Myanmar at risk from extreme climate
By Athira Nortajuddin
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, Myanmar has had the highest weather-related losses in the past two decades, alongside Puerto Rico and Haiti. It is said that Myanmar is also one of the most vulnerable countries at risk of climate crisis. The consequences of climate change can be seen around the world, with natural disasters and rising sea levels headlining global news. In Myanmar, severe flooding in recent years and 2008’s disastrous Nargis cyclonic storm have affected the lives of millions of locals and caused over 100,000 deaths. The deadly tropical cyclone was deemed as the worst natural disaster recorded in Myanmar’s history.
Shashank Mishra from Myanmar Climate Change Alliance, which is a body that straddles the United Nations (UN), the government, and civil society – told the media that “the total monsoon period has already decreased from 144 days per year in 1998 to 125 days.” He also added that the number of extremely hot days is projected to increase from one day a month to between four and 17 by 2041. This will cause serious health problems to the locals, damage ecosystems, crops and infrastructure.
Based on a 2017 report titled, ‘Assessing Climate Risk in Myanmar’ by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), agriculture is the main economic activity in Myanmar and the largest employer of the labour force. The rise in temperature has severely affected the agriculture sector in Myanmar. The WWF report stated that crop productivity could decline, as some crops are especially vulnerable to temperature increases. Drought incidence would likely increase as well, affecting agriculture, livestock, wildlife and communities alike that struggle with declining water availability resulting from increased evaporation.
The Irrawaddy delta is known for its fertile area for rice growing and was once called the “rice bowl” of the British Empire. It was reported that production was so good that Myanmar could feed its people a high amount of rice with enough left over to be sold. Unfortunately, the cyclone in 2008 flooded paddy fields with sea water, damaged irrigation systems and destroyed seed supplies. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that cyclone Nargis impacted 65 percent of the country's paddy fields. This is one of the many examples of how climate crisis could affect food security and the livelihoods of local farmers and the public in general.