Need and Opportunity to Invest in Disaster and Climate Resilient Infrastructure in Myanmar

International Day for Disaster Reduction 2019: “Build to Last”

  • By Shashank Mishra

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Some of the deadliest disasters in the Asia Pacific Region in the last 5 years such as the Nepal Earthquake (2015), Myanmar Floods (2015), the Indonesia Earthquake in Sulawesi (2018), Kerala Floods in India (2018), etc. have resulted in extensive damage to housing and critical infrastructure exceeding economic cost of hundreds of millions in USD, consequently draining a significant proportion of a country’s/state GDP needed to rebuild the same.
While earthquakes are unpredictable and are among most damaging of disasters, climate change has increased the uncertainty, frequency and intensity in hydrological disasters such as flood, cyclone, storm etc. Climate change is considered to be the most existential threat of the 21st century with the world already witnessing the impact of climate change across all sectors. As per global reinsurance firm “Swiss Re”, in the year 2017, total global economic losses from natural hazards and man-made catastrophes were $337 billion, a record high in the last few decades and a major proportion was related to cost of housing and critical infrastructure. With more economic growth and urbanization, infrastructures are more exposed to disasters and are vulnerable to disaster in the lack of risk sensitive approach. In the absence of a risk informed approach to building infrastructure, years of investment in a country could be wiped out in a single deadly disaster thereby pushing back countries from achieving the targets of the Sendai Framework and SDGs.
Myanmar is exposed to all kinds of hazard such as earthquake, flood, cyclone, windstorm, landslide, tsunami etc. As per INFORM index, Myanmar is the 12th most risk prone country to natural disasters in the world. Myanmar also takes third place in the list of countries impacted by climate extreme events in the last 2 decades (Global Climate Risk Index 2018).
Cyclone Nargis (2008), one of the deadliest disasters in the history of Myanmar, caused havoc to the country killing an estimated 140,000 people and damaging more than 800,000 houses, 75% of health facilities and almost 4000 schools in the affected townships (Post Nargis Joint Assessment, 2008). The cyclone also left more than 1.8 million people with damaged roads, uprooted electricity supply network, damaged communication system etc. which also impacted the capacity to provide timely response to the affected communities. Total economic loss was estimated at over USD 4 billion, equivalent to 21% of national GDP in 2007.
Every year 13 October is celebrated as “International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR)” as designated by the United Nations General Assembly, with an objective to promote a global culture of disaster risk reduction/management and to review the progress made in reducing life loss and economic damage due to disasters.
The IDDR day theme for 2019 is “Build to Last”, emphasizing on building disaster and climate resilient infrastructure to reduce damage to critical infrastructures and disruption of basic services such as health and education facilities etc. Myanmar has actively celebrated IDDR day both at national and regional level. An ADB report estimates Myanmar will need more than USD 120 billion to invest in developing critical infrastructure (transportation, energy and telecom sector) by 2030. This year’s theme provides a unique opportunity to advocate the government and private sector in Myanmar to build infrastructure with a risk informed approach in order to avoid creation of new risks and future losses. Adopting a “Build Back Better” approach after any disaster can help to improve resilience of housing and infrastructure to protect them from future disasters. A holistic and multi-sectoral approach to develop a resilient infrastructure system is needed as energy, water and sanitation, communication, transportation etc. are interdependent and thus can have cascading effects with just the failure of one infrastructure.
Hospitals are one such example of complex infrastructure systems where resiliency is not only related to safety of hospitals in disaster but also functionality of hospitals to provide the emergency services when they are most needed. Sizable public hospitals such as YGH and MGH require huge amounts of resources and are also hope for the poorest people in the country hence they cannot be afforded to close during mega disasters such as earthquake. For a hospital to be functional after disaster, it is important that it receives adequate supplies of electricity, water and gas etc. Collapse or damage of bridges, flyovers, buildings etc. can have impacts on people to reach hospitals in time. UN-Habitat is currently working with the Ministry of Health and Sports to support Yangon and Mandalay General Hospitals to analyze the interdependency of various systems (electrical, water, gas supply etc.) in order to keep them operational during disasters. As Urban infrastructure are more complex, building resilient infrastructure is necessary to avoid systems failure which may have both direct and indirect losses such as closing of businesses, loss of jobs, less productivity etc. Minimizing disruptions to infrastructure is the key to enhance disaster resilience of communities.
UN-Habitat has been technically supporting the government of Myanmar in developing key policy instruments such as Myanmar Housing Policy, National Urban Policy, Myanmar Climate Change Policy, Strategy and Master Plan etc. Building disaster and resilient infrastructure is assuming a priority in all these key policies. However mainstreaming of disaster and climate change is not fully embraced in all the sectors thus requiring great efforts and inter-ministerial coordination to ensure that all critical infrastructures across various sectors such as energy, health, education, telecom, road, bridges, housing etc. are built with a risk informed approach.
UN-Habitat has also supported the Ministry of Construction (MOC) in developing the Myanmar National Building Code (MNBC) in 2012. Enforcing building code is a key to ensure disaster resilient infrastructure. The government is working to develop the legal framework to enforce the MNBC in near future.
As per “National Housing Policy White Paper” developed in 2014 by the MOC in cooperation with UN-Habitat, Myanmar will need more than 2 million housing units to fill the housing gap in the next 10 years. The Department of Urban and Housing Development (DUHD) started implementing the “One Million Housing Units Plan” in 2011 to fill the gap of housing need by targeting to provide 1 million houses by 2030. This is an opportunity for the government to enforce building codes and ensure that housing units are disaster resilient to avoid creating future risk which is costly to mitigate. Myanmar has also been implementing the ASEAN school safety program through support of development partners to make sure that education is not disrupted after disasters and life of students is not put at risk. Myanmar has developed “Safe and Child Friendly School Construction Guidelines” to make school safer from disasters but efforts are needed to strengthen the existing education facilities and to make sure all new schools are disaster resilient.
As per the ADB report, Myanmar will need USD 45-60 billion investment in next 15 years in transportation sector as currently only 20 percent road network is paved in Myanmar. Millions of household need to be connected by quality grid electricity by 2030 thus energy sector is expected to see investment. Climate change has brought unpredictability and increased severity of extreme events thus drainage and irrigation infrastructure need risk informed investment. Urbanization rate is still low in Myanmar in comparison to ASEAN countries but expected increase in urbanization will attract significant investment in infrastructure sector. Tourism sector has been growing significantly in Myanmar in the last few years and there is need to invest in developing quality infrastructure in disaster prone coastal areas and other inland areas to attract tourists. The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019 states that Myanmar is one of the 16 countries out of 26 countries in the region where average annual loss is more than average additional investment required per year between 2016-2030 to meet the international norm. It is important to note that a lot more new housing and infrastructure will be built over the next 2-3 decades in Myanmar and some of the existing ones will be replaced. This provides an opportunity to reduce disaster riskv in a most cost effective way as cost of retrofitting of infrastructure is usually very high.
While the private sector will play a key role in developing the much needed housing and critical infrastructure in the country, the role of government is pivotal in regulating the private sector to build resilient infrastructure through risk informed approach (including building codes, land use planning etc.). With the new Myanmar Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (MAPDRR) adopted in 2017, major challenge in the implementation of MAPDRR lies ahead in the integration of risk informed approach in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of housing and critical infrastructure across all the sectors. It will require improving the data base in terms of mapping critical infrastructure over hazard maps, conducting vulnerability and risk assessment, enforcement of building code and regulations to have risk informed public investment in the coming years. Myanmar has opportunity and potential to build a future it wants if risk sensitive approach can be taken urgently in development planning, resulting in development of resilient critical infrastructures to serve societies even after disasters. This approach will also reduce the economic burden on the country to rebuild it again after any disaster and help to meet the targets set in Sendai Framework and SDGs.

(Shashank Mishra is the Disaster Risk Management Programme Manager of UN-Habitat, Myanmar)

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