The Amarapura Project - Improving Water Service in Mandalay City

public-informative-meeting Public informative meeting in Taunggyi ward (Photo credit: GRET)

We did an interview with Thibaut Le Loc'h, the coordinator of the Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste Management program in Myanmar from GRET, a France-based INGO, where we learnt more about his efforts and thoughts on improving water service in Mandalay City through the Amarapura Water and Sanitation Project he manages.

The Amarapura Project aims to provide new access to water services for at least 2,000 households in the Amarapura Township and implement incentive measures for these households to connect to the networks. The project closely collaborates with MCDC to reinforce, improve and develop its technical, commercial and financial management of the water service.

This Project was initiated by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) in partnership with Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC). AFD provided a grant of 2.5 million Euros to MCDC to finance this project which is currently under implementation with the support of GRET in consortium with the French consulting firm Suez Consulting.

GRET believes that benefits brought by upgraded infrastructures and improved service management can only be sustainable if they are complemented by a good communication among stakeholders (including the population), the marketing of the service and awareness-raising measures.

Let's read on more to get a better understanding of the Amarapura project.

1) What was the engagement method used to regain trust towards MCDC and the local municipality?

A social engineering strategy has been designed in order to (i) ensure good communication about the works, the Project and the water service in the Project area; (ii) foster connection to the networks through a social marketing approach; (iii) ensure a fair access to the service for all by supporting MCDC in implementing adapted mechanisms, in particular to facilitate access to the water service for poor households; and (iv) sensitize the population on safe water use and hygiene in the Project area.

Comparison between the cost of piped water with drums and purified bottled water (Photo credit: GRET)

2) What were the activities organized?

Within this framework, several activities have been or are being implemented: public informative meetings at township and wards' level, broadcasting of information through mobile loudspeakers, opening of a customer support service centre at MCDC township office, mobilization of a team of Sales agents in charge of marketing the service and supporting inhabitants to apply for a new connection through conducting door-to-door visits to all the houses in the Project area during the works implementation. This approach has already proven to be very efficient: after only 3 months of work, more than 600 applications for new connections to the water networks have already been put forward.

Before implementing the project

3) How was the water situation like in Amarapura previously?

More than 80% of the population of the project area still rely on their own private water resource for their supply, usually a shallow tube well, but around 60% of them purchase purified bottled water for drinking purposes. The problem is that the poorest households cannot afford bottled water and therefore have to drink the water from tube wells and open wells which is of poor quality.

In terms of sanitation, preliminary investigations showed that almost 90% of the inhabitants have their own latrine but the conditions of these facilities are such that they rarely prevent human health and environment hazards (no improved sanitation facilities and low standards in desludging practices).

4) Why did the locals not connect to the networks?

Extensive investigations (surveying almost 1,000 households) were conducted at the beginning of the project to better understand the current modalities to access water in the project area and to identify the barriers and motivations for the inhabitants to connect to the future water services. These surveys showed that the lack of communication was often the main reason for people not to connect.

Moreover, the lack of knowledge about the benefits brought by drinkable water and the complexity of the procedure to apply for a new connection was regularly quoted by interviewees. Finally, some people expressed their lack of trust toward MCDC (fearing to receive low quality service, long procedures to get connected, etc.). Interestingly, the cost of the connection and of the service was very rarely mentioned as an impediment to connecting.

5) What did the locals think about the benefits of connecting to the local municipality services?

Initial household surveys showed that around 90% of the population of the project area were satisfied with their current access modalities. That being said, the majority of the population showed interest in having a piped water system. They expected that the quantity, quality and availability of water will increase and improve the health conditions in their household once they are connected to a piped water system.

Motivation speech by Dr. Khin Maung Lwin about the benefits of drinkable water (Photo credit: GRET)

After implementing the project

6) What were the changes implemented and how has the current situation improved?

Another major objective of the Amarapura Project is to support MCDC in improving the technical and commercial management of its water service on a city scale. On the technical side, several monitoring equipment have been procured and installed: a borehole inspection camera to inspect the tube wells, piezometers to monitor the level of the aquifer, large diameter flowmeters to monitor the quantity of water supplied by the different BPS, etc. Before this equipment was handed over to the MCDC, the staff systematically undergo training. Many equipments related to the detection and the repair of leaks has also been provided within the framework of a specific component of the project aims to implement a comprehensive Non-Revenue Water (NRW) strategy in a District Metered Area (DMA) created in a central ward of the City. This particular activity was the opportunity to train MCDC on NRW management and to establish a first water balance.

In terms of commercial management, the MCDC is being supported to create a simple computerized customer and meter database, define a procedure to regularly update this database and link it to the generation of commercial indicators. The overall objective of this support is to demonstrate the usefulness of this tool to generate commercial indicators (related to consumption, invoicing, etc.) that is useful to monitor the service, to improve the management of the meters' park, to detect irregularities and, at a later stage, to ease the implementation of improved service invoicing modalities. The rationale behind this is that it is easier to manage a service if its strengths and weaknesses are well identified.

Implementation of piping works (Photo credit: GRET)

7)What is the next step for this project?

For the time being, our first objective is to complete the works in Amarapura, to support as many people as possible to connect to the networks, and to assist MCDC to take over the operation of the water system and the management of the service in order to deliver a high-quality service to its customers. The second objective is for this pilot project to benefit MCDC through the implementation of the larger-scale projects currently under preparation or ongoing in the water sector in Mandalay by sharing the lessons learnt, providing tools and methods, etc.

8) What further support is needed to improve the situation in Amarapura?

After completion of this project, at least 2,000 households should have gained access to an improved water source. However, the situation in this area in terms of sanitation will remain unchanged and hazardous, entailing greater exposure to pollution, infectious diseases, risk factors for chronic diseases, etc.

Implementation of piping works (Photo credit: GRET)

GRET is therefore starting to actively look for partners to implement an integrated project combining wastewater, drainage and solid waste management in the project area, in order to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 6 and 11 approved by the United Nations in 2015:

"Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all" (SDG 6) and "Making the cities in Myanmar more sustainable, more resilient and more inclusive" (SDG 11).

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