Thousands of survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta face possible water shortages, as the dry season begins to bite.
Rural communities are largely dependent on communal water ponds which were badly-affected by the May 2008 cyclone, according to experts. Many ponds did not have time to refill before the start of the dry season which normally runs from November to April.
Apart from the dry weather, the water situation could be exacerbated by cyclone-induced salt contamination of reservoirs as far north and east as the Yangon area, according to the Post-Nargis Periodic Review by the Tripartite Core Group (comprising the Myanmar government, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the UN).
In the 400-household village of Gway Chaung, deep inside Dedaye Township, residents have no choice but to fetch water by boat from a village half an hour away.
"Now we are totally dependent on the water resources of other villages,” one villager told IRIN, adding: “I don’t know when we will receive assistance from the government or international community.”
Gway Chaung is just one of scores of villages across the 23,500 square km delta - almost twice the size of Lebanon - now facing water shortages in the wake of Nargis, which left close to 140,000 dead or missing, and affected over two million.
Read more Mass clean-up brings confidence over water supplies Cyclone victims harness rainwater to survive WFP to launch food-for-work programme More cyclone relief needed - report
According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA), about 1,500 ponds - 13 percent of ponds in Yangon Division and 43 percent of ponds in the delta - were contaminated by sea water and debris.
In a bid to address this, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), with its partners, has been working to clean up contaminated ponds and provide water-storage containers.
But two months into the dry season, many residents are seeing water levels in their ponds dropping fast.
“We're identifying which villages are at high risk of water shortages to address possible problems,” Khin Maung Win, water, sanitation and hygiene cluster coordinator for the UNICEF, told IRIN in Yangon, the former capital.
Among severely storm-ravaged townships in the delta, Labutta was at high risk of water shortages, with about two-thirds of the area at risk between March and April in 2009, while Bogale, Pyapon, and Dedaye townships were at moderate risk, according to a recent UNICEF assessment.
"To reduce the risks of severe water shortages and water-borne diseases, we're closely monitoring the situation in collaboration with the DoH [Department of Health] and other cooperating partners," Khin Maung Win said.
For those already facing water shortages, in addition to digging tube wells and bore wells, UNICEF and its partners are distributing clean water by boat, as well as setting up several reverse osmosis water treatment plants
Most of the villages that do not have ready access to potable water are those near rivers and streams where salinity levels are generally higher during the dry season, said aid workers.
Some people have to bring their potable water in from neighbouring villages by boat. Cyclone Nargis left close to 140,000 people dead or missing
Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
Some people have to bring their potable water in by boat from neighbouring villages
No spare income
But water shortages in the delta are far from new.
Even before Nargis, residents faced water shortages during the dry season, but generally much later, between February and April. At such times, residents bought water from those who had stored it in abundance.
“But this year people have no spare income to purchase the water, which calls for our intensive intervention,” Pauline Havets, head of Bogale branch office of Action contre la Faim (ACF), told IRIN.
ACF is delivering clean, fresh water to nine villages in Bogale Township.
With the help of ACF, the inhabitants of these villages, who had to purchase fresh water from water vendors prior to the cyclone, now have a good supply of potable water.
Meanwhile, community leaders are also taking action: In Kawat village, home to around 2,000 residents in Dedaye town, the village head has ordered every household not to use more than two buckets of water per day from their one and only water pond - and pay around 2 US cents per bucket.
The same thing is happening in seven villages in the area that have no choice but to use Kawat’s water pond, 42-year old village head, Toe Myint, explained.
In the past, this would have been unheard of as the eight villages could count on their 14 communal water ponds to meet all their potable water needs. But lack of resources has prevented them from rehabilitating more than one pond.
"This is our pre-emptive action to fight water shortages when our water pond runs out,” Toe Myint said. “With the money we collect, we'll go to the town [Dedaye] to buy water for our villagers," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions