Myanmar at a Glance
Population: 51.4 million
Major Threats: Fires, Drought, Floods, Landslides, Cyclones
Populations Affected: Urban and Rural Poor Communities, Farmers, Coastal Communities, Rohingya Ethnic Group
Locations Affected: Kachin, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine, and Eastern Areas of Shan States. In Recent Years, additional Regions–Bago, Ayeyarwady, Chin, and Sagaing–Have also Experienced Annual Floods
Industries Affected: Agriculture, Fisheries, Tourism
Compounding Issues: Climate Change, Deforestation and Land Degradation, Poverty and Vulnerable Communities, Limited Infrastructure, Inadequate Disaster Management and Preparedness, Lack of Data and Information, and Prolonged Conflict Fuelled by Ethnic Tensions
World Risk Index Ranking: 6
Global Climate Risk Index: 21 (2021)
Myanmar, located in Indochina Island’s western region, shares borders with China, Thailand, Lao PDR, Bangladesh, and India, covering about 680,000 square kilometers. The country faces various natural hazards, including extreme temperatures, cyclones, floods, storm surges, and heavy rainfall events. Among these, drought is the most severe, causing significant harm to health, property, assets, and livelihoods.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck, resulting in a devastating toll of 84,537 fatalities, 53,836 missing, and 19,359 injured. Nearly 450,000 houses were destroyed, causing economic losses of US$4.1 billion (Post-Nargis Joint Assessment – PONJA). The 2015 floods were the worst in Myanmar’s history. Over 9 million people in 12 of 14 states were affected, resulting in 149 fatalities, 1.6 million temporary displacements, and extensive property and crop damage.
In August 2019, widespread floods engulfed various regions of Myanmar due to heavy rainfall, causing devastating landslides and leading to 82 fatalities and 49 injuries. Approximately 200,000 people were affected, with 201,133 individuals from 43,759 households being evacuated to 400 evacuation sites in the affected areas. Among the impacted regions, Mon State suffered the most severe consequences (NDMC Situation Report). The most recent disasters include Cyclone Mocha striking Rakhine in May 2023, followed by floods in Bago and other areas in August 2023.
Major Threats and Economy
Myanmar is highly vulnerable to a range of natural disasters, including floods, landslides, tropical cyclones, droughts, and earthquakes. These calamities can have catastrophic consequences, as evidenced by the profound loss of life during Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and the significant economic damages resulting from the 2015 floods and landslides. A significant portion of the population, dependent on subsistence agriculture in rural areas, is continually exposed to the risks of floods and droughts. Regrettably, the government lacks a comprehensive strategy to manage the financial aftermath of these disasters, leading to substantial losses amounting to 0.9 percent of GDP annually. For example, historical data shows that the average annual cost of emergency response to floods alone is approximately US$9 million. According to the World Bank and GFDRR (2012), Myanmar exhibits the highest levels of economic and social vulnerability to disasters among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Climate Change Impacts
Myanmar faces a multitude of climate change impacts driven by human activities, including the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These impacts encompass more intense cyclones, floods, and droughts, resulting in loss of life and infrastructure damage. For instance, Cyclone Nargis in 2008 inflicted substantial devastation. The country’s extensive coastline places it at risk from rising sea levels, endangering coastal areas, communities, agriculture, and ecosystems. Shifts in rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are disrupting agriculture, leading to reduced crop yields and food shortages. Furthermore, rising sea levels are encroaching upon rice production in the Ayeyarwady Delta, while deforestation heightens Myanmar’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
Climate change also imperils Myanmar’s diverse ecosystems and unique species, which struggle to adapt or migrate to suitable habitats, resulting in biodiversity loss. Moreover, climate change indirectly affects human well-being through heat-related illnesses, waterborne diseases, injuries, displacement, and the spread of diseases linked to extreme weather events. Changes in precipitation patterns impact water availability, leading to increased flooding or prolonged droughts, which, in turn, affect freshwater resources used for drinking, irrigation, and industrial purposes.
Myanmar’s hydrometeorological vulnerability denotes its susceptibility to adverse impacts from weather and climate-related hazards, including floods, cyclones, droughts, and extreme weather events. The country faces elevated risk due to its geographical location, topography, and climate patterns. Key contributing factors include exposure to the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, which generate cyclones and storm surges; distinct monsoon seasons resulting in heavy rainfall and flooding; low-lying coastal areas susceptible to rising sea levels; deforestation diminishing natural defenses; limited infrastructure impeding response efforts; and socio-economic factors such as poverty and high population density amplifying disaster impacts. Coastal regions, in particular, are prone to cyclones and tropical storms, causing extensive damage and disrupting livelihoods.
Adaptation and Local Context
In recent years, the Government of Myanmar has taken substantial steps to bolster its disaster risk management (DRM) and climate change adaptation (CCA) efforts. These initiatives include implementing the National Disaster Management Law in 2013, developing the Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2009 (currently under revision), and formulating the National Adaptation Programme of Action in 2009. Additionally, Myanmar is in the process of developing the National Climate Change Strategy and the Myanmar National Framework for Community Disaster Resilience. It has established the National Disaster Management Fund and the Disaster Management Training Center, while also forming disaster management bodies at various levels, including state/region, district, township, and village tract levels.
In addition to government efforts, disaster management in Myanmar benefits from the support of numerous non-governmental organizations, both international and local. These organizations, along with community-based groups and professional societies such as the Myanmar Engineering Society, Myanmar Geosciences Society, and the Red Cross system, actively participate in disaster risk management, including community-level disaster preparedness.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
Effective collaboration between donors, development, humanitarian agencies, and the Myanmar government is pivotal to reducing disaster-induced displacement risk among vulnerable communities in the country. This collaboration should prioritize proven strategies addressing the socio-economic factors driving displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change. To ensure successful risk management, increased financial and technical support, particularly at the local level, is imperative.
Investments that prioritize recovery and livelihood restoration are critical in areas most severely affected by disasters like floods and landslides. The support of multilateral development banks, donor governments, the United Nations (UN), AHA Centre (ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance), and the private sector is essential for the effective implementation of the Myanmar government’s National Recovery Framework.
To facilitate planned relocation, technical experts and international initiatives, such as the Platform on Disaster Displacement, can provide valuable assistance in creating policies and guidelines. It is crucial to ensure that relocation is consensual, participatory and respects the human rights of affected individuals. Adequate multi-year funding should accompany the process to provide relocated households