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Climate change vulnerability assessment of Labutta Township Ayeyawady Region, Myanmar, 2016-2050: Scenarios for resilience building [EN/MY]

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 analyzes the vulnerability of the ecological, infrastructure and socio-economic conditions of Labutta in relation to the present and projected climatic conditions. It concludes that vulnerabilities in Labutta are currently high and that changes in climate will require decision-makers in Labutta Township to plan for increased coastal flooding, warmer temperatures, more frequent extreme heat days, greater amounts of rain within a shorter monsoon season, salinization of water sources and agricultural land, and erratic rainfall patterns during other seasons. Based on these findings, required actions for building resilience over the mid to long-term are in the Annex 1.

In 2016 the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance, comprised of UN-Habitat, UN-Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, in collaboration with WWF and Columbia University conducted a detailed climate change vulnerability assessment of Labutta Township. Labutta is located at the southern tip of the Ayeyawady Delta Area region in Myanmar and is home to around 315,000 people. Characterized by a deltaic environment, it has a predominantly flat topography, and suffered greatly in terms of damage and lives lost from Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Labutta is still struggling to recover from its effects, especially in rice production.

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 course of 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 2.3°C in 2050, with up to 17 more hot days per year. Rainfall patterns are also projected to change, with a possible increase in rainfall during a shorter rainy season, meaning more frequent heavy rainfall events. Strong winds and cyclones are also expected to increase, because of higher temperatures, more evaporation and a greater moisture level in the atmosphere. Finally, salinity is also a critical challenge. Labutta has 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. These salt lines are moving north and east, affecting a greater number of people. The assessment projects up to approximately 40 centimetres of sea-level rise by 2050, which will increase the area of salt infiltration, and cause more frequent and more intense inundations and floods.

The assessment shows that decision-makers in Labutta Township will need to plan for increased coastal flooding, warmer temperatures, more frequent extreme heat days, greater amounts of rain within a shorter monsoon season, and unknown rainfall changes during other seasons.

In current conditions, the study demonstrates, Labutta Township is insufficiently resilient to the present climate conditions, and its vulnerability will increase greatly because of the projected future changes in climate if no adaptation 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. In particular:

  1. Labutta’s economy is not diversified and up to 72 per cent of people depend on highly climate-sensitive agriculture and fisheries for their livelihoods, which on average provide incomes well below the minimum wage, while people have little training in other trades and professions. Agriculture is affected by salinity, higher average temperatures, heat waves, floods, inundation, and strong rains. As most people do not have alternative livelihoods or technical or vocational skills, migration is high, especially among young men, who are more than twice as likely to migrate than women. Climate change projections indicate that these impacts will worsen by 2050; incomes will at best stagnate and may well decline, and in this case increased migration is highly likely.

  2. Labutta has a deltaic ecosystem, which though naturally highly productive and resilient, is rapidly degrading. There was a 64 per cent reduction in mangrove coverage area between 1978 and 2011, mainly due to land conversion for agro-industry and cutting for domestic fuel use. Mangrove ecosystems provide multiple critical services: protecting people from waves, providing habitats for fish, regulating erosion and salt infiltration, and providing construction materials and fuel-wood for cooking. With the current trends – and the further effects of climate change on flora and fauna – mangroves could be entirely lost by 2019. This will increase the sensitivity of communities to the adverse climatic effects.

  3. Infrastructure in Labutta is not adapted to strong winds and floods, and unable to withstand the effects of tropical storms and cyclones, and is further at risk from projected changes in the future. Housing and basic service infrastructure primarily uses non-resistant local materials; in some areas, up to 97 per cent of houses use local materials, while the network of disaster resilient life-line buildings, such as cyclone shelters, only cater for 10 per cent of the total population. Schools, health facilities and other public buildings are also not adapted to withstand severe climatic events. A network of waterways provides mobility for people in Labutta and sustains commerce and connectivity to Pyinsalu, in the south, to Labutta Town in the north and from east to west. However, the combined effect of up to 41 centimetres of sea-level rise and heavy rains means that waterways may become impassable with high tides, storm surges and waves, and main roads may be inundated. Lack of effective connectivity is a severe obstacle for development and may represent a hazard for people. Drinking water in Labutta relies overwhelmingly on uncovered, rain-fed sources; around 80 per cent of people depend on such facilities for their drinking water. The shorter monsoon season, greater evaporation and salinity require improvements to rainwater harvesting and water storage to allow people to continue living in this area.

The interplay of these underlying vulnerabilities with ongoing and future changes in the climate will, if not urgently addressed, leave the people of Labutta more vulnerable to disasters. The effects will be seen through more frequent loss of lives and assets, lower incomes that will drive poverty, increased migration, poorer outcomes for women and a challenging public health situation. Housing and basic service conditions 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 Labutta 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; socio-economic, infrastructure, ecological and ultimately affect people’s life, 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 allowing cutting mangroves without replanting; constructing infrastructure where inundation may occur; or failing to construct houses with storm-resistant techniques, but with long-term negative consequences. 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; the strengthening of economic associations to create a more resilient livelihood and income; the integration of measures for strong winds in housing and schools; the 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 are able to 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 Labutta, 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) A healthy ecosystem is maintained and enhanced, to protect and provide for people; 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 Labutta 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 Labutta township (Annex 1).