In November 2013, Oxfam conducted a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) in three small coastal and upstream Buddhist communities in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta with the intention of better understanding how the range of hazards affects the different groups of community members and their livelihood activities, and then plan risk reduction activities accordingly with community members and other stakeholders.
The recently developed VRA methodology is used to assess and categorize the livelihood activities and social groups of a community, based on their vulnerability to environmental hazards, as well as social, political and economic impacts. The VRA consists of four phases: (i) The Pre-vulnerability Assessment (Pre-VA), (ii) The Impact Chains Exercise, (iii) The Adaptive Capacity Analysis and the (iv) The Action Planning Stage. So far it has also implemented the Philippines and Armenia.
Before starting the VRA in Myanmar, we visited three communities in the Delta area and talked to some of its members. The VRA is conducted with an expert group that includes members of different governmental departments. In Myanmar we brought together agriculture, fisheries, forestry, general administration and relief and resettlement organisations, members of a fishery school and a fisherfolk association, village representatives, including authorities, women’s and youth groups, a local NGO and the Action Aid INGO.
As part of the Pre-vulnerability Assessment, a long list of hazards, livelihood activities and social groups were discussed and agreed with the participants in order to establish an appropriate selection. It is worth noting that the primary livelihood activities in the region are fishing and farming and the area is prone to cyclones, sea level rise, saline intrusion in the soil and sedimentation from deforestation up river.
The expert group identified three social groups (fisherfolk, wage labourers and traders and women specific activities) and four activities/crops (fish availability, livestock, transportation of people and rice yield) that they deemed to be – potentially -- especially vulnerable to climate and other hazards. The identified hazards – already or potentially – affecting these social groups and activities were 1) cyclones and storms, 2) drinking water scarcity, 3) limited access to information, 4) limited access to health services, 4) fish resource depletion, 5) changing rainfall pattern, 6) increasing temperatures, 7) SLR, tide duration, river erosion/ sedimentation, tsunami, deforestation (see figure).
Once the categories were agreed upon by the group of experts and community members, the group discussed and agreed on a value of exposure and of sensitivity for each connection of social group/activity and hazard. High exposure and sensitivity were represented by low values (and colours red: highest vulnerability or orange: second highest), and vice versa (colours yellow and green for the least vulnerable). The values of sensitivity and exposure were combined in the following table showing pre-vulnerability values. The term pre-vulnerability is used because we do not yet account for adaptive capacity (that is done in the 3rd step of this methodology). In other words, so far we only account for exposure and sensitivity, which, together with adaptive capacity, are the components of vulnerability. Adaptive capacity is likely to reduce the assessed ‘pre-vulnerability’.
Once the most relevant hazards were identified, Impact Chains (IC) were developed. An Impact Chain is a graphic depiction of the consequences of a given hazard from the moment it manifests to the several final impacts, relevant to the analysis. For instance, for fish depletion the Impact Chain illustrated that a decrease in fish availability led to a lack of employment opportunities, as well as reduced availability of fodder for pigs (pigs eat the fish leftovers), which in turn contributed to food insecurity. Using the Impact Chains as a basis, the expert group discussed possible interventions to reduce the risks experienced by different community groups, and to build resilience pathways. For the same example of fish depletion potential ideas were enforcement of conservation rules, avoiding overfishing, creating alternative livelihoods, technical support, awareness raising and mangrove reforestation.
The next step of the VRA is the analysis of the adaptive capacity of the community. To understand the adaptive capacity of the community in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta ACCRA’s five characteristics of local adaptive capacities were used as a foundation to explore how groups and livelihood activities can respond and adapt to impacts, and sometimes even take advantage of them.
With this information at hand, we moved on to the Action Planning Stage, where a strategy for implementing the identified measures was developed.
Conducting a VRA in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta revealed several barriers to development and showed what activities, groups and hazard best to prioritise in order to build resilience. The VRA demonstrated, for instance, that fishermen faced several serious governance and environmental degradation barriers, such as middlemen collectors with excessive power. Other barriers identified were market non-transparency and a lack of access to fair loans. Local authorities often seemed to have difficulties with planning interventions because of limited knowledge of the process of assessing community needs and capacities. With regards to hazards the VRA showed that, although cyclones could have the most devastating impact, their very low frequency reduced community members’ efforts for protection against this hazard. This suggests another discussion about how and at what governance levels to tackle this type of impact. The VRA also made clear, to the surprise of some, that rice farming was overall more important for livelihoods than fishing for delta communities. It also highlighted that more research on the causes for the recent negative impact on rice yields was needed to identify the best adaptation paths.
On the whole, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in Myanmar has contributed to an enhanced understanding of which hazards affect specific social groups and livelihood activities, as well as to a more thorough disaggregation of social groups – which shows how they are affected and how they may contribute to risk reduction and development.
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