This demonstration under EO4SD water showcase how earth observation can be used to provide updated high-resolution land use and land cover information within a low-lying, wave-exposed delta. Such information is important for socio-economic impact assessments e.g. to identify resources at risk from a coastal hazard such as tropical storms and associated storm surges, which has the potential for causing damage to, or loss of, people, natural ecosystems, buildings, and infrastructure. The information may also be used to quantitatively analyses the historic changes in coastal habitats in order to draw ecological lessons of past developments e.g. loss of Mangroves as a bio-shield against tropical storms
When Hurricane Nargis made landfall on Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008 more than 80.000 people were killed. This huge mortality has been blamed on insufficient warning but other factors were also important; including large-scale agricultural expansion into natural habitats within a low-lying, wave-exposed delta. The most extensive flooding (271,000 ha, 57% of the area) occurred in the townships Labutta and Bogalay, home to 389,000 people. Around half (110,000 ha) of the flooded area comprised reclaimed mangroves, mostly cleared since 1989 for paddy fields. Elsewhere in the world, intact Mangroves act as buffer against hurricane surges but as mangroves have been cleared in the Ayeyarwady Delta over the past decades this buffering has been lost, and the 3-4m high surge generated by Hurricane Nargis was easily flooding the largely unprotected paddies.
Prior to Nargis, the last strong hurricane in central Myanmar occurred in 1982. With predicted sea-level rise and increased frequency of extreme weather events, post-Nargis reconstruction efforts should reconsider coastal agricultural expansion into the delta, restore coastal wetlands to buffer storm surges, and support locally based coastal resource management and social development to improve the resilience of local communities against future similar events. Such restoration efforts could also provide guidance for other heavily populated Asian deltas.
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