Labutta, in the heart of the Irrawaddy delta, is one of the villages were residents were battered by Cyclone Nargis ten years ago. It was a devastating category four cyclone that swept across the Bay of Bengal creating storm surges that ruined fields and crops and destroyed thousands of homes. In total 2.4 million people were displaced and more than 138,000 people died.
Ten years on since the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar, many low lying villages don’t have storm shelters, an alarm system or evacuation plans and safe ground to easily access if another natural disaster hits. The Myanmar Climate Change Alliance has funded the construction of a multipurpose cyclone shelter in a larger village which was decided as a prioritized intervention after a climate change vulnerability assessment of Labutta, as well as adaptation planning of the area in consultation with communities and local government authorities. Many other villages are also in need of such adaptation planning in the delta area.
A resilience initiative gaining ground is the rebuilding of mangroves along the coast, providing an example of ecosystem-based adaptation solutions.
“We were born here so we want to survive. Now we realise the importance of trees and mangroves and not cutting them down for firewood.” Ohn Myint, a farmer and chairman of the mangrove committee in Thin Gar Lay, believes strongly that adaptation programs are needed in the region to plan for climate change and stop the problem of possible migration seeking alternative livelihoods in cities. Changes in rainfall and rising temperatures are affecting climate sensitive current livelihood options (farming, aquaculture and mangroves) and already becoming a strong trend in Labutta.
Economic vulnerability caused by floods or natural disasters can also drive families to take out loans and begin a cycle of debt. One villager, Zaw Min who works as a fisherwoman, says “if we don’t get enough fish for our family we have to borrow money. This is difficult because we can’t afford to buy rice or other products that are also become more expensive due to the lack of the production in the region after flooding.”
Labutta has a two salt lines: a permanent salt line, below which the land and groundwater is saline, and a seasonal salt line, in which land and groundwater is saline in the dry season. With its location along the banks of the Irrawaddy river most of the 315,000 population is dependent on farming along the flood plains. Yet after Cyclone Nargis many communities are still struggling to rebuild. The total annual rainfall in the Labutta area is projected to increase, model results suggest that total rainfall increase may be driven by increases during the monsoon season. In contrast, the direction of rainfall change during the hot and cool seasons in unclear, as models project a wide range of rainfall changes, spanning from an increase to a decrease. Strong winds and cyclones are also expected to increase, as a result of hotter temperatures, moisture and other conditions. Salinity is also a critical challenge.