- By Khin Maung Myint
I had persistently been writing about the causes of the climatic change and its impact and consequences on our planet: the environments, ecosystems, humans and other living things in general. However, I have never mentioned their impacts on Myanmar in particular, until lately. In my previous article “The climate change is becoming more pronounced” (25 May GNLM), on the suggestion of the Acting Chief Editor of the Global New Light of Myanmar daily, I briefly touched on that subject. That idea intrigued me to further write in more detail along that trend.
In doing so, I’ll have to rely on the observations made by the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA). This organization was launched in 2013 with the support of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) and is being implemented by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
From the observations made on the past, the on-going and future climate changes will have many consequences in Myanmar, mainly on the economic, productive, social and environmental sectors. For instance, the increased temperatures is having a large impact on sectors such as agriculture; for example in the Dry Zone. 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, based on data from 23 townships. More precisely, if their projections for climate change are correct, the following impacts are either already happening or foreseeable:
Impact on Agricultural Output – Our country’s economy and society is still largely dependent on agriculture, which relies heavily on the rain. Thus if there is too much rain or less rain, it would have much impact on agriculture. Too much rain fall will cause floods and less or no rain will cause droughts, both of which will impact on the production of agricultural produces. The highly productive deltaic and low-lying coastal rice cultivation areas will be exposed to increased salinity, coastal erosion and inundation. I would like to point out that the salinity and inundation are the most destructive to the agriculture, as they can cause decreased productions. Decreased income from the agricultural sector can have many adverse effects on the income of individual farmer and also the economy of the country.
An increase in extreme high temperatures is already creating problems in the Dry Zone, for example the severe drought in 2009, which affected major cereal crops. In 2010, severe drought diminished village water sources across the country and destroyed agricultural yields of peas, beans, pulses, sugar cane, tomato and rice – the main cash crops. Also the Zawgyi River floods in October 2006 caused extensive crop damage. In 2007, extensive record-breaking flooding resulted in the inundation of 809,284 hectares of cropland and more than 50 per cent of crops were damaged. Again the July to October 2011 heavy rain and flooding in the Ayeyawady and Bago Regions, Mon and Rakhie States, resulted in losses of approximately 1.7 million tons of rice. The excessive sedimentation in the Rakhine State in 2010 damaged rice seedlings and reduced harvests.
Impact on Fisheries – Climate change has affected the coastal and marine environment, causing deterioration of the mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass beds, which are vital breeding and feeding grounds for marine lives. Cyclones cause loss of fishing vessels, shrimping rafts and impact offshore, inshore and inland fisheries, causing high economic losses.
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.
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 droughts and floods have caused forest to die, conversion of forests to grasslands, steppes, deserts and increased the spread of invasive species, insects and 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. Wildfires may become more frequent. The Dry Zone is experiencing intense heat and desertification, leading to loss of plant species.
Impact on Water Resources – Shorter period of Monsoon, due to late onset and early withdrawal, 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 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 the renowned Inlay Lake has caused severe soil erosion and sedimentation resulting in the lake becoming shallower, impacting tourism, recreational activities and biodiversity.
Impact on Energy, Industry and Transport – The expected climate changes will increase the vulnerability of power generation as Myanmar has the second highest hydro-power 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. 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. The industries and factories are also exposed to severe natural events. There could also be disruption of transports due to storms, flash floods and mudslides – destroying roads, railway lines and bridges. Droughts could also cause the waterways to get shallow rendering them unnavigable.
Impact on Human Settlements and Cities – The concentration of assets and people in cities increases their vulnerability to 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 examples of this vulnerability. Major cities like Yangon can expect floods.
Impact on 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, heat stress, heat exhaustion and dehydration. During summer 2010, 1,482 heat-related disorders were reported and 260 heat-related deaths occurred across Myanmar. Higher temperatures will increase transmission rates e.g. mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue will increase. Shan and Rakhine States are most vulnerable to 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.
The climate change is caused not by nature alone, but also induced by humans. So we should endeavour to avoid making it worse by our actions. Here, I would like to cite the extent of loss of lives and properties and the adverse effects on the agricultural sector and the incomes of the populace and the economy of our country caused by the Cyclone Nargis, as an example.
I am quite familiar with the Cyclone Nargis devastated places. About four and a half decades ago, I had crisscrossed from east to west and vice versa with a ship in the lower deltaic area, I knew how dense the mangrove forests in those areas were in those days. However, a few years ago, while I was making a research to write an article on the importance of the mangrove forests, I downloaded a Google satellite map of the delta area, especially the Bogalay, Labutta and Hainggyi areas. I was surprised to see how depleted those once dense mangrove forests had become.
From that map, I noticed many swaths of barren spaces in a large area, where it was once covered with dense mangrove forests. On closer observation, those barren spaces are found to be dotted with salt pans and abandoned rice fields extending right up to the sea shores, where there used to be mangroves. Seeing the extent of the depletion of the mangrove forests, it was no wonder the damage of properties, loss of lives, effects on the agriculture and the economy, caused by the Cyclone Nargis were so great. If our coastline were covered with dense mangroves as in the old days, I am sure the losses would be much less.
The climatologists and most governments in the world, led by the United Nations, are striving to bring the deteriorating climate under control. To put it frankly, I don’t think they are definitely sure themselves, when their goals will be achieved or whether they will ever be achieved at all. In such circumstances, we should fend for ourselves to withstand the ravages of the climate change. Now that we know what the threats of the impact of the climate change are, proper planning and preparations should be put in place to mitigate the devastations of the climate change, if they should befall us.
Impact of Climate Change and the Case of Myanmar – Myanmar Climate Change Alliance. (myanmarccalliance.org)