Building the case for canoes: communities facing multiple hazards in Myanmar use scientific evidence to create multiple solutions

  • By Jeremy Stone, Plan Myanmar
  • 09/10/2015
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In most places in Myanmar, villages receive an average of 95% of their annual rainfall from the South West Monsoon period between May and September.  The village of Leik Tin in the township of Kyauk Phyu is no exception.  

Situated along the Bay of Bengal on the East coast of Myanmar, Leik Tin’s farmers are reliant on this rainfall to grow rice during the monsoon season. However, recent unpredictability of this usually welcomed rainfall, in combination with high tides and warmer and drier hot seasons, is presenting communities with serious problems.

How can one village deal with so many weather hazards?

The residents of Leik Tin have been tackling the enormous weather challenges by working on assessment, prioritisation and implementation plans under the guidance of the BRACED programme. Incorporating scientific evidence into their decision-making, Leik Tin and other communities generate ideas on how to deal with multiple hazards, including short-term and long-term solutions.

In one village, building canoes was a simple solution to keep communities afloat amidst the various hazards of climate change. Villages also focus on longer-term solutions to build resilience to climate stresses and shocks. Here’s the story of how ordinary people are dismantling extraordinary challenges and finding ways to cope with their changing environment.


The negative impact of changing weather patterns

Higher intensity rains combined with high tides and coastal flooding in Leik Tin has been threatening paddy crops in recent years, bringing saline water into the fields, according to the The Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC), a community based organization in Myanmar. The community has also been experiencing warmer and drier hot seasons affecting the availability of drinking water in the village ponds.

Another village, Sue Yit Tan in the central dry zone of central Myanmar in Meiktila Township, has also been facing challenges resulting from increasingly unpredictable rainfall and water scarcity. The village has also suffered from high salinity of many of the newly dug water wells. As a result, the community is finding it increasingly difficult to access sufficient drinking water and water for irrigation during the dry months.

Sometimes the floods in Myanmar are so bad that people must be evacuated. In the Zayar Thiri and Thar Yae Aye wards in Mawlamyine township in the Southern coastal region, flooding occurs on average twice a year during the rainy season.  Those living in flood prone areas have to be evacuated to a local monastery by canoes during flooding. However, accessing canoes during the onset and period of flooding in this year's heavy monsoon has proven difficult.


Finding out what people need to be better able to cope with climate extremes

What are the underlying drivers of vulnerability in communities and what kinds of climate extremes and disasters (i.e rapid and/or slow onset) are communities exposed to? A “Community Resilience Assessment and Action Handbook” has been developed by BRACED to explore these questions. The assessment looks at how different people (men, women, boys and girls) are affected by understanding the different sensitivities within the community.

The assessment has expanded on a number of existing vulnerability assessment tools to create a process that address both disaster and climate related sensitivities as well as highlighting the wider shocks and stresses the community are vulnerable to including conflict, unplanned development and environmental change. In addition the tool also helps assess capacities within communities identifying existing strengths that can be built upon such as existing disaster plans and strategies. This data is then used to identify and prioritise actions for strengthening resilience to disasters and climate change.

The assessment and accompanying handbook are currently being piloted in communities across different climatic zones of Myanmar. The BRACED Myanmar Alliance, led by Plan International and working with Action Aid, World Vision, Myanmar Environment Institute, BBC Media Action and UN Habitat, has been testing the use of tools and data collection techniques in these communities.

 

The needs and our response

The piloting work in Leik Thin and Sue Yit Tan, Zayar Thiri and Thar Yae Aye has highlighted the need for better access to climate and weather information including 1) historic data on weather and climate extremes, 2) current and short term weather forecasts and 3) future climate projections and scenarios.  Strengthening the skills required to be able to interpret this information is crucial for decision-making.

Better access and understanding of climate and weather data, forecasts and predictions means that communities can base decisions on current understandings in what is known as evidence-based decision making. Improving communities’ access to accurate climate and weather information will help them plan their seasonal planting, diversify their livelihoods options, and better prepare for disasters such as flooding by protecting their assets on time.

Responding to this need, the BRACED Myanmar Alliance has partnered with the Regional Integrated Multi Hazard Early Warning Systems (RIMES) and the Myanmar Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH) to review historical data from weather stations to assess the return periods of extreme events and develop weather and climate profiles for the BRACED target townships. RIMES and DMH facilitated a training for BRACED field staff on how to integrate climate and weather information into community resilience assessments.

Climate and weather information is crucial for developing scenarios (based on potential severity and extent of hazards) for communities with which to make decisions on key community resources, livelihoods and plans. By compiling community perceptions and validating them against historical trends and weather/climate forecasts, the BRACED Myanmar Alliance supports communities to develop evidence-based resilience action plans to address climate extremes.

If a community in the delta region remembers experiencing significant flooding one year, however review of past rainfall data show insignificant localised rainfall during that period, it may be concluded that rainfall further upstream has triggered the flooding. Therefore to understand the potential for future flooding and how to repsond, upstream rainfall also needs to be monitored.


Developing and using the assessment tool for strengthening resilience

The BRACED Myanmar Alliance recognizes the challenge of accessing future climate projections and scenarios and acquiring the skills required to be able to interpret this information for decision-making. This assessment tool and its handbook was developed for this purpose. It has been translated into the Myanmar language to help guide communities and field staff on how to collect and analyse resilience information.

The handbook builds on established vulnerability assessment methodologies and incorporates tools for better understanding a wider set of resilience related issues including climate change, natural disasters, environmental change, conflict and inclusion. This sets the handbook apart from other similar tools in that it goes beyond looking at only disaster or climate change measures and instead seeks comprehensive data on resilience related measures.

The handbook provides easy-to-use templates and guidance on tools and techniques to understand hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities. Decision-making templates will help users to incorporate climate and weather information and develop scenarios with which to design resilience actions.

The handbook emphasises the use of secondary and scientific data to validate community information and develop scenarios to support community decision making.


Prioritising solutions

As a result of the resilience assessment, the BRACED Alliance target communities have started prioritising key resilience measures that will support five key areas of change identified for Myanmar.

There are two critical processes to ensure the most appropriate actions are included in the plan: prioritsation and screening (conflict/environment and gender). BRACED funded interventions will prioritise the most vulnerable groups in communities and look at activities that have wide reaching benefits to communities. To facilitate selection a number of tools are presented in the handbook including a community cost benefit analysis tool.

In the township of Mawlamyine, these two critical processes resulted in building canoes! The communities prioritised the construction of canoes to be better prepared for annual flooding. Access to canoes can save lives during floods and improve access to water and food for communities during these events. A simple, local solution to a complex, global climate and weather hazard.        

The assessment will now be rolled out across eight townships of Myanmar and various resilience strengthening activities will be implemented across the 155 BRACED villages. Challenges lay ahead in further understanding and using resilience data and information to support decision making, especially in institutionalising skills into formal support channels including government mechanisms. Experience and lessons learned will be captured to support best practice and learning across all the project sites and wider.

 

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