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Environmental Degradation And Security in Myanmar

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Since the post-Cold War, there have been re-conceptualizations to non-military issues into the security conservation. These non-traditional security issues could cause conflict, instability and insecurity not only to states but also to human beings. Moreover, human activities, for example man-made disasters, lead to dangerous risks for both environment and human reliant upon it. Subsequently, growing environmental awareness has included and influenced in security thinking. In addition, local to global environmental changes continue to get attention for environmental security. Thus, it is as a must to decide that the growing impacts of environmental stress as non-traditional security threats for international level through local levels.

Among the countries, Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable states to natural disasters such as flooding, drought, earthquakes, cyclones, and communicable and infectious disease outbreaks. Unfortunately, Cyclone Nargis was the highest extreme and the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Myanmar. On 2nd May 2008, Nargis cyclone made landfall within Myanmar causing highest destruction more than 140,000 people were killed, mainly by the storm surge. Around 55,000 people were missing and many other deaths were found in other towns. It illustrated the potential for extreme weather events to further contribute to conflict.

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Traced back to root cause of environmental degradation in the Ayeyarwady Delta, it was poverty. Because of poverty, people in this region could damage to the environment, including deforestation and degradation of mangroves, over-exploitation of natural resources such as fisheries, and soil erosion. For example, the heavy loss of life as a result of the storm surge was primarily due to prior loss of about 75 percent of the original mangrove cover in the Delta, which could have served as a buffer against the storm surge. Therefore, it can be said that the deterioration of the natural resource base environment became worse to people for reducing the impacts of Nargis.

The cyclone made destroyed 38,000 ha (93,900 acres) of natural and replanted mangroves, submerging over 63 percent of paddy fields and damaging 43 percent of freshwater ponds (Mohamed). Because of these impacts of economic breakdown and social breakdown, the people have immediately needed for shelter, food, safe drinking water and sanitation. Therefore, the issue was placed as first priority for securitization to the conditions of becoming threats to state and humans by this natural disaster – the cyclone Nargis after the cyclone.Andrew E. Collins, disaster management cycle should be applied to improve future disaster preparedness to minimize risks. To look back cyclone Nargis with his argument on prevention sector, Myanmar’s meteorology department started to send out warnings six days before the storm struck, based on information from the World Meteorological Organization. Experts and authorities cite improved weather forecasting and message dissemination as the primary factors. Although villagers in places had been warned of the storm one day earlier, many residents were taken completely by surprise, and also, authorities lacked radar to predict the high tidal waves that resulted in most of the fatalities. Therefore, all prevention efforts were in weakest situation under the past military government despite the regime’s effort to emphasize only on national referendum.

As the next step for responding to the disaster, the Government worked closely with the international community to provide assistance to the affected families and communities. As an immediate effort on 25 May 2008 in Yangon, the AHTF (ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force) decided to form the TCG (Tripartite Core Group) consisting of the Myanmar Government, ASEAN, and the United Nations to coordinate relief efforts. Moreover, the working groups such as ministries, UN agencies, international and national NGOs, the CSOs, the donor community and many other countries met over several weeks so as to reach mutual understanding, endorsement and to make helps to the victims of cyclone Nargis. Therefore, immediate humanitarian needs were increasingly met and early recovery was underway. Then, the focus gradually shifted towards the medium-term recovery and the re-establishment of safe and sustainable lives and livelihoods. The Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP) is a response to this progression.

On the other hand, Government’s own reconstruction plans provided a framework for a smooth transition from emergency relief and early recovery, towards medium and then longer term recovery. This plan was issued by the national Natural Disaster Preparedness Central Committee (NDPCC) in August. In the aftermath of the cyclone, the Government established Township Coordination Committees (TCCs) across the affected area to coordinate the humanitarian response, and these TCCs are expected to continue their functions in the recovery phase.

In addition, for rehabilitation efforts, the Government and people of Myanmar together with the humanitarian community have made sustained efforts to help the communities of the Delta rebuild their lives. The Government took the lead in coordinating national efforts through an Emergency Committee, headed by the Prime Minister, and has put into operation a national disaster management plan. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement are spearheading the relief response. In order to provide clear counterparts to relevant national authorities the Humanitarian Country Team is structuring its response around sectoral priorities. Groups of organisations worked together in clusters, coordinated by a designated lead.

Regionally, the Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has called on member states to provide urgent relief assistance. ASEAN focal points have been told to be on high alert and the Secretariat has proposed activation of the ASEAN Standby Arrangement and Standard Operating Procedures (SASOP) for disaster response mechanism. ASEAN deployed an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT). The team worked in collaboration with the UN to gather and analyzes assessment findings, undertake field assessments and through consultations with senior government officials, provide recommendations on the way forward in addressing the support for the Government of Myanmar (Kamal). System in place at the time of Nargis, it did not work properly and effective early warning systems were lack and sharing information was slow in place. Myanmar, then under a military dictatorship, was clearly unprepared to mitigate the effects for a storm of this magnitude storm even no plan for shelters or evacuation plans at that time. And there was no preparedness for housing built largely of bamboo and thatch, which was hardly cyclone resistant. Military government refused visas for international relief staff, delayed entry of ships carrying relief supplies and even arrested citizens for undertaking local relief efforts. These delays left millions of people injured, hungry and homeless and nearly 75 percent of health clinics were destroyed.

For now, 10 years after the storm, Myanmar has made significant progress on disaster preparedness. Updating early warning systems to keep pace with the fast increase in extreme weather events were made to prevent disasters, save lives, and reduce disaster losses. As Myanmar move quickly and comprehensively to strengthen early warning and preparedness, partners in the U.N. System are also working hand-in-hand with government partners to help deliver results. A few years later, political change, particularly regime change began to open Myanmar up to the outside world. This political opening also pushed Myanmar to work with ASEAN on several regional storm risk-reduction programs, signed onto international agreements to boost its disaster resiliency and joined the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It also passed laws aimed at building national, state and local disaster response mechanisms, with the support of the U.S., Japan, the Myanmar Red Cross, the U.N. and other relief agencies. Myanmar is also making an effort to replant coastal mangrove forests because evidence shows that deforestation of this critical coastline ecosystem worsened the storm surge of Cyclone Nargis.

Finally, experiences from Cyclone Nargis clearly demonstrate the vicious circle in which pre-existing environmental degradation increased vulnerability, turning a natural hazard into a major disaster. For now, the affected areas still remain under development and are trapped in poverty. This makes to consider for becoming again the root cause for man-made disaster to natural disaster. The disaster resulted in further environmental damage, jeopardizing the sustainability of livelihoods and ecosystem functions. Therefore, one of the important facts to make also is that the government hopes to build 50 concrete shelters in cyclone-vulnerable states and offer more training to government officials for best practices in disaster management and social protection reciprocally. These resilience of communities as a means of prevention would protect and reduce the next disaster’s hits.


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