In 2008 Myanmar was hit by the biggest natural disaster in its history, Cyclone Nargis. The scale of the disaster inflicted by the storm was such that Myanmar has been ranked one of the highest “at risk countries” in the Global Climate Risk Index. As a result of the devastation caused by Nargis, over 130,000 people were reported dead, and the future threat of repeated and worse weather events places the country in an uncertain position. The aftermath of the disaster was poorly managed, with the attention of the government on a referendum planned for later that week, and no disaster relief strategy in place. Aid workers struggled to gain access to the country.
Deforestation and removal of important natural barriers also played a part in increasing the scope of the disaster. Removal of coastal mangrove swamps, for firewood and to make way for shrimp fisheries, took away an important barrier resulting in a worsened storm surge which swept through coastal villages, annihilating homes and livelihoods.
Today, over ten years later, the world is becoming more aware of the scale of climate change, and the urgency to make significant changes in order to prevent future disasters and irretrievable loss of habitats.
In Ayeyerwady Region of Myanmar, the restoration of felled mangrove swamps has been underway since 2012, led by villagers in collaboration with Norwegian NGO Worldview International Foundation (WIF). Since this time they have achieved an enormous amount, reporting at the end of 2018 that they had planted 6 million trees. Not only do Mangroves protect the coastline, but they are also incredibly efficient at processing carbon. New studies conducted in 2018 found that they can sequester around four times as much carbon as rainforests, with the carbon being stored in the soil beneath the mangrove trees.
Kyaw Myo Lwin (pictured) is undertaking a Master’s of Forestry at Hanoi University, and works as a field assistant on the Mangrove restoration project in Ayeyerwady Region. In this position he assisted the team in establishing the mangrove nursery and plantation, and makes sure they select the best specimens for the salinity, topography and tide inundation of the plantation site.
Kyaw Myo Lwin is truly passionate about Mangroves, and his Master’s degree will equip him with more skills to help in their restoration. He told me how he first came to be interested in Mangroves, during his undergraduate degree:
“When we students travelled to Chaung Thar and Shwe Thaung Yan beaches to study mangrove forests, the project manager from WIF gave us a presentation first, and then we had a chance to study mangrove forests in the field. The project manager named U Win Maung was not only one of the mangrove experts in Myanmar but also a forester, and his whole life was dedicated to Mangrove forests. While he was presenting, I was very surprised and I felt how magic they were.”
When asked about the impact of climate change in Myanmar Kyaw Myo Lwin told us: “Currently Myanmar people have to face flooding and landslide due to climate change… [but] climate change is at global level. Every person around the world is responsible for climate change and it is time to take action urgently.”
The restoration of mangroves is just a small part of the enormous fight to combat climate change. Over the past few years Prospect Burma has supported more people who are interested in subjects vital for the future protection of our planet, including Environmental Engineering, Aquaculture and Ecology. Our graduates have gone on to take up key positions to protect their country, becoming pioneers in areas such as holistic ecological and ethnic preservation (Hsar Doe Doh Moo, the Salween Peace Park), protecting endangered wildlife (Khyne Oo Mar, an influential conservationist) and engaging youth in ecological projects (Bo Bo Lwin, director of a youth empowerment programme).
For now, Kyaw Mo Lwin looks forward to getting back in the field, telling us: “I love mangroves and their magic functions, therefore I love working any place wherever mangroves survive.”
Sprouting Mangroves Restore Hopes in Coastal Myanmar