Watch the mangrove planting ceremony in action
The climate change narratives that dominate our global media quite rightly concentrate heavily on mitigation policies and how we can sustain the future of our planet by reducing CO2 emissions. What gets less attention is the question of how to adapt to the changes already in motion and lower the risks in countries that are particularly vulnerable.
In Myanmar, climatic shifts and natural disasters are causing challenges for local communities already, yet efforts to scale up adaptation measures have been hindered by lack of resources and the continued conflict and instability that affects much of the country.
One initiative that is providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, as well as support to disaster risk reduction projects, is the UKAid funded Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Programme Facility (HARP-F). For us at Crown Agents, the managers of the HARP-F programme, ‘localisation’ (meaning the involvement of local Burmese organisations as key players in humanitarian response) is a key strategy. By partnering with a network of local organisations who understand the unique needs of their communities, we can channel funds into climate adaption initiatives where support is urgently needed. Since 2019, local civil society organisation Mangrove Service Network (MSN)has partnered with HARP-F to support communities on Manaung Island in Rakhine State, where natural disasters were posing a significant threat to life.
Manaung Island is highly susceptible to natural disasters due to its location in the Bay of Bengal. The island itself has poor infrastructure, with fragile housing known to collapse even in relatively light winds, let alone large-scale tropical storms or cyclones. Windbreak forests and mangroves, which would act as the island’s natural barriers to disasters, have all but been destroyed to clear land for agriculture and rice production. On top of these hazards, earth ponds used to collect rainwater have been built near the island’s villages, posing a risk of flooding. For all 60,000 residents experiencing disasters has become a reality, yet with limited knowledge on how to protect and prepare themselves, they are often left exposed to the elements.
HARP-F is more than just a funding mechanism – we take a very ‘hands-on’ partnership approach that involves providing valuable technical advice and support. To date, the programme has trained 134 of its partners in Emergency Preparedness. On Manaung, MSN and the Crown Agents Resilience team have worked with 13 of the most vulnerable villages to create disaster management committees and produce readiness plans to better prepare residents for when disasters strike. The programme has also supported small-scale initiatives such as the introduction of fuel-efficient stoves which reduce the need for communities to cut down as much of the forest to meet their energy needs for cooking.
Another key adaptation initiative has been restoring the mangrove ecosystem on Manaung Island. Mangrove roots serve as an effective shield for storm surges and prevent coastline erosion, as well as providing a habitat for sea-life. But with less than 50% of Myanmar’s 85,000 acres of mangroves remaining, their ability to protect against the effects of climate change is reducing rapidly. Of all the climate adaption efforts on Manaung, the mangrove restoration initiative has generated the greatest involvement by the community. In November, more than 150 islanders joined HARP-F, MSN and local officials in planting 800 mangrove seedlings along the shoreline. Such a large turnout enabled the Crown Agents Resilience experts to engage with residents in discussions around the importance of conservation and on climate change preparedness.
Going forward, it will be the villagers who will care for and monitor the growth of the mangrove seedlings already planted, as well as expanding the area being cultivated by another 1.5 acres. The communities’ vested interest in, and dedication to, the health of the mangroves has already led to them submitting an application for protected status for the newly planted areas. Their commitment to protect their island highlights the sheer impact local power can have on fighting the effects of climate change when funding is made available.
*Global Climate Risk Index 2019, GermanWatch