Myanmar in perfect storm of ‘conflict-climate nexus’

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The ongoing effects of climate change may lead to more severe conflicts around the world, with Myanmar especially vulnerable, according to a recent United Nations report.

Myanmar has been identified as one of 20 countries in a “conflict-climate nexus”, the threatening combination of severe environmental vulnerability along with pre-existing social fragility and weak institutions.

The 2016 Global Climate Risk report had previously found Myanmar was one of the countries most affected by extreme weather events between 1995 and 2014, while the 2016 Global Peace Index ranked Myanmar 115 out of the 163 countries analysed.

“Myanmar’s susceptibility to climate hazards in combination with the prevalence of several forms of social and political conflict result in heightened vulnerability with regards to the climate-conflict nexus,” the report, “Understanding the Climate-Conflict Nexus from a Humanitarian Perspective”, said.

It makes the case that social unrest, intergroup grievances and gender-based violence can increase if a country or government is unable to provide the resources needed to cope with a changing environment or destruction from extreme weather conditions.

The report cited 2008’s Cyclone Nargis as an example of the kind of situation that can emerge given the combination of vulnerabilities.

In that case, it said, the weather event and land scarcity led to a spike in food prices and an increase in the number of displaced people, which “intensified ethnic conflict”.

In addition, the government allegedly obstructed international aid efforts and hindered the humanitarian community’s ability to deliver impartial aid, exacerbating grievances among different ethnic and religious groups.

“Cyclone Nargis was an example of how climate change can become a threat multiplier that can add more stress to an already fragile context where poverty, competition for resources and interstate violence paint a worrisome picture,” the report said.

Spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar Pierre Péron agreed that Cyclone Nargis could be a sign of things to come.

“The devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis brought into focus the vulnerability of communities to natural disasters and in the future we may witness more frequent and more intense climate events in Myanmar due to climate change,” he said.

Mr Péron indicated that both the United Nations and the Union government were already working on strengthening disaster preparedness measures, contingency plans and disaster risk reduction.

“The potential link between climate change and conflict needs to be better understood [here],” he said.

This link appears to be a growing topic globally.

Former US defence secretary Chuck Hagel had referred to global warming as a “threat multiplier” in regards to world’s security environment.

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify … conflict,” he said in a 2014 statement.

“They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

And a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross earlier this year said that “no discussion of climate change is complete without consideration for how the phenomenon affects people caught up in armed conflicts”.

At an event to mark the signing of the Paris Agreement at United Nations headquarters in April, Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win said that Myanmar will face “acute loss of life and properties” if climate change continues unabated.

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