Disaster preparedness and
resiliency: Myanmar


Population: 54,459,323

Major Threats: Floods, Droughts, Earthquakes, Storms, Fires

Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farmers & Fishers, Coastal Communities

Locations Affected: Rakhine State & Ayeyarwady Delta (Cyclones, Storm Surges, Tsunami)

Industries Affected: Agriculture, Fishing

Compounding Issues: Urban Migration, Poor Land-use Planning, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change

World Risk Index Ranking: 79

Global Climate Risk Index: 2

Myanmar is exposed to a number of natural hazards, some of which have caused devastating damage in the recent past. According to the UN Risk Model, Myanmar ranks as the ‘most at risk’ country for natural disasters. Coastal regions, particularly Rakhine State and the Ayeyarwady Delta Region, are at high risk for cyclones, storm surges and tsunamis. Much of the country is also exposed to flooding and landslides during rainy season in addition to drought and fire during dry season. As Myanmar falls on one of the two main earthquake belts in the world, much of the country is prone to earthquake.

Though fires make up 73 percent of reported disaster events, storms and cyclones have caused the greatest damage and loss of life. Within the last 10 years Myanmar has been impacted by two earthquakes, three cyclones, one tsunami and other small scale hazards.

Cyclone Nargis of 2008 was the worst natural disaster in the living memory of Myanmar leaving 138,373 people missing or dead. Since 2012 cyclones have affected over 2.6 million people, floods over 500,000 people and earthquakes over 20,000. With climate change increasing the severity and frequency of some extreme weather events, the impact of future disasters is likely to be more intense, particularly for vulnerable populations.

With its long-awaited political changes and a civil society in need of access to funding, capacity building and technical training, now is the opportune moment for international donors to invest in disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation in Myanmar.

An estimated 70 percent of the population resides in rural areas, most engaging in agricultural activities. Poverty is both the cause and result of natural disasters. Villagers engage in deforestation, over-cultivation and poor resource management, leading to flood, drought or landslides. On the other hand, natural disasters continually destroy people’s livelihood, push them into poverty and prevent them from rising above the poverty line (Oxfam, 2014). Weak infrastructure and poor housing conditions contribute to Myanmar’s susceptibility. High casualties and economic loss are often related to the fall of non-engineered structures.

Myanmar is highly vulnerable to climate change and lacking resilience, making it extremely vulnerable to destruction. Climate change and global warming will cause drought and water shortages in the central region, and the change in sea level will lead to a rise in water level in the delta region, increasing the risk of flooding. Drastic changes in weather conditions can have a huge effect on Myanmar and wipe out any humanitarian, political and economic progress. Therefore, Myanmar is in dire need of long-term international support and flexible funding to respond adequately to natural hazards (Oxfam, 2014).

  • Cyclones
    Cyclones have historically caused the most destruction of natural disasters in Myanmar. 36 cyclones have made landfall on the Myanmar coast since 1947. Strong winds and storm surges (flooding) associated with the cyclones have caused the most damage. Of the cyclones that caused the greatest disaster, 11 of them made landfall in Rakhine State and 2 in the Ayeyarwady Delta Region. The most devastating cyclone by far was Cyclone Nargis of 2008. Cyclone risk is highest during the month of May; though, during the last 100 years cyclones also have occurred during April, October, November and December.
  • Floods
    Flooding has always been one of the major hazards inMyanmar and floods account for 11 percent of all disasters, secondonly to fire. Myanmar has in intricate system of rivers contributing greatly to local economies and transportation of goods. Many cities and towns are located alongside these rivers, particularly the largest of these: the Ayeyarwady, Chindwin, Sittaung and Thanlwin. The Ayeyarwady River basin alone, the largest in the country, covering 404,200 square kilometers of the country, exposes over 2 million people to flood hazard. Between 1910 and 2000, there were 12major floods. There is risk of flooding during the monsoon season, which runs from mid-May to October every year. Peak flood periods occur during June, August and late September to October. Floods that occur in Myanmar are classified into four categories: For mitigation of damage caused by floods, flood forecasting and warning systems are recommended as responsibility of the central government. In addition public awareness campaigns and community disaster preparedness training in flood prone areas can help communities strengthen their resilience to floods. The impacts of climate change and global warming can reduce the water level in the central Dry Zone, while the water level in the Delta Region may rise due to the change of sea level. Climate change related flood issues would need to be addressed at the national level. Further research into the climate change influences on flooding in Myanmar would need to be conducted.
  • Drought
    Dry zone and drought related hazards are a risk in Magwe, Mandalay and Sagaing Regions. The dry zone includes 53 townships and covers about 10 percent of the country. Farmers in this zone are mainly commercial, cultivating a variety of crops in a double cropping and rotational system. Natural resources in this area have been depleted due to soil erosion and deforestation. Agricultural production is unstable as a result. The natural resources of the dry zone are being depleted more rapidly than they can be renewed.
    • Flash floods occur in mountainous regions in the upper reaches of river systems. These occur in Karen, Kachin, Shan, Mon and Chin States.
    • Riverine floods occur along major rivers. These are seen in Northern and Central areas as well as South river delta areas.
    • Flooding from storm surges during cyclones occur in Rakhine State and the Delta Region.
    • Localized floods occur in urban areas due to heavy rainfall and poor infrastructure. Localized floods also occur in rural areas due to breakage or failure of dams, dykes and levees.

  • Earthquakes, Tsunamis & Landslides

    Earthquakes pose a hazard for many locations throughout the country as Myanmar is located on one of the two main earthquake belts in the world. During the 20th Century, at least 18 earthquakes occurred along the Central Lowland where the Sagaing Fault passes.

    Areas most vulnerable to earthquake are Bago-Phyu, Mandalay-Sagaing-Tagaung, Putao-Tanaing, and Kale-Homalin. Important cities that lie in these areas are Taungoo, Taungdwingyi, Bagan-Nyaung-U, Kyaukse, Pyin Oo Lwin, Shwebo, Wuntho, Hkamti, Haka, Myitkyina, Taunggyi, and Kunglong.

    Tsunami vulnerable areas of Myanmar include Rakhine State, the Irrawaddy Delta Region and Taninthayi in the South. Much of these areas are covered with mangrove forests which provide partial protection. Some tourist areas of Southern Rakhine State situated on the coastline have higher vulnerability than other mangrove covered areas.

    The tsunami of 2004 killed 31 in the Delta Region, 22 in Rakhine State and 8 in Tanintharyi. The affected population was recorded as 2,592. The tsunami caused considerably higher damage in surrounding countries. Myanmar coastal regions are at moderate risk of Tsunami.

    Landslides in Myanmar occur predominantly as a result of earthquake or heavy rainfall. They occur predominantly in mountainous regions in the Western, Southern and Eastern regions, but also include collapse of river banks on major river ways. Often occurring in sparsely populated areas, landslides more often damage infrastructure rather than human settlement.

    Recommendations for reducing the impact of landslides are improving watershed management and drainage systems, strengthening infrastructure in rural and mountainous areas and building the capacity of landslide warning systems.

Fire is the most frequently reported natural disaster in Myanmar with approximately 900 cases per year. Rates of fire are higher in the Yangon, Bago, Delta, Sagaing and Mandalay Divisions.

Risk of fire is highest during the hot season from mid-February to mid-May. The high incidences of fire in Myanmar result from climatic conditions including temperature, use of flammable construction materials, unplanned development and other social factors. The main causes of fire are reported as kitchen related and general negligence.

  • Adaptation & Local Context

    In addition to local NGOs, other local actors are involved in DRR and response efforts. Many interviewees described immediate local responses to natural disasters coming predominantly from family members and faith groups. As coordinated response to major disasters has been week in the past, these groups have played a significant role in filtering immediate aid to affected populations.

    Faith groups often have the facilities and networks to distribute aid in a timely manner. Interviewees also cited that although these groups have been quick on first response relief efforts in the past, they lack the technical capacity and knowledge of DRR to engage in activities beyond first response. Faith groups have played an important role in filling the gaps of the system and working to meet the needs of their communities. They are often seen supporting community led livelihoods, education, health and other activities projects.

    Many local NGOs also operate activities with focus in fields such as livelihoods, health, environment or social work that contribute to the efforts of DRR, but they themselves do not use the term DRR. In addition to the NGOs included in this report, communities around the country will be home to locally developed projects covering a broad range of fields. Some localized activities that could be classified as DRR are included. Many national NGOs tap into these networks when they conduct DRR work in local communities.

With thousands of separate islands and a political system that focuses on the community – or barangay – as its basic unit, DRR in the Philippines is best addressed from the ground up. Due to the wide range of vulnerabilities and cultural contexts, these efforts are best supported with flexible and adaptable approaches implemented with knowledgeable partners. Opportunities for donors include:

  • Implementing community-based early warning systems
  • Adapting agriculture to climate change
  • Constructing disaster resilient schools and community buildings
  • Training community leaders in disaster management and response
  • Integrating preparedness and resiliency elements into recovery efforts.

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