The description of baseline information about the environmental, social, economic and health conditions existing in the project area is one of the key objectives of an impact assessment. It is also one of the key information pieces needed by project proponents and decision makers, in order to assess and monitor project interaction with the local context. The health baseline always relies on qualitative and quantitative data and is ideally compiled using primary and secondary data.
The InterOil Baseline Health Survey (BLHS) generated several primary health indicators and provided a point-in-time assessment of the health status of people living in villages within the InterOil project area in Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG). It attempted to describe and quantify the type and magnitude of health-related problems affecting the catchment population, as well as identify the relevant determinants of health and potential health risks faced by the current and future population.
The choice of the health indicators to include in a health baseline was project and context specific. This was an issue addressed at the beginning of the impact assessment process and it was developed taking in consideration the future use of those indicators for monitoring purposes. The health baseline information not only assisted the identification of the potential impacts, but most importantly defined recommendations and community health outreach programs as part of the project management plan. This plan can then be monitored using health indicators comparable with the ones included in the health baseline.
Finally, the paper shows thatspecial attention should be given to the use of secondary data to infer any meaningful conclusion about the health status of a specific community. In the case of InterOil if no BLHS would have been conducted, then the existing secondary data for malaria and filariasis would not have been indicative of the communities and much higher than what isfound in reality with risky consequences for the project.
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