Migrants and hosts working together to stem disasters in Myanmar

Date Publish: 
Myanmar / Asia

Well-known as a theatre of internal displacement caused by long-standing civil conflict, Myanmar’s south-east region is also exposed to significant risk of natural disaster. Sandwiched between Thailand and the Andaman Sea, this long and narrow stretch of land is exposed to severe annual flooding that regularly causes tens of thousands of people to flee, as well as landslides and a moderate risk of tsunamis and cyclones.

Among the most vulnerable populations are migrants from central Myanmar attracted to rural jobs in Mon and Kayin States’ brick-making, mining, rubber and fishing industries. They typically settle in remote semi-permanent housing clusters outside of established villages, and often fail to fully integrate into their host communities. Having fewer of their own resources to recover from disaster-related shocks, migrant workers living on the peripheries of villages are particularly exposed to hazards.

In partnership with the Governments of Mon State and Kayin State, and with the support of USAID, IOM is implementing an 18-month community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) intervention to help 60 local communities, with migrants a key part of the process.

Migrant workers are now members on 30 Village Disaster Management Agencies (VDMAs) established by IOM and have been assigned disaster-preparedness roles.

The specific vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers are now also addressed in 30 village plans jointly developed by IOM and VDMA members. These agencies are tasked with giving early warning to migrant settlements, including them in the evacuation plan, and extending search and rescue operations beyond the affected village. A similar approach to disaster preparedness is presently being extended to a further 30 villages affected by flooding in Kayin State.

Over the past 10 months, IOM has worked on-site with officials from Kayin State’s Relief and Resettlement and local authorities on the Township Disaster Management Plan of Hlaingbwe township, which is badly affected by annual flooding. The new plan contains strengthened analysis of hazard risk and vulnerability, as well as updated preparedness and emergency response measures.

“USAID’s support for combined CBDRR activities at village level together with technical assistance for disaster preparedness at higher levels of the administration have ensured that disaster risk in a critical part of Myanmar is better managed,” noted Kieran Best, IOM’s Chief of Mission.

An IOM staff speaks with a migrant family in Ye township, southern Mon State in Myanmar. Significant numbers of households devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 have migrated for work to southern Myanmar, where they face renewed risk of natural disaster. © IOM 2013