Disaster Vulnerability: Snapshot of Myanmar

Give2Asia and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) have partnered to connect private sector philanthropy to effective community-based programs that mitigate disasters in Asia’s most vulnerable countries. This post comes as the last in a series of six outlining the vulnerability of countries selected for the program. Learn more about the NGO Disaster Preparedness Program or read more about Myanmar’s vulnerability to disasters.

According to the UN Risk Model, Myanmar ranks as the ‘most at risk’ country for natural disasters. Coastal regions, particularly in the Rakhine State and the Irrawaddy Delta Region, are at high risk for cyclones, storm surges, and tsunamis.  Much of the country is exposed to flooding and landslides during rainy season in addition to drought and fire during dry season. As Myanmar falls on one of the two main earthquake belts in the world, much of the country is also prone to earthquake.

An estimated 70 percent of the population resides in rural areas, most subsisting on agricultural productivity. However, village-level agriculture can cause deforestation, over-cultivation, and poor resource management, causing increased vulnerability to flood, drought, and landslides. Moreover, weak infrastructure and poor housing conditions contribute to Myanmar’s vulnerability.

Fire is the most frequently reported natural disaster (73 percent) in Myanmar with approximately 900 cases per year.  The high incidences of fire result from climatic conditions including temperature, use of flammable construction materials, unplanned development, and other social factors.

Second to fires, flooding is one of the major hazards in Myanmar, given the country’s intricate system of rivers which sustain local economies and transportation of goods. Many cities and towns are located alongside these rivers, particularly the largest: the Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Sittaung, and Thanlwin. The Irrawaddy River basin alone exposes over two million people to flood.

Myanmar is in dire need of long-term international support and flexible funding in order to adequately respond to natural hazards. Immediate local responses to natural disasters come predominantly from family members and faith groups. Faith groups often have the facilities and networks to distribute aid in a timely manner, but they lack the technical capacity and knowledge of disaster risk reduction to engage in activities beyond first response.

Donors have the opportunity to support activities that engage communities in mitigating the impact of cyclones:

  • Identification or construction of safe shelters (religious buildings and monuments in communities often can serve this purpose)
  • Tree plantation around the village to reduce impact of wind
  • Mangrove planting in waterfront and rivers
  • Community education for storm resistant housing
  • Ensuring residential areas are situated a safe distance from the water front
  • Community cyclone awareness trainings
  • Volunteers should be trained on disaster management

Other opportunities for donors include:

  • Flood forecasting and warning systems
  • Supporting research that identifies climate change influences on flooding and appropriate responses.
  • Improving watershed drainage systems and
  • management
  • Strengthening infrastructure in rural and mountainous areas,
  • Building the capacity of landslide warning systems.
  • Training faith groups and other first responders in disaster response best practices and implementation.