Accelerating threats from climate change: disasters and displacement in Myanmar

from Refugees International
Published on 05 Dec 2016 View Original


In the summer of 2015, Myanmar experienced massive floods and associated landslides that affected nine million people. Since then, the country has seen dramatic political change, while confronting a litany of ongoing humanitarian crises. As the government strives to juggle humanitarian needs with longer-term development issues, it must confront its extreme vulnerability to disasters and climate change. At present, flood-affected communities in some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden areas of the country have yet to recover, including those which were hastily relocated. In the near-term, the government and its development partners must help those displaced by the 2015 floods and landslides to restore their livelihoods and enhance their resilience to future disasters. Over the longer-term, the government will also need to work with its partners to build its technical capacity to better mitigate the adverse impacts of disasters and climate change on displacement and migration. Failure to do so will only continue to undermine development and exacerbate Myanmar’s other challenges


  • Donor governments and development and humanitarian agencies with expertise in disaster risk management must work collaboratively to support the Myanmar government in developing and implementing proven strategies that mitigate disaster displacement risk among the most vulnerable communities. This includes increasing financial and technical support, especially at the local level, to effectively address the risks and underlying socio-economic drivers of displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change.

  • The Myanmar government, with the support of the multi-lateral development banks, donor governments, the United Nations (UN), and the private sector, must prioritize investments in recovery and livelihood restoration in those areas worst affected by the 2015 floods and landslides including increased support for the implementation of the Myanmar government’s National Recovery Framework.

  • The Myanmar government and its partners, with the support of technical experts and international initiatives such as the Platform on Disaster Displacement, should develop policies, procedures, and guidelines for planned relocation. Such guidelines must be implemented at the local level through training and capacity building to ensure that relocation is fully consensual and participatory, respects the human rights of affected individuals, and is accompanied by the multi-year funding necessary to provide relocated households with land, safe and secure housing, and access to livelihoods and services.

  • Members of the UN humanitarian country team in Myanmar providing support for relocation of disaster-displaced communities must develop joint internal guidelines for operationalizing their role. This should include working with the Myanmar government and development agencies to try to ensure that planned relocation is accompanied by comprehensive, long-term support and monitoring so that it is sustainable and does not increase vulnerability or protection risks.

Background and Context

Over the past year, Myanmar has seen dramatic political change and new opportunities for development. In November 2015, after decades of rule by the military, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in national elections paving the way for the first truly civilian president in more than 50 years. In addition, donor countries and multi-lateral development banks have pledged to support the new government to address the country’s chronic underdevelopment. The U.S. government’s decision in September 2016 to lift nearly all of the remaining sanctions against Myanmar has also opened the door to trade benefits and further increases in investment.

But the fledgling government has also inherited numerous challenges. Since coming to power in March, the NLD has had to form and re-form a government and fill thousands of administrative and political positions at numerous levels. At the same time, the military’s continued economic influence and control of a quarter of parliamentary seats pursuant to the Myanmar’s constitution has constrained the NLD’s ability to bring about more radical changes. Meanwhile, the peace process between the government and several armed ethnic groups has stalled amid new violent clashes and continued blocking of humanitarian aid in parts of Kachin and northern Shan States. The Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State in western Myanmar continues to face persecution and a recent security crackdown that has led to dozens of deaths and numerous reported abuses as well as the blocking of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands. The past two years have also seen a slowing of economic growth due in part to flood-related impacts on agriculture and a deceleration of investments during the election transition, while high rates of poverty and under-development continue to hamper progress.

Underlying this is Myanmar’s extreme vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change. Each year the country consistently ranks at the top of the leading risk indices.

Over the past decade, the government has made steady progress on improving its disaster management. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country in 2008 and exposed the military government’s lack of preparedness, Myanmar adopted a national framework called the Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction (MAPDRR), which aims to make the country “safer and more resilient against natural hazards, thus protecting lives, livelihoods, and development gains.” In June 2013, the government adopted the Disaster Management Law and rules for its implementation were promulgated in April 2015. At present, the government is revising the MAPDRR in order to come into line with regional and global disaster risk reduction (DRR) frameworks.6 The 2014 Disaster Management Reference Handbook is also under revision.

As the country looks towards a new era of growth, it must ensure that both development and humanitarian plans integrate the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change. The ongoing revisions to the MAPDRR and the Disaster Management Handbook and the adoption of other DRR and climate change adaptation strategies and plans present an opportunity to integrate proven strategies to avert, minimize, and address climate-related displacement risk.