Mandalay villagers long for blissful, not-so-distant past

photo A villager looks at the wastewater pipe in the Dotehtawady River. Phyo Wai Kyaw/The Myanmar Times

24 April 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - Nyaung Ni Pin's villagers can now barely recall those happy times when they could just go down to the Dotehtawady River to splash in, as well as drink, its clear water.

Fish were abundant and the river was the lifeblood of the village of about 1000 people, as well as of several other communities in Amarapura township in Mandalay Region.

Those times seemed long ago, as the river now brings them nothing but smelly odours and polluted waters.

Village elders already had a whiff of danger when factories sprouted near the river up north in the Mandalay Industrial Zone in the 1990s.

U Thaung Tun said the factories, mostly distilleries, indigo plants and leather tanneries, dumped their wastewater in Myauk Inn Lake in Taung Inn village, which is next to Nyaung Ni Pin.

"The wastewater killed all the locust trees at the lake, the fish disappeared, and flies and mosquitoes proliferated. Farms near it were destroyed," he said. "The villagers suffered skin diseases, and the bad smell made people dizzy."

Finally in 2015, the lake became so polluted that the government stopped the factories from dumping wastewater in the lake, said U Nyunt Wai, another Nyaung Ni Pin villager.

The factories started piping their wastewater directly into the river, and the nightmare began for Nyaung Ni Pin.

Their pipes ran to the river near Nyaung Ni Pin. When wastewater enters the river, the water changes colour and smells bad. Every house in the village had to dig an artesian well, U Nyunt Wai said.

Some local farmers had to switch to brick-making, as the land they used to cultivate became barren.

"If we step on the shore, our legs sink into black waste. There are creatures like leeches crawling in the sediment," said Ko Naing Min Htwe, another villager. "We told the deputy mayor in early 2018 to extend the wastewater pipe to the middle of the river. But when the water level is low … the water at the shoreline turns black."

As early as 2016, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation issued regulations on the disposal of wastewater in the river, but villagers and Mandalay officials say they are ignored.

U Thant Zin Tun, assistant director of Mandalay's Environmental Conservation Department, said that in early 2017, many companies, especially distilleries, did not follow the regulations.

As early as 2016, the Mandalay City Development Committee planned to build a wastewater treatment facility for the industrial zone, but the company that won the tender to build the facility was beset by financial difficulties.

The agreement has been amended several times, said U Myint Htwe, MP for Amarapura in the regional parliament.

Mandalay Mayor Ye Lwin said that in the meantime distilleries agreed to build their own wastewater treatment facilities at the urging of the city.

"The company started a survey on April 3," he said.

For Nyaung Ni Pin villagers, a central wastewater treatment facility would be a welcome project to ensure the cleanliness of the Dotehtawady River.

"We are hoping for it, but things don't always go our way. We have requested it many times with the higher-ups, but they might be getting annoyed with us," said U Nyunt Wai.

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