is the creation of a continental platform used to generate and synthesize knowledge, as well as share and discuss emerging trends, tools and topics necessary to improve the understanding of health and gender related impacts within Environmental Assessments in Africa is thus a laudable one. The first meeting was held in Tunis in 2013 and the second one in Pretoria in 2015.

The UNDP South Africa Country Office has been involved in this project at various levels. Firstly, together with other partners, a mapping of all planned infrastructure projects at both national and provincial level was carried out.

Secondly, between 2012 and 2014, the Country Office with its partners embarked on a programme of creating awareness and sensitization on the need to integrate HIV and gender related issues into Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and capacity building on how to use the Guidelines for Integrating HIV and gender-related issues into EIAs. The participants included EIA practitioners, policy makers, officials from environmental management authorities, Government officials from infrastructure related Departments and academia. This approach was taken in order to create awareness among a range of stakeholders, based on the National Strategic Plan that promotes a multi-sectoral response to HIV at all levels. The workshops resulted in national and provincial departments strengthening the Strategic Plans by incorporating HIV and gender –related issues. The University of the North also used the Guidelines for Integrating HIV and gender-related issues into EIAs.

Finally, in recognition of the crucial role that civil society plays in ensuring that HIV and gender related issues are integrated into EIAs during the public participation process and the implementation of the project, UNDP organized another sensitization event for various civil society actors in February 2014.

Currently, UNDP South Africa is in discussion with the Department of Environmental Affairs to explore how to consolidate the work already done, draw lessons, and expand the work on Health, Gender and Capital Projects into the realms of policy, legislation, and practice.