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Climate change vulnerability assessment for Pakokku Township, Magway Region, Myanmar, 2016-2050: Scenarios for resilience building

Columbia University
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Lead Authors: Liam Fee, Montse Gibert, Ryan Bartlett, Pasquale Capizzi, Radley Horton, Corey Lesk
Contributing Authors: Mozaharul Alam, Annette Wallgren

This assessment analyses the vulnerability of the ecological, infrastructure and socio-economic conditions of Pakokku in relation to the present and projected climatic conditions. It concludes that vulnerabilities in Pakokku are high and that changes in climate will require decision-makers of Pakokku to plan for greater amounts of rain within a shorter monsoon season, which will induce both destruction of crops and floods in the urban areas; much warmer average temperatures and more frequent extreme heat days with resulting water scarcity, risks of droughts, reduction in agricultural productivity and threats to human health. Based on these findings, required actions for building resilience over the mid to long-term is strongly recommended and potential action identified, as illustrated in Annex 1 of this report.

In 2016 the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA) financed by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN-Environment) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation conducted a detailed climate change vulnerability assessment of Pakokku Township, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Center for Climate Systems Research of the Columbia University (CCSR). Pakokku is located in the western part of the central dry zone, on the west bank of the Ayeyawady River. 290,139 people live in Pakokku Township, just over 30 per cent of whom live in the town itself. Pakokku has a mostly flat topography, except for some low mountains in the western area of the township, and is characterized by a hot, dry climate. Vulnerability relating to water is the predominant challenge in the township. Areas by the river experience floods, while away from the river drought and access to water is a chronic problem.

The study analyses current vulnerabilities, and by projecting changes in climate, anticipates further vulnerabilities in the future up to 2050. On this basis, it proposes scenarios that describe potential impact of climate change, and issues recommendations for adaptation to avoid the worst case future scenario. It also describes the expected outcomes and results, and prioritized activities that communities identified during the assessment.

The study projects changes in climate for the township, to a 25-kilometre spatial resolution. Projections show an increase in temperatures by as much as 2.7°C by 2050, with up to 17 more hot days per year. Although projected changes in rainfall are less clear, it is likely that there will be a slight increase in rainfall, but concentrated in a shorter monsoon season (June – October) and a decrease in the cool season. It is likely that this increase will therefore result in heavy rains. As a consequence, the increase in rainfall is unlikely to alleviate the water scarcity challenges of the Dry Zone Area, and may rather aggravate crop destruction, erosion and run-off water and floods, already experienced frequently by communities living close to the Ayeyawady and seasonal streams. Conversely, a shorter monsoon season will produce longer dry-spells and therefore higher risks of droughts.

The assessment shows that decision-makers in Pakokku Township will need to plan for variable rain, with increases concentrated in the monsoon season, less groundwater availability in dry areas, greater flood risks near the Ayeyarwady, and more frequent and more severe extreme heat events, with associated risk of droughts, loss of crops and livestock and risks for human health.

In current conditions, the study demonstrates, Pakokku Township is insufficiently resilient to the present climate conditions, and its vulnerability will increase because of the projected future changes in climate, if no adaptation and resilience building actions are taken. This is mainly due to the current socio-economic; infrastructure and ecological system conditions, and the expected impact of climate change on these systems.


  1. Pakokku’s economy is not well diversified: although comparative good capacities in urban areas for small industrial production and household based production of goods, over 46 per cent of people in the whole township depend on agriculture for their livelihood, despite agriculture generating only a relatively small share of the township’s total economic output. Very few agricultural workers earn minimum wage, while landless people who provide casual labour are also unlikely to earn minimum wage – especially women, whose incomes can be half that of men. Agriculture in Pakokku is highly climate sensitive. In the dry area, access to water is an ongoing challenge as people do not have access to water to irrigate fields, while in fertile riverside areas, damage from seasonal floods is a serious problem. The effect of this, as well as a lack of other livelihood options, is a driver of migration, which is very high in Pakokku. Indeed, migration is sufficiently high that there is a shortage of productive age people. Migration also has a distinct gender aspect; male migrants outnumber females by three to one.

  2. Pakokku has a dryland ecosystem, which is dependent on the Ayeyawady Dry Forests. However, a history of deforestation and resultant land degradation have caused increased run-off, poor soil quality and erosion. This problem is particularly acute in riverbank areas, which are also prone to flooding. Flooding is also being driven by upstream factors, including deforestation, which has caused more severe and more frequent flooding in recent years. These issues result in highly variable, but generally low, crop yields. In turn, low yields drive low incomes and in-turn lead to high outward migration.

  3. Infrastructure in Pakokku is insufficient in many places to protect from floods in urban areas or by the seasonal streams, and inadequate to guarantee continued access to water through either ground or surface rainwater harvesting. Insufficient infrastructure compounds the lack of ground and surface water that can be used for drinking. Only 15 per cent of households have access to piped water. Few households have access to household water harvesting which means that water storage is not being optimised. While there is irrigation infrastructure in the township, including 6 dams, these are either in disrepair, rely on seasonal streams that are not flowing in the dry season, or still require water to be pumped, which is prohibitively expensive. Sanitation facilities are still lacking in the township; 19 per cent of households do not currently have access to a safe sanitation facility in their home. Meanwhile, houses in Pakokku are often poorly constructed and vulnerable to strong winds and, in areas close to the river, floods.

The interplay of these vulnerabilities with ongoing and future changes in the climate will, if not urgently addressed, leave the people of Pakokku more vulnerable to both rapid on-set disasters and long-term climatic transformative effects. The impact will be experienced through more frequent loss of assets, and potentially lives, lower incomes that will drive poverty, increased migration, worse outcomes for women and a declining public health situation. Housing and basic service conditions, especially in access to water, will also worsen, driven by changes in the climate and degraded ecosystems. Overall, without adaptation measures, climate change will be a barrier to socio-economic development as Pakokku is not resilient at present.


A. The business as usual scenario, in which authorities and communities do not recognize the urgent need to address different aspects of vulnerability. Therefore, changes in climate have an exponential effect on the three systems analysed in this report; socioeconomic, infrastructure, ecological and ultimately affect people’s lives, livelihoods, health, and safety by 2050. In this scenario, insufficient planning capacities and governance, negate mid to long-term planning. Decisions are taken to respond to short-term needs; such as building infrastructure and houses in flood prone areas. Under this scenario, livelihoods, infrastructure and environmental conditions will not allow people to improve living conditions in the township. In addition, projected changes in the climate will interact with and exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities and as they do, new, unforeseen vulnerabilities may also emerge.

B. The resilience is built to maintain current living standards scenario, in which the township and communities recognize the urgent need to take action, but also recognize investment, time, economic, technical and skill constraints. In this scenario, an adaptation plan is adopted, and activities that can be implemented without large investment are consistently undertaken, such as the protection of the environment; improving skills and access to credit for more resilient livelihoods and incomes; improvement of water harvesting, among others. Under this scenario, decisions on land-use and town-planning would need to take into account current and projected climate risks, to prevent hazardous situations, such as infrastructure being constructed near flood-prone areas and the need to clean drainage infrastructure inter alia. In this scenario, the township and communities can plan their adaptation needs considering climate constraints, and communicate them to the districts, states and regions, NGOs and development partners. This scenario is the minimum required to prevent increased vulnerability, and to enable continued development.

C. Resilience is built that enables economic and social development despite changes in climate by 2050, considering the different vulnerabilities of both men and women, in which effective, strategic planning, resources, coordination, and time is assigned not only to maintain basic safety conditions, but to achieve development goals. Based on this assessment, the first of its kind in Pakokku, planning work that follows is strategic, and guides the township planning, the budget request to the district and other authorities. It requests investment from national authorities and international partners, to achieve three main results: 1) To achieve a greener healthy environment that supports the living standards of Pakokku in a sustainable manner despite changes in climate, 2) A diversified, inclusive and resilient economy, to enhance the economic conditions of the township; 3) A resilient infrastructure and connectivity, that protects and enables people. In this scenario, efforts are sustained in an inclusive manner over a long period of time, and by a number of actors, but particularly the local and national government.

To make the findings of this report actionable, a climate change resilience action plan should be developed and adopted at the township level. To this end, the assessment mobilized communities to identify expected adaptation outcomes and results, and priority potential activities to pre-empt Scenario A from materializing and instead promote a more resilient Pakokku by, at the very least, achieving the conditions of scenario B, and working towards scenario C. The results of these consultations are included in this report, and they should be used as a basis to initiate adaptation in Pakokku Township.