Running dry: A window into the Dry Zone of Myanmar

By Yusuke Taishi, Regional Technical Specialist, Global Environmental Finance Unit, UNDP.

Closing your eyes, you can picture the landscape a thousand years ago — the canals that once extended as far as the eye can see, the abundant water, the lush tropical forests that supported the rise of the ancient kingdom of Pagan between the 11th and 13th century. The contrast to now is stark. The undulating plains of modern-day central Myanmar has little reminiscent of the agricultural abundance of old.” Yusuke Taishi

Around Southeast Asia, the impacts of climate change are becoming increasing apparent. Mean temperatures are increasing. Sea levels are rising. Monsoon rains are no longer arriving like clockwork. Rainfall is either too much or not enough.

Ancient landscapes are transformed and transforming.

Close to the land, rural communities are attuned to the changes. Yet they are often not equipped to adapt. As a consequence, already poor farmers across the region are struggling to make ends meet. Climate change is expected to exacerbate families’ hardship.

To build the resilience of people living in what is now known as the “Dry Zone”, the Myanmar Government– with support from the Adaptation Fund and the UN Development Programme — is carrying out a programme of action to provide vulnerable farmers with the resources, knowledge and tools they need to support good harvests, despite changing weather patterns.

In pictures, a view into life in the Dry Zone, including the challenges communities face — and some of the solutions.

*Photos by Yusuke Taishi, Tw: @yusuketaishi, except where otherwise cited.

Myanmar’s central low-land Dry Zone accounts for around 10% of the country’s total land area, but around 34% of the country’s population.
The region is characterized by low annual rainfall with a long dry season. Climate change is expected to change monsoonal patterns and increase the risk of acute droughts. © UNDP Myanmar
Collecting water is a big part of women’s responsibility. Women and children spend hours collecting water from community ponds, the primary source of drinking water for families.
The contrast between the lushness in the monsoon season and the dryness in the dry season is remarkable. Many villages in the Dry Zone have acute problems with access to freshwater during the dry season.
This young woman travels to the community pond 10 times a day to meet the water needs for nine family members. When the ponds dry up in a long dry season, women and children must walk even further.
Being a farmer is hard work, made more so by unpredictable rains which threaten to damage and reduce the value of crops.
Many poor farmers don’t have a bank account. Without savings, a small shock — like bad weather or illness of a family member — is enough to put an entire family in debt and poverty.

With support from UNDP and the Adaptation Fund, the Government of Myanmar is improving communities’ access to freshwater, strengthening agricultural practices, diversifying income sources, and actively involving communities in long term solutions.

Communities are being actively involved in establishing forests and managing existing ones. Forests are one way to improve soil conditions, reduce surface runoff and slow erosion. © UNDP Myanmar
Under community forest schemes, village households are being assigned responsibilities, including looking after a plot of land on which they agree not to graze cattle or cut down immature trees. It takes many years of sustained local stewardship for the positive impacts of community-managed forests to come to fruition — past efforts often failed, as poverty-stricken communities cut down trees for fuels and timber. This sketch shows a village with plots assigned to different households.
Men, women, youth and the elderly are being consulted. Their interest in taking part — and hope for improving their lives — is high.
Under the project, families are being supported through the formation of “livestock banking systems”: groups are formed in which two or three members receive from the group a pair of piglets, half dozen chicks or a baby goat. They raise the animals for 4–12 months and can then sell them when the market price doubles or triples. They then pay back in cash what the animals were worth earlier. With the money returned, the group is able to distribute animals to new members.
A member of a local livestock banking group shows a ledger with records of who received which animals and how much has been paid back. Groups have also received basic financial literacy and group management training; with newly attained skills, some groups have started lending collective savings to members on rotation, at a lower interest rate than local money lenders.

Three years into the programme, communities in the Dry Zone are seeing the benefits.

Water capture and storage capacity has been enhanced, benefiting nearly 30,000 households in the region.

Seventy-five community ponds have been expanded and are now able to store a larger volume of rain water to last through the dry season each year.

Forty-five diversion canals have been constructed, some with sluice gates and spillways to better manage the flow of the water.

Over 4,000 hectares of ‘micro-watersheds’ have been protected and rehabilitated with the leadership of farmers, increasing natural water retention and reducing erosion.

Drought-resilient farming methods, including mixed cropping, use of drought-resilient seeds, drip irrigation, post-harvest storage, and seed multiplication have been introduced to approximately 6,000 subsistence farmers.

Farmers are being trained to manage multiplication of seeds so that they don’t need to buy new seeds each season (left image). Perennial trees (fruit trees) and niger crop (oilseed) are being grown in the same plot, as part of demonstration of agroforestry © UNDP Myanmar (centre image). Diversion canals are better managing the flow of the water (right image).

3,200 landless and marginal farmers have benefited from the livestock banking system — and the benefits are expected to expand.

A mobile-based application has been developed to disseminate climate information and agro-advisories to farmers through agricultural support workers in the project townships.

Climate risk and vulnerability analysis has been conducted in the project townships.

The work of the programme continues.

The project ‘Addressing Climate Change Risks on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar’ (2015–2019) is led by the Myanmar Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation with technical support from UNDP and financing by the Adaptation Fund. For more information, please contact Yusuke Taishi, UNDP Regional Technical Advisor

For updates on UNDP-supported work in Myanmar, follow @UNDP_Myanmar

For updates on UNDP-supported work in climate change adaptation worldwide, follow @UNDPClimate

February 2018.