4.2 Effects of climate change on Myanmar

Climate change as a result of global warming affects Myanmar in specific and general ways. Specifically, the highly productive deltaic and low-lying coastal rice cultivation areas are exposed to sea water inundation and coastal erosion as a result of rising sea levels. Poor drainage and inadequate flood protection also lead to salt intrusion decreasing crop yields (FAO, 2011).

In the Central Dry Zone in the Ayeyarwady Basin, an increase in extreme high temperatures leads to droughts, such as the severe drought in 2009 which affected major cereal crops, and desertification. In 2010, severe drought diminished village water resources across the country and destroyed agricultural yields of peas, beans, pulses, sugar cane, tomato and rice.

Flooding is also a growing problem. The Zawgyi River flooded in October 2006 causing extensive crop damage. The heavy rains from July to October in 2011 led to flooding in the Ayeyawady and Bago Regions, Mon and Rakhine States, and resulted in the loss of approximately 1.7 million tons of rice (Government of Myanmar, n.d.). In the delta region, mangroves have been cleared for shrimp farming making the land more vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Excessive rain also heavily erodes the land with the result that there was excessive sedimentation in the water in Rakhine State in 2010, which further damaged rice seedlings and reduced harvests.

Turning from the specific to the general level, global warming in warm climates like Myanmar’s means evaporation rates will increase. This will cause soil moisture to decrease, and drying soils mean droughts will become more severe. The flipside of this is that the atmosphere has greater water holding capacity when it becomes warmer. Thus, when it rains it is likely to be more intense.

Global warming shifts weather patterns and leads to increases in the frequency of extreme events. Myanmar is the country with the highest vulnerability to climate change in Southeast Asia and is regularly threatened by natural hazards such as floods, droughts, cyclones and landslides (UN Habitat, n.d.). These natural hazards affect lives, water security for people and ecosystems.

The Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA), an organisation of government, civil society, academia and the private sector, argues that climate change will have major economic, social and environmental consequences for Myanmar. Economically, the country will suffer because it depends on rain fed agriculture. Increasing temperatures are adversely impacting agriculture leading to increasing abstraction (taking or extracting water from a natural source such as rivers, lakes, groundwater aquifers, etc.) for irrigation.

The result is a growing imbalance between supply and demand that has already led to shortages and depletion of reserves. Moreover, the scarcity of water is being accompanied by deterioration in the quality of available water due to pollution and environmental degradation.

The social implications of climate change are just as challenging. The agricultural sector provides livelihoods for almost two-thirds of the population. If crops are lost or yields reduced, farmers will suffer loss of income and hardship. Cyclones cause a loss of fishing vessels, shrimping rafts and inland fisheries for those with fisher livelihoods, leading to further economic loss and hardship. Low-income communities are disproportionately at risk from climate change because their livelihoods are less resilient to such shocks.

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Figure 2 Low-income communities are most at risk from climate change such as rising sea levels.

Environmentally, climate change is negatively impacting marine and forest ecosystems. The coastal and marine ecosystem has seen the deterioration of the mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass beds, which are vital breeding and feeding grounds for marine life. Forests are suffering because of rising temperatures and fluctuating precipitation levels. Extreme temperatures also increase transpiration from the canopy of trees, causing increased moisture stress. This increases the vulnerability of forests to fires. Forests are an important carbon sink, but their loss releases the carbon back into the atmosphere adding to climate change.

Thus, as well as the challenges around water availability, use and pollution already explored, climate change presents a further problem that needs to be mitigated through sustainable water management. This is the ability to meet the water needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.

Question 1

Match the impacts of climate change to whether they are mainly economic, social or environmental.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Environmental impact

  2. Social impact

  3. Economic impact

  • a.Fishing villages washed away as a result of cyclones

  • b.Forest fires because of extreme heat

  • c.Rice paddy crop destroyed by seawater inundation

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = c

4.3 Managing water resources in Myanmar