Prepare for Climate Change Risks, Report Urges

By Rik Glauert 5 April 2017

RANGOON — Burma must prepare for a dramatic climate shift of hotter temperatures, more rainfall, higher sea levels, and more tropical cyclones, warns a climate change report published this week.

Data from 19 weather stations across the country operating since 1981 show Burma’s climate is already changing—average temperatures and rainfall have both increased over this period.

Extreme weather events like 2008’s Cyclone Nargis, 2010’s extreme heat wave, and 2015’s flooding are predicted to increase in the future.

This is according to the report titled “Assessing Climate Risk in Myanmar” issued by Colombia University, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UNHSP).

Across Burma, temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1.3 and 2.7 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century, with the most dramatic changes during the hot season and in the east and north of the country.

Aside from the significant health risks attached to higher temperatures—2010’s heat wave killed more than 200 people in Mandalay alone according to the health ministry—Burma’s agriculture must adapt by using methods to conserve water and planting species of plants suited to the extremes of droughts and floods, particularly in the country’s central Dry Zone.

Burma’s coastal areas will bear the brunt of higher rainfall—though the report notes that more rainfall does not mean more rainy days and that in fact the monsoon season has already shortened by a week.

Annual total rainfall in coastal areas has increased by 157 mm (4.5 percent) per decade since 1981, making parts of Arakan State and the Irrawaddy Delta more susceptible to flooding during the monsoon season.

Sea levels are projected to rise by between 5 cm and 13 cm in the 2020s along the entire coast of Burma, increasing to between 20 cm and 41 cm in the 2050s, and 37 cm to 83 cm in the 2080s.

Greater and more frequent storm surges and coastal floods could extend up to 10 km from today’s coast in low-lying areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta.

Low-lying delta areas also remain vulnerable to violent tropical cyclones which are likely to increase with climate change—evidence points towards an increase in maximum wind speeds and intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones as upper ocean temperatures increase.

Burma’s government must take these climate risks into account when developing the country’s infrastructure, the report urges.

Power systems should be designed to operate under extreme temperatures; housing and economic developments should be planned with flood plains and sea level rises taken into account; and telecommunications systems should be developed to coordinate responses to climate emergencies.

Burma’s ecosystems and biodiversity are also under threat, with slow-moving and low-dispersal species most at risk.

The country’s ecosystems are, however, an important weapon in the fight against climate risk.

Up-river forests retain soil and reduce the risk of landslides and flooding downstream, while mangroves provide critical defenses against coastal erosion and increasingly intense cyclones, and should be protected as a priority.