Myanmar Times: Environmental disasters could doubly affect IDPs

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By Lillian Kalish   |   Thursday, 08 December 2016

The coupling of increased environmental disasters with internal conflict has created unique and threatening realities for internally displaced persons in Myanmar, according to a recent Refugees International report.

In interviews conducted one year after the 2015 floods, which temporarily displaced close to 1.7 million people in Rakhine, Chin, Magwe, and Sagaing, the report found that the government has yet to elaborate long term solutionsfor relocated communities doubly affected by dangerous weather and an unpredictable political climate.

The report, “Accelerating Threats from Climate Change: Disasters and Displacements in Myanmar,” noted that last year’s hastily relocated communities continue to face vulnerabilities including limited financial and technical support for rebuilding durable housing, limited access to education, clean water and bathrooms, as well as diminished job opportunities.

Though communities in the Ayeyarwady Region were relocated with relative swiftness in 2015, proper evacuation procedures as well as relocation guidelines should take precedent in areas that are constantly at risk of floods, cyclones, droughts, and more, the report says. Refugees International cautioned against quicksteps and advised the government “to ensure that safeguards [are] in place for those targeted for relocation.”

After Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Ayeyarwady Region in 2008, Myanmar has worked to initiate preparedness measures, one of which was the adoption of the Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Rick Reduction in 2011 under U Thein Sein’s governance.

Yet five years after its implementation, Refugees International’s climate displacement program manager, Alice Thomas, said that Myanmar is still lags behind in targeting the complicated overlap of factors affecting internally displaced communities.

“In decades to come … increasing numbers of impoverished communities will be displaced or migrate as more extreme weather and other climate change effects undermine their safety and security,” said Ms Thomas, who spearheaded the fieldwork mission.

For one of the country’s most at risk communities – Rohingya and Rakhine communities living in IDP camps – the report observed an apparent lack of evacuation plans or disaster preparedness. Restrictions to the Rohingya’s mobility in the Rakhine State also pose a serious challenge in the face of an emergency situation.

The report suggests the government work alongside disaster relief organisations to “prioritise investments in recovery and livelihood restoration” to those affected in 2015 and beyond through the implementation of a “comprehensive” and “long term” plans.

“Failure to take these steps will only continue to undermine development and exacerbate Myanmar’s other challenges,” said Thomas.