Impact of Climate Change and the Case of Myanmar

Observed Changes and Hazards

Examples of observed changes in climate related hazards in Myanmar include, and their consequences include:

 Sectoral Impact in Myanmar

The observed past, on-going and future changes have many consequences for all economic, productive, social and environmental sectors in Myanmar.

Observed Changes and Hazards

In Myanmar, the observed evidence of change over the last 60 years includes a nationwide increase in temperature of on average around 0.08°C per decade and an increase in total rainfall (29-215 millimetres per decade). Importantly, changes in the duration of the monsoon season have been observed as well as the recurrence and severity of extreme weather events (NAPA 2012). Examples of observed changes in climate related hazards in Myanmar include, and their consequences include:

An increase in the prevalence of drought events:

  • Drought years were frequent in the 1980s and the 1990s, and there was a severe drought in 2010

An increase in intensity and frequency of cyclones/strong winds:

  • From 1887 to 2005, 1,248 tropical storms formed in the Bay of Bengal. Eighty of these storms (6.4 per cent of the total) reached Myanmar’s coastline.
  • Recent cyclones of note include Cyclone Mala (2006), Nargis (2008) and Giri (2010).
  • Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008. It left 138,373 dead and affected a further 2.4 million people.
  • Cyclone Giri hit Rakhine State in October 2010, destroying 21,242 houses and affecting at least 224,212 people.

Rainfall variability including erratic and record-breaking intense rainfall events:

  • Over the period 1960-2009, there were shorter rainfall seasons in combination with erratic and intense rainfall resulted in numerous flooding events;
  • From July to October in 2011, there was heavy rain and flooding in the Ayeyarwady, Bago, Mon and Rakhine Regions/States.

An increase in the occurrence of flooding and storm surge:

  • From 1910 to 2000, 12 major floods occurred in the country.
  • In June 2001, a severe flash flood occurred in the Wundwin Township in central Myanmar, which swept away a number of villages.
  • In June 2010, intense rains resulted in excessive sedimentation of paddy fields in Rakhine State.
  • July and August 2015 flooding and landslides displaced 1.6 million people caused almost 120 deaths, and damaged agriculture and infrastructure.

An increase in extreme high temperatures:

  • During summer 2010, 1,482 heat related illnesses were reported and 260 heat-related deaths occurred across Myanmar.

Sea-level rise:

  • Between 2001 and 2010, sea-level rise in coastal areas caused cultivated lands inundated, and ground water contamination.


Sectoral Impact for Myanmar

The observed past, on-going and future changes have many consequences for all economic, productive, social and environmental sectors in Myanmar. For instance, the increased temperature is having a large impact on sectors such as agriculture; in the Dry Zone for example, many people have been forced to migrate and find new sources of income as a result of changing rainfall patterns and pest infestations.The MCCA Programme studied the perception of these hazards in five states and regions, consulting 23 townships as shown in the following table:Sectoral Impact in MMMore precisely, the following impacts are either already observed or foreseeable if the projections for climate change are correct:

(1) Agriculture, Livestock and Food Security

Myanmar’s economy and society is still largely dependent on agriculture, which is mostly rain-fed. The changes in climate, therefore, have a heavy impact on this important sector. This may include the following: (Multiple sources, including NAPA 2012).

Impact on Agricultural Output

Impacts can be categorized in three ways: 1) impact on productivity of the current agricultural techniques and crops; 2) sudden destruction of cultivations by severe hazards, or lack of production because of droughts; 3) erosion of soils in the long-term. Examples include:

  • The rise in temperature in Myanmar is expected to have negative impacts on agricultural production and food security.
  • The highly productive deltaic and low-lying coastal rice cultivation areas will be exposed to increased salinity, coastal erosion and inundation.
  • An increase in extreme high temperatures is already creating problems in the Dry Zone , for example the severe drought in 2009, which impacted major cereal crops (WFP, 2009).
  • In 2010, severe drought diminished village water sources across the country and destroyed agricultural yields of peas, sugar cane, tomato, and rice.
  • From July to October 2011, heavy rain and flooding in the Ayeyarwady, Bago, Mon and Rakhine Regions/States resulted in losses of approximately1.7 million tons of rice.
  • The Zawgyi River floods in October 2006 caused extensive crop damage.
  • In 2007, extensive record-breaking flooding resulted in the inundation of809,284 hectares of cropland and more than 50per cent of crops were damaged.
  • The excessive sedimentation in the Rakhine State in 2010 damaged rice seedlings and reduced harvests resulting in total damage of USD 1.64 million.

Impact on Fisheries

  • Climate change has affected the coastal and marine environment, causing deterioration of mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass beds, which are vital breeding and feeding grounds for fish.
  • Cyclones cause loss of fishing vessels and impact offshore, inshore and inland fisheries, causing high economic losses (NAPA, 2012).

Impact on Livestock

  • Climate induced disasters severely impact livestock: cyclones cause losses in livestock populations, while extreme high temperatures lead to pests and disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease (NAPA, 2012).

(2) Environment, Natural Resources and Biodiversity

  • Myanmar is ecologically diverse: forest and ecosystem services benefit a range of socio-economic sectors and local livelihoods.
  • The country is undergoing change on multiple fronts, with pressures arising from internal reforms, economic liberalization and global trends, including climate change.
  • The drivers of change include: energy and industry sector development, urban development, land use change and deforestation.
  • Unsustainable agricultural practices and encroachment on forested areas (for example through slash and burn) have major environmental implications.
  • From 1989-1998, the annual deforestation rate in Myanmar is estimated at 466,420 hectares per year. Over the past two decades, Myanmar has lost more than three per cent of its forest ecosystems (Forest Resource Assessment, 2015).
  • 69.2 per cent of households use firewood as their main source of energy (Census, 2014).
  • Although mining has a rather small share of Myanmar’s GDP (0.54 per cent), it is causing significant and increasing environmental damage.
  • Oil and gas development can also cause significant environmental damage in marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • The industry sector and coal production are going to expand.
  • The transport sector is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and consumption in this sector is projected to increase dramatically. The contribution of GHGs from the transport sector was 20 per cent in 2002 (INC, 2012).
  • Climate change has a very heavy impact on the fragile eco-system balances. The services provided by the eco-system are vulnerable to changes in temperature, seasons and other effects of global warming.

Among them, in Myanmar forestry, biodiversity and water are particularly exposed. But also economic sectors related to the environment – such as tourism – are at risk as the environment is depleted or affected by changes.
Scarcity of resources, including land, may also exacerbate civil and political conflict in areas that are prone to unrest.

Impact on Forests

  • Climate change is likely to affect both the distribution and composition of forests in Myanmar. Changes in temperature and precipitation levels, as well as extreme climate events (drought and floods) have caused forest die-back, conversion of forests to grasslands/steppes/deserts and increased the spread of invasive species/insect pests.
  • The predicted increase in droughts and extreme temperatures will increase evapotranspiration from the canopy of trees, causing increased moisture stress. This will in turn increase the vulnerability of forests to fires.
  • The Dry Zone is experiencing intense heat and desertification, leading to loss of plant species.
  • Fire outbreak risks may become more frequent.

Impact on Water Resources

  • The late onset and early withdrawal of the monsoon period will result in large quantities of rain falling over short periods, leading to flooding, contamination of water resources, erosion and limited replenishment of waterways.
  • Salinization is also a threat in coastal areas.
  • The progressive melting of glaciers may have an impact on the Himalayan region of Myanmar which provides large quantities of water to many parts of Myanmar.

Impact on Biodiversity

  • There is a shift in the range and migration patterns of species .
  • There have been notable changes in the flowering and fruiting seasons/times of plant species.
  • Climate change is likely to impact freshwater biodiversity.
  • Increasing sea temperatures and changes to seawater chemical composition affected marine biodiversity, particularly coral reef ecosystems.

Impact on Tourism

  • Degradation of vegetation cover and poor land management around Inle Lake (Myanmar’s largest lake) has caused severe soil erosion and sedimentation resulting in the lake becoming shallower, impacting tourism, recreational activities and biodiversity.

(3) Energy, Industry and Transport

  • According to NAPA the expected changes will increase the vulnerability of power generation as Myanmar has the second highest hydropower potential in Asia after India, and river systems will be significantly impacted by erratic rainfall and droughts.
  • There is also a risk of erosion for dams that may result in life-threatening hazards if they collapse.
  • Transport infrastructure may be affected by cyclones and floods.
  • Industrial production is heavily dependent on raw materials, energy consumption, water use. As these will be affected by changes in climate, the industrial sector may also suffer. But industries and factories are also exposed to severe natural events (Cyclone Nargis produced a damage of US$1,814 Million (NAPA 2012) as their infrastructure can be destroyed, with impact on livelihood of their workers.

(4) Human Settlements and Cities

  • The concentration of assets and people in cities increases their vulnerability vis-à-vis severe climate related events. Flash floods, inundation, destruction of houses and basic infrastructure by tropical storms and cyclones.
  • In coastal areas, small and large towns and villages are already suffering from coastal erosion, increased risk of floods, storm-surges, salinization of water resources for drinking and peri-urban agriculture. Townships like Labutta, or Bogalay are an example of this vulnerability. Major cities like Yangon can also expect greater risk of flooding
  • Prices of food in cities may also increase as a result of decreased production, with potential for conflict and socio-economic vulnerability of urban dwellers.

5) Public Health

  • Increasing temperatures and erratic precipitation patterns will create favourable conditions for the spread of infectious diseases. Additional effects of increasing temperatures on human health include, inter alia, heat stress, heat exhaustion and dehydration (NAPA, 2012).
  • During summer 2010, 1,482 heat-related disorders were reported and 260 heat-related deaths occurred across Myanmar.
  • Higher temperatures will reduce the development time for pathogens and thereby increase transmission rates e.g. mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue will increase. Shan and Rakhine States are experiencing malaria outbreaks.
  • An increase in non-potable fresh water sources will result in communities without safe drinking water, increasing dehydration risks and further exacerbating diarrheal diseases (NAPA, 2012).