(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Coping with water scarcity in the Ayeyarwady Delta

Children trying to get water with a handpump near the communal water tank built inside a monastery compound. Thar Yar Gone village, Pyinkayaing Township
Mon Mon Myat/IRIN

Water scarcity has become a daily challenge in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy Delta in the dry season, with thousands still struggling after damage to water sources by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.



The delta’s inhabitants traditionally source drinking water from rainwater harvesting, communal water ponds and tube and open wells, since most villages do not have access to piped water and nearby tidal rivers are saline.



The ponds help villagers during the dry season, which stretches from November to May, but can be insufficient.



Many ponds and wells were heavily salinated when a 3m tidal surge inundated much of the low-lying area when the cyclone struck.



Efforts to rehabilitate them are well under way. However, a 12 March forum on Nargis recovery held by the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) comprising the government, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), heard that an estimated 180,000 people across three townships in the delta will probably see their primary water sources dry up during the dry season months of March and April.



While this is half the number of the 360,000 affected delta dwellers at risk from water shortages in 2009, agencies say more needs to be done.









''People in our village are always busy getting water. They are either waiting for water trucking or looking for places where we can fetch water. We can't do any other work in the dry season.''

“There is continued need for rehabilitation and repair of damaged water sources,” Joseph Tadayo, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) emergency specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Myanmar, told IRIN.



“Access to improved new water sources must be increased, in particular new ponds and wells. Water storage and treatment at household level remains inadequate, with high risk of contamination… Hygiene practices, in particular for children, are rudimentary and may lead to increased risk of diseases,” he said.



Long-term problem



According to the TCG’s July 2008 Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, 43 percent of ponds in the delta were contaminated during Cyclone Nargis. Household rainwater collection systems were also badly damaged.



“The main challenge is that there is insufficient good quality water sources across the delta,” said Daniel Collison, director of emergencies for Save the Children in Myanmar.



“Over 70 percent of people rely on ponds as their main means of access to water, and insufficient water sources are cited as the main reason for household water shortages, so there is an in-built long-term problem,” he said.



UNICEF and other WASH sector cooperating partners have constructed and rehabilitated over 3,800 water storage ponds and more than 3,000 tube and dug wells.



But potable water is still a daily problem for 38-year-old betel seller Aye Aye Myint from Thar Yar Gone village in Pyinkayaing District, one of the hardest-hit areas in the delta.












A villager fetching water from a communal water tank to his house donated by a private donor group. Tha Kan Ngu village, Bogalay Township

Mon Mon Myat/IRIN
A villager fetching water from a communal water tank to his house donated by a private donor group. Tha Kan Ngu village, Bogalay Township...
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Coping with water scarcity in the Ayeyarwady Delta
A villager fetching water from a communal water tank to his house donated by a private donor group. Tha Kan Ngu village, Bogalay Township...


Photo: Mon Mon Myat/IRIN
A villager fetching water from a communal water tank in Bogale

"People in our village are always busy getting water. They are either waiting for water trucking or looking for places where we can fetch water. We can't do any other work in the dry season,” said Aye Aye Myint, who receives a daily water ration of three litres from Save the Children.



"Though we receive drinking water, we don’t have enough for household use. We still face difficult access to water for washing, bathing and cleaning,” she said.



The third post-Nargis survey released in February 2010 noted that the travel time to fetch water and return home during the 2009 dry season averaged 72 minutes. Fetching water imposes a considerable time burden, often on women and girls, it said.



Alternative sources



The contamination of ponds has seen a shift to alternative sources of water, such as rainwater tanks, water trucking provided by NGOs and open dug wells.



Since Nargis, Nay Min, a fisherman in his 40s in the village of Ma Gyi Chyaing, has moved from relying on village ponds to water trucks, which fill a communal water tank with well water.



"Many water ponds were saline after the cyclone. We have only a few water ponds left but the taste of water is not as good as before,” he said.



Private water sellers are also profiting from the dry season, although a cart of water at 1,000 kyat (US$1) - nearly a daily wage for many such as Aye Aye Myint - makes it unaffordable for many.



“In the short term, improving access and quality of ponds and wells will be an important investment, and will make a definite contribution to reducing future dry season shortages,” said Save the Children’s Collison.



ypi/ey/cb
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