Coming on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Cyclone Nargis – an unprecedented catastrophe that exposed Myanmar's utter lack of disaster preparedness – a report has been released calling for the establishment of a Myanmar National Climate Land Bank to “prepare the country and its people for massive climate displacement.”
“Given the 2000km coastline of the country, combined with the far lengthier rivers that run throughout the country, it is a certainty that mass climate displacement will occur in Myanmar, and in fact, that these processes are already well underway,” the report released by Geneva-based NGO Displacement Solutions and Yangon-based Ecodev on May 23 states.
Recommendations include establishing the land bank with an initial investment of 10,000 acres, investigating degraded forests as potential relocation zones and carrying out comprehensive national climate impact mapping, citing woefully inadequate digital elevation models dating back to 2000.
“Having a climate land bank in place, endowed with sufficient amounts of state land for eventual allocation to vulnerable communities is a practical and realistic way to begin taking these challenges seriously,” Displacement Solutions Founder and Director Scott Leckie said.
The report, titled “The Urgent Need to Prepare for Climate Displacement in Myanmar”, is the result of a joint research effort to gauge the viability of a land bank through case studies of coastal communities of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta and Paung Township in Mon State conducted over the past year.
Despite nearly all of the villagers consulted having been directly impacted by Cyclone Nargis, the report found that “they remain committed to remaining on the land of their ancestors until such a position is no longer safe and sustainable.”
According to the report, another aspect of passing a Myanmar National Climate Land Bank into law would be the chance to more clearly define customary land rights recognised in the country's 2016 National Land Use Policy.
“The continued failure of the statutory legal domain to adequately recognise this legitimate and widely practiced form of land governance in the country not only undermines efforts at longer term peace given its prevalance in ethnic areas, but also generates unnecessary land tenure insecurity for huge sections of the population,” Leckie said.
When it comes to the type of displacement outlined in the report, threats are not limited to ferocious storms originating in the Bay of Bengal, but also from a host of long-term concerns like rising sea levels and surface temperatures – the latter of which theoretically results in cyclones of greater intensity.
For a measure of the brutality of Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar ranked alongside Haiti and Honduras in the top three countries most affected by extreme weather events from 1997 to 2016 in the current year's Global Climate Risk Index published by Bonn-based NGO Germanwatch.
As for where the government stands on these issues, its “Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2030”, released in January 2017, does not lay out any specific plans concerning the potential for mass climate-related displacement over the next 15 years.