Flood is regarded as one of the most continual natural hazards which can quickly become significant disasters. Impacts of floods increase vulnerability due to many factors such as urbanization, climate change and rapid land cover changes. Myanmar’s climate is a tropical monsoon climate and often experiences heavy rainfall events. The monsoon is different in the water levels of the Thanlwin, Ayeyarwaddy, Chindwin and Sittoung which are the four major rivers in the country. Due to regular flooding in the monsoon season, systematic and effective disaster management is required to lessen the impact of flood events.
Flood has been one of the main hazards in Myanmar, with 11% of all disasters. It is most common during the rainy season which is between mid-May and October in Myanmar. A cyclone in coastal areas is the highest risk at 20 on a scale from 1 to 25. In Myanmar, cyclone affected coastal areas include mostly Rakhine State and Ayeyarwaddy Region. In 2008 Cyclone Nargis, hundreds of thousands of lives caused huge damage in the densely populated Ayewarwaddy Delta as the worst natural disaster in Myanmar history since the population has not received any warning or immediate aid.
Impact of flood on livelihood
People in Myanmar suffer from disastrous monsoonal flooding frequently. The impacts of disasters can threaten economic development following loss of lives, infrastructure, livelihoods and financial needs which emerged from reconstruction and recovery. As flood played an important role in the agricultural system, it caused huge damage to the major crops and threatened the food security and livelihood of farmers. Agricultural land and buildings are immediately affected by floods with the means of production and loss of property.
Disaster or disruptive hazards can severely impact economic development with the financial needs arising from recovery and reconstruction. Apart from the economy, disasters affect people’s psychosocial wellbeing and health and loss of household assets which can affect the quality of life.
Chronic water problems cause struggle to continue traditional farming due to climate change
Credit: The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative
Key elements for disaster risk reduction
Since disaster risk reduction can cause failure or capacity degradation which directly affects the community, infrastructure is the main component in disaster risk reduction. Roads, schools and hospitals are the key elements for the risk assessment. Roads are the major factors for transportation of goods and services and help people to evacuate from affected areas in case of emergency. Hospitals supply direct relief to affected people in crisis situations. Schools are not only important to raise awareness among parents, students and teachers, but also serve as a shelter during the flood.
Classifying vulnerable groups
Children took part over one-third of the population of Myanmar and are affected disproportionately by disasters. Children should be taught about disaster-risk information in primary schools to ensure they have life-saving knowledge. UNICEF provides training for government officials to have effective management of emergency supplies and reduce the disaster risk on the most vulnerable groups such as elderly, children and disabled persons. Furthermore, it is analyzing barriers to make adaptive and resilient national systems to commit critical social services. According to the global experience, incorporating disaster risks into social protection systems improve family and children to have better risk management, break poverty cycle and build resilience.
Gender is another important aspect of social vulnerability, starting from social systems which indirectly discriminate against women by limiting their access to schooling, employment, opportunities, healthcare and social welfare. In Myanmar, major inequalities between men and women exist especially in rural areas where women are limited to manage the households. According to IFRC in 2017, women affected by cyclone Nargis experienced high risk with sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
Effective management for quick recovery
People in Myanmar experience devastating monsoonal flooding quite often. Effective and efficient management of flood disaster risk stands on planning and preparation by ensuring the availability of supplies, shelters and emergency response. Effective disaster management should provide effective and quick recovery after a flood event. Effective and quick management of flood events depends on planning and preparation by making sure the availability of shelters, supplies and emergency response. The Department of Disaster Management, local and international organizations play important roles in producing and using timely and accurate information on flood risk.
Multi Stakeholder approach for disaster risk management plan
Communities are important stakeholders in disaster management. The success of any localized activity depends on the willingness and ability of the community and households to adopt supportive activities to improve the resilience. Technical assistance is required to monitor disaster risk at all levels to support planning and finance. Stronger cooperation between different stakeholders is needed to create a harmonious effort to accelerate resilience and sustainability.
Training and capacity building are essential to increase the capacity of the community-based organization and its members to lessen disaster risk. Evacuation plans need to be prepared in advance by local government, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations. Each team of the community must be provided instructions and responsibilities in the case of evacuation. Vulnerable areas and groups of people such as women, children and elderly should be defined clearly during evacuation plans. The community members should identify a familiar route to a safe shelter.
Long-term solution with a collaborative approach
Disaster risk cannot be solved by a short term solution alone. It needs a collaboration between different stakeholders to have effective management to handle flood disaster risk. The Department of Disaster Management, international and local organizations play crucial roles in using and producing accurate and timely information on flood risk. Insufficient distribution of emergency response resources leads to having less preparation for vulnerable populations during unescapable flood events.
Risk assessment is a major component in risk management and reduction of disaster risk. Disaster management intends to reduce potential risks from floods and ensure emergency response to flood events. Governments use four phases of disaster management such as mitigation, preparation, response and recovery. By implementing these four elements, it is anticipated to increase resilience and decrease human and economic losses in a disaster risk reduction.
Role of non-profit sector in reducing disaster risk
To support national efforts, bilateral and multilateral partnerships are crucial in achieving the inclusive development goal and disaster response plan. Donor assistance is important to the country given the financial burden generated by climate change and disasters. Agencies such as United Nations branches, Asian Disaster Preparedness, CARE Myanmar, Oxfam, Red Cross and Plan International have supported crucial contributions into disaster risk management and development efforts in Myanmar.
UNDP has been carrying out a Community Based Disaster Risk Management program in the cyclone affected communities under its Human Development Index (HDI) program, targeting on large scale awareness, development of effective response and disaster preparedness plan, rescue training and early warning system. UNDP is a member of the task force to the Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction as well. Under the HDI program, it has been operating and supporting community initiatives for more than 14 years in the delta region. At the community level, Village Disaster Management Committees (VDMCs) are established to manage disaster preparedness plans and implementation with communication and response protocols. UNDP developed manuals and guidelines on DRR measures for preparedness training and public awareness. It has also trained carpenters to upgrade locally applicable disaster-resistant buildings and construction of several physical mitigation infrastructure.
Technical assistance to the community
In the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, ActionAid and HelpAge collaborated with Action for Social Aid and Young Women’s Christian Association as the main implementers while Oxfam and Plan International as technical partners on women empowerment and school-based DRR. Furthermore, HelpAge supported technical input to include older people in DRR while national partner Social Policy and Poverty Research Group performed to provide inclusiveness for disable people.
ActionAid trained community mobilizers who are young people with leadership potential and elected by the community. They examine the vulnerable groups first and find opportunities for action. They find new ways to work together as a community and coordinate with local authorities.
Village Disaster Management Committee and rescue task forces for early warning, evacuation and first aid are developed in the villages to make sure that DRR is organized in an inclusive way. ActionAid supports community members in coordination with local authorities for bottom-up planning since the collaboration between the government and citizens is crucial to improve disaster management.
Community building workshop to reduce flood disaster risk
Credit: The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative
Involvement of private sector for effective management plan
The private sector is an important supporter to climate and disaster risk reduction in Myanmar and globally. For better coordination, the government has launched the Myanmar Private Sector Disaster Management Network (MPD-Network) to improve the capacity of business associations and businesses in Myanmar and strengthen its resilience to return to normal as soon as possible after disasters. Areas of cooperation can be seen in disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures to upgrade private sector engagement. Communities should be evaluated as major stakeholders in disaster management efforts. The success of any localized intervention depends on the willingness and ability of households and communities to initiate necessary changes and improve resilience. Disaster Risk Management should be extended through community and school linkages in collaboration with relevant organizations which could provide community-based disaster risk management.
Technical and financial support for disaster risk reduction
Technical assistance is needed for the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation which should be strengthened at all levels to improve planning and finance. Furthermore, stronger cooperation between different sectors is needed to create an effort to increase resilience and sustainability.
Increasing the availability, accessibility and quality of risk information which covers localized impacts of climate change and hazards is important to prioritize interventions and human resources. Lack of adequate and accurate data from different states and divisions restrict the estimation of disaster and climate impacts. As a result, the risk and vulnerability rise in the disaster-prone areas. Targeted interventions are required to upgrade local capacity in managing, analyzing and storing data to ensure that all information is compatible cross-platform.
Financing climate and disaster risk management needs to strengthen policy for financing, post-disaster resource management and social protection systems which are aimed to relieve financial burdens of affected communities. Investment priorities have been outlined in the Climate Change Strategy and Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (2018-2030). These later highlight the requirement the financial needs to support human resources and build technological capacity through training to acquire successful implementation of disaster risk management. Achieving sustainable development is interconnected with green growth which provides the needs of the population and can improve the reach of infrastructure and employment opportunities. Enlarging the collaborative and coordinated approach to climate and disaster risk management at all levels of government is essential to lessen inefficiencies arising from hierarchical and inflexible governance.
Preparation and Preparedness as a community
Disaster preparedness includes activities to strengthen the ability to predict, cope and respond with the effect of a disaster. It covers precautionary activities by organization, community and household to respond appropriately during and after the event. Community-based disaster preparedness scheme at community level consists of an early warning system, evacuation and relocation plan, building temporary shelters and conducting simulation exercises and mock drills.
That will be the best if the community has already established a community-based Organization (CBO) on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). If not, community leaders should work together to form such an organization with the stakeholders of the community. Under the CBO on DRR, there should be sub-groups or teams to organize different management activities such as early warning systems, evacuation plans and rescues and relief operations.
Providing food supply through local church partners
Credit: Samaritan Purse
The CBO should develop a community-based Disaster Management Plan (CBDMP) with the support of community members, leaders, NGOs and local authorities. The plan should include activities which the community members need to prepare for flood. That should be a list of detailed delegation of duties so that everyone is aware of his/her own responsibilities when an emergency happens. After preparing the plan, that should be shared with the community through various ways such as posting on the notice board of religious buildings or gathering areas and announcing at the community assembly. The plan should be updated regularly at predetermined intervals to make sure to adapt and reflect the changing conditions of the climate and environment. Weather focus and warning are crucial for relocation of people to safe place and managing resources for disaster response activities.
All-inclusiveness and good practices
Good practices start with targeted training to provide to teachers and school children through the school-based DRR component of the project. The lessons should be enjoyable and easier to digest for children like creative drawing exercises to improve awareness of disaster and disaster risk management.
Enhancing awareness, knowledge and understanding can be done with a set of initiatives and activities such as training, workshops and simulation exercises. In order to raise awareness, education and communication materials, videos through social media or mainstream media, leaflets and posters should be distributed at all levels.
Development of guidelines on age and gender balance of community DRR structures, empowering teachers to train children, inclusive plan for women, children, older people and persons with disabilities and targeted training for women leadership and empowerment would be examples of good practices for DRR.
To sum up, an effective disaster risk management system is essential to save lives and reduce the losses due to natural disasters, especially in coastal and disaster-prone areas. That should be made with a bottom-up approach with all-inclusiveness measures. Team work as a community is crucial for early warning and preparedness as a whole community. Everyone should be notified and aware of the disaster so that evacuation and rescue plans can be made. There should also be a channel among the teams to provide up to date information during the flood disaster events. Some mediums such as radio, TV, audio tapes, videos, posters, billboards, booklets, community discussions and door-to-door campaigns can be used for conducting awareness raising campaigns especially in remote areas.
The research and writing of this piece was made possible by SUMERNET 4 All Media-Research Partnerships Fund from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
- Disaster Risk Reduction in Myanmar: Status Report 2020 (https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Disaster%20Risk%20Reduction%20in%20Myanmar%20Status%20Report%202020.pdf)
- Vulnerability and Resilience Assessment of the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar: Full assessment report
- Learning from Cyclone Nargis: Investing in the environment for livelihoods and disaster risk reduction, A Case Study by UNEP
- Integrated Community-based Early Recovery Framework by UNDP Myanmar