Climate change to affect hundreds of people in Labutta: results of the vulnerability assessment 2016-2050


 In 2016 the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (UN-Habitat, UN-Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation) in collaboration with WWF and the Columbia University, and the Township Authorities and communities conducted a thorough climate change vulnerability assessment of the Labutta Township, Ayearwaddy Region. The township is located in the southern tip of the Delta Area region, in Myanmar and is home to about 315,000 people. Characterized by a deltaic environment, it has a predominantly flat topography, and greatly suffered in terms of lives and damage from the Cyclone Nargis impact in 2008. To date, the township still struggles to recover from its effects, and some of its socio-economic sectors have never fully recovered.

·        The study projected changes in climate for the township, with a resolution of 25km. Projections include the increase in temperatures by as much as 2.3°C in 2050, with up to 17 more hot days per year. Rainfall is also projected to change, with possibly more rain (up to 23%) but in a shorter rainy season. Strong winds and cyclones are also expected to increase, as a result of hotter temperatures, moisture and other conditions. Finally, salinity is also a critical challenge. Labutta has a two salt lines: A permanent salt line, below which the land and groundwater is saline, and a seasonal salt line, in which land and groundwater is saline in the dry season. These salt lines are moving north and east, affecting a greater number of people. The assessment projects 41cm of sea-level rise in 2050, which will increase the surface of salt infiltration, in addition to the intensity and extent of inundations and floods.

·        The assessment found that the Township is insufficiently resilient to the present climatic conditions, and its vulnerability – failing adaptation – will increase greatly following the projected changes in climate.T

·        This is due, mostly, to the observed conditions of the socio-economic; infrastructure and ecological systems, and the expected impact of new climatic features on such systems. In particular:

1.        Its economy is not diversified and livelihood depends greatly (up to 72%) from climate-sensitive agricultural practices, from which well below minimum wage income is derived on average, while people have little training in other trades and professions. Agriculture will suffer from observed and projected salinization, high temperatures (both in average and heat-waves), floods and inundation and strong rains. With no alternative trades, or adapted agricultural practices, productivity may decline, leaving as many as unsupported because they lack vocational skills and other abilities. Migration is high, especially among young people. This is likely to continue as livelihoods decline. Lack of skills in other professions, may lead to migration without dignity towards larger cities (Yangon, but also Pathein) and abroad (Malaysia, Thailand). In addition, women will suffer disproportionately from these effects.

2.        Its deltaic eco-system, which is naturally highly productive and resilient, is fast degrading. For instance, as a result of mangrove deforestation: There was a 64 per cent reduction in mangrove coverage area between 1978 and 2011. Mangroves provide multiple critical services: protect from waves, provide habitat for fishery, regulate erosion and salt infiltration, provide for construction materials and fuel-wood for cooking. With the current trends – and the further effects of climate change on flora and fauna – mangrove will be entirely lost by 2019. This will increase the sensitivity of communities to the adverse climatic effects.


3.        Its infrastructure is currently not adapted to strong winds and floods, and unable to withstand the effects of severe tropical storms and cyclones, and will be further at risk with the projected changes in climate. Housing and basic service infrastructure are mostly in non-resistant local materials (in some areas up to 97%), while the network of resistant life-line buildings (such as cyclone shelters) only cater for 10% of the total population. Schools, health-posts and other public buildings are also not adapted to withstand severe climatic events. The connectivity is now ensured by a network of waterways, which sustain commerce from South to North (Pynsalu towards Labutta) and from East to West. But waterways may become impassable with high tides, storm surges and waves, and main roads may be inundated as a result of a combined sea-level rise (41cm by 2050) and the increase in heavy rains in short amount of time. Lack of smooth connectivity is obviously an obstacle for development and may represent an hazard for people. Water availability for drinking is now almost entirely rain-fed (in some areas, up to 80% of the sources are uncovered water). With the projected shorter monsoon season, salt infiltration and evaporation due to higher temperatures, the ability to improve water harvesting will determine whether people in Labutta can live in this area.

·        The interplay of these factors with climate change, if not addressed, will render Labutta more vulnerable to disasters, with potential more frequent loss of lives and assets; will impoverish the households, put further stress on women conditions; will increase health hazards, especially for children and disabled persons. The habitat conditions will be worsened, in addition, by the intersection of new climatic features with a progressively degraded environment. Overall, unaddressed, the process of climate change will prevent socio-economic development as Labutta is not sufficiently resilient. A high percentage of people will not be able to produce sufficient income to sustain households.

·        The township has therefore three possible future scenarios ahead:

A.        The Business As Usual Scenario, in which authorities and communities do not recognize the urgent need to correct different aspects of vulnerability and therefore changes in climate have an exponential effect on the three systems (socio-economic, infrastructure, ecological) ultimately affecting the life of people, their livelihoods, health and safety by 2050. In this scenario, insufficient planning capacities and governance, negate mid to long-term planning. Decisions are taken to respond to short-term (for instance: allowing cutting the mangroves without replanting; or constructing infrastructure where inundations may occur; or failing to construct houses with wind-resistant techniques) needs, but with long-term negative consequences. Under this scenario, livelihood, infrastructure and environmental conditions will not allow for people to live decently in the Township. In addition, projected changes in the climate will interact with and exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities and as they do, new vulnerabilities may well emerge. It is impossible to anticipate the chain of effects now.

B.        The minimum intervention scenario, is that in which Township and Communities recognize the urgency and need to take action, but also recognize the objective constraints of investment, time required for adaptation, immediate economic, technical and skill constraints. In this scenario, an Adaptation Planning is adopted, and activities that can be implemented without large investment are consistently undertaken, such as the protection of the environment, the strengthening of economic associations to create a more resilient livelihood and income, the integration of measures for strong winds in housing and schools, the improvement of water-harvesting and so on. Decisions on land-use and town-planning take into account climate risks, so to prevent hazardous situation (infrastructure constructed near flood-prone areas; cleaning of drainages and so on). In this scenario, the Township and Communities are able to plan their needs considering climate constraints, and communicate to the District and State and Region, NGOs and development partners their need, also considering adaptation requirements. This scenario is the minimum required to prevent further sliding into vulnerability, and hampering all development efforts.

C.        The high-resilience scenario is that in which effective, strategic planning, resources, coordination, and time is assigned not only to maintain basic safety conditions, but in fact to achieve development goals. Based on this assessment, the first of its kind in Labutta, planning work that follows is taken extremely seriously, and guide the Township planning, the budget request to the District and other authorities. It requests investment from national authorities and international partners, to achieve three main results: 1) Healthy Eco-System that Sustains Life; 2) Resilient Infrastructure that Protects People and Promotes Development; 3) Diversified Economy that Support Economic and Social Development. In this scenario efforts are sustained over a long period of time, and by a number of actors, but particularly local and national government.

·        The assessment includes an Adaptation Action Plan summary, which the Townships and Communities have prepared to achieve the Scenario C., but aware of the fact that Scenario B. should be the minimum target to ensure Labutta is a viable settlement by 2050.

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