27 Feb 20 - Source: BAGO, Myanmar (Reuters) - Three years ago, the villagers watched as the Sittaung River on Myanmar's southeast coast crept closer to them, swollen by powerful tidal surges from the Gulf of Mottama that eroded its banks.

Eventually, the 1,500 residents of Ta Dar U had to accept the inevitable: move or be washed away.

Dismantling their wooden homes, they relocated several kilometers inland, away from the fertile fields they had cultivated for decades.

"Where we now see water, our farming land used to be," said farmer Tint Khaing. "It was very big, nearly three hours' walking distance. We all lost our farmland to the sea."

Ta Dar U is among hundreds of villages at the frontline of Myanmar's climate crisis, where extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels have amplified and accelerated natural erosion.

Environmentalists consider Myanmar to be particularly vulnerable. It was among the top three countries affected by extreme weather between 1998 and 2018 on the Global Climate Risk Index, published by environmental think tank Germanwatch.

Sea levels are projected to rise about 13 cm (5 inches) by 2020, putting at risk about 2.5 million coastal residents, said Myint Thein, a U.S.-based groundwater consultant and member of Myanmar's natural water resources committee.

"Flooding will be worst during the rainy season and high tide, dragging salty water up into the land," he said.

Rapid erosion has already devoured 10 villages in the past four years, said Jos van der Zanden, chief technical adviser to the Gulf of Mottama Project, a Swiss-based organization that provides assistance to displaced villagers.