Accelerating Threats from Climate Change: Disasters and Displacement in Myanmar

In the summer of 2015, Myanmar experienced massive floods and associated landslides that affected nine million people. Since then, the country has seen dramatic political change, while confronting a litany of ongoing humanitarian crises. As the government strives to juggle humanitarian needs with longer-term development issues, it must confront its extreme vulnerability to disasters and climate change.

At present, flood-affected communities in some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden areas of the country have yet to recover, including those which were hastily relocated. In the near-term, the government and its development partners must help those displaced by the 2015 floods and landslides to restore their livelihoods and enhance their resilience to future disasters. Over the longer-term, the government will also need to work with its partners to build its technical capacity to better mitigate the adverse impacts of disasters and climate change on displacement and migration. Failure to do so will only continue to undermine development and exacerbate Myanmar’s other challenges.

When RI visited this area of Sagaing Region in September 2015, these families were living in tents along a roadside, their homes having been washed away by flash floods. Now, one year later, they have been relocated away from the river to government-owned land and are living in new homes built with support from international donors. They feel safer in their new homes, but the new site is situated along a steep mountainside far from the main road, creating numerous challenges.

On the relocation side, we dropped the ball.

UN agency representative interviewed by RI
Massive floods in 2015 washed away this woman’s home and most of her village in Kale Township, Sagaign Region. She and her family have now been relocated to another site by local authorities where they are struggling to rebuild their lives.

As the newly elected government of Myanmar gets on its feet and looks toward increased foreign investment and development, it must prioritize strategies to address the growing threat that disasters, more extreme weather, and climate change present to its future.

Failure to do so will only continue to undermine longer-term development and exacerbate the other challenges faced by the country.


  • Donor governments and development and humanitarian agencies with expertise in disaster risk management must work collaboratively to support the Myanmar government in developing and implementing proven strategies that mitigate disaster displacement risk among the most vulnerable communities. This includes increasing financial and technical support, especially at the local level, to effectively address the risks and underlying socio-economic drivers of displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change.
  • The Myanmar government, with the support of the multi-lateral development banks, donor governments, the United Nations (UN), and the private sector, must prioritize investments in recovery and livelihood restoration in those areas worst affected by the 2015 floods and landslides including increased support for the implementation of the Myanmar government’s National Recovery Framework.
  • The Myanmar government and its partners, with the support of technical experts and international initiatives such as the Platform on Disaster Displacement, should develop policies, procedures, and guidelines for planned relocation. Such guidelines must be implemented at the local level through training and capacity building to ensure that relocation is fully consensual and participatory, respects the human rights of affected individuals, and is accompanied by the multi-year funding necessary to provide relocated households with land, safe and secure housing, and access to livelihoods and services.
  • Members of the UN humanitarian country team in Myanmar providing support for relocation of disaster-displaced communities must develop joint internal guidelines for operationalizing their role. This should include working with the Myanmar government and development agencies to try to ensure that planned relocation is accompanied by comprehensive, long-term support and monitoring so that it is sustainable and does not increase vulnerability or protection risks.

Alice Thomas, Refugees International’s Climate Displacement Program Manager, traveled with consultant and former RI Fellow Davina Wadley to the country’s capital, Yangon, as well as to disaster-affected areas of Rakhine State, Chin State, and Sagaing Region in September and October 2016.