Experts speak out on water and climate change
23 March 2020 - Source: Myanmar Times
Participants in a round table dialogue urge Myanmar to speed up preparations for the impacts of climate change on access to clean water.
Like many countries, Myanmar is vulnerable to climate change. Ahead of World Water Day 2020, WaterAid Myanmar hosted a round table dialogue bringing together experts from various fields to discuss what needs to be done to prepare the country for the impact of climate change on its water supplies.
During the dialogue held at Sule Shangri-La on March 17 in partnership with The Myanmar Times, these experts discussed what steps the country needs to take to accelerate its preparations to mitigate challenges related to clean water access in the context of climate change. "Water and Climate Change: What experts are thinking" was attended by representatives of national-level committees, UN agencies, local and international organisations, social organisations and the private sector.
World Water Day has been celebrated annually on March 22 since 1993. This year, experts highlighted how to better use water resources, how climate change affects water supplies and how this, in turn, puts an additional burden on women.
Here are comments from experts who joined the March 17 discussion:
Water is life. Climate change impacts water resources. Climate change is much more than an environmental or scientific problem. It is a major development concern and a fundamental issue of social justice. Myanmar is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Debates about climate change have focused on scientific and technical solutions. Although these are necessary, these are not enough. We need to solve the water issues under climate change with hydro-informatic tools.
Women are at the forefront of climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. Only through supreme efforts of political will and solidarity among all state and non-state actors,can we reduce the negative impact and achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in Myanmar.
It is important that people invest in clean water, but it is also important to appreciate the source of water. The whole country needs to put a priority on water. Why are some people in Yangon using water from a well while others are wasting half of the water that is delivered? About half of the water that is consumed by humans is lost.
Climate change will cause either excessive water or water scarcity. To address this, the Myanmar government already has the relevant policy, strategy and master plan. But those need to be properly implemented urgently with participation of all stakeholders from the central level to the grassroots level.
The water supply in Myanmar, especially freshwater, is around 3% of the world's supply. Although we have a large freshwater source, our geography differs greatly. For example, water scarcity is common in upper Myanmar. In mountain areas, they also have access to natural water resources. There is also excessive use of groundwater. In Myanmar, rainwater can be a huge source of freshwater.
WaterAid Myanmar is calling for urgent action from the government of Myanmar and the international community to include safe water and sanitation in their plans for dealing with the impacts of climate change. WaterAid's report, "On the frontline: The state of the world's water 2020", shows that far too little is spent on helping the most vulnerable people adapt to the impacts of climate change, which is putting the health and lives of millions at risk. The international community should support Myanmar by providing financing for sustainable access to clean water for everyone. Financing to Myanmar should not come as a loan but as a grant because it should not be a future burden for the people.
At my village, there was a lack of education, healthcare and funding related to water scarcity issues, and this resulted in social problems. We had to go to another village that was one mile away to fetch drinking water. It used to take a whole morning to fill a single container when there were water shortages. But a few years ago, we solved our problem with active engagement from our community, government and NGOs.
Although we can build dams in water shortage areas, but it might not be effective – for example, because of evaporation. In those areas, we should harvest rainwater in remote areas and store it, but you need to be aware of evaporation.
As a consequence of rapid property development in Yangon, there will be 15 families instead of one family occupying the same area of land. The rate of water use rises by 10 to 15 times as well. Free space in the yard is also reduced by the construction of concrete areas for parking cars. There are no places where water can penetrate in to the earth, which in cities can bring the risk of flooding. I also worry about when small towns become big cities without proper planning for water management.
Women are mostly responsible for fetching water. Statistically, water and sanitation places a greater burden on women. If women are not able to access water, sanitation or hygiene, then their families face difficulties. According to a research in Tanzania, women have to travel an average of 6 kilometers for water. They carry 20-litre buckets every day to fetch water. In one year, women in this developing country spend 4 billion hours fetching water. When women spend a large amount of their time fetching water, they lose time to spend on education, with families, or for other productive activities. Therefore, their personal development cannot be fulfilled.
Limited water due to climate change also has a further impact on women. Without water, women have to wait until late in the night to use latrines. This makes them vulnerable and leaves them at risk of sexual harassment and rape.
When it takes over 30 minutes to collect water, it is called a limited drinking water service.There are three things to consider when it comes to having clean, safe drinking water. The source of water should be inside the yard of the house, there should be 24-hour access and the water needs to be tested for quality.
We don't see rainwater as a resource because it comes for free, but it is a great source of fresh water. It will be very helpful if there is a culture of harvesting rainwater in each household. In the areas with less rainfall, there are still at least 20 inches of rain a year, so it is important to take rainwater seriously and store it. Lots of rainwater is wasted because there is no storage system. If ponds are built and maintained in villages, they can be used as a source of fresh water all summer. I would like to recommend using rainwater as much as possible.
Some diseases can occur because of flooding – if water does not drain after a flood, there can be water-borne diseases. When there is a shortage of water, you can also suffer from diseases. Without water, you can face diseases related to personal hygiene.
Water is more important than energy. The world is now seeing water as a scarce resource. Therefore, it is important to use the existing water resources. In Myanmar, water is a priority for urban areas as well as rural areas. When the weather changes, there will be water shortage problems so it is important to maintain rainwater in the rainy days to avoid flooding. As the economy grows, the demand for water will grow.
Water is a very valuable resource and if you ask what should be done I think one of the key elements is that the management of water resources in Myanmar really needs improvement to ensure that there will be sustainable management of water resources, taking into account scarcity and in some cases too much water and also the changes that are induced by climate change. It needs an integrated approach to water management.
There are too many permits to commercially produce drinking water. Not only the purified water factories, but also small factories were allowed. The contractors also dug wells and water treatment plants are also dredging around the places for the purified water. That's very worrying.
Rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion, increasing temperature and precipitation are all linked with climate change,and they are athreat to groundwater in the long-term. Because of these factors there is a loss of fresh water in the Ayeyarwady delta. Communities living in those areas may be impacted by rising sea levels. Replanting in hilly areas and rainwater harvesting are highly recommended to prevent extreme groundwater depletion.
The availability of clean drinking water is linked to natural disasters caused by seasonal changes. There should be policies that focus on access to safe drinking water throughout the country.
In Myanmar, there are places that have a lot of water and places that don't have much water. We need to manage the main rivers and river valleys systematically in order to manage the country's water resources effectively. The government and the public should work together to have a good result: to preserve the rivers – such as the Ayeyarwady, Chindwin, Thanlwin and Sittaung – and the water valleys for the long term, and to protect riverine routes from drying up and disappearing.
It is necessary to have laws, policies and strategies for climate change but it is also very important to translate them into simple language that the general public can easily understand. We need to make sure that polices and strategies result in implementable actions, so that everyone in the community can participate in their own way and no one is left behind.
Climate change is happening all over the world but people are suffering from different impacts. Women are at greater risk of dying due to climate change. What we see mostly is that men earn money and women have look after the whole household. That means women have to do things that don't make any income, and when villages lack water and can't do their agriculture businesses, men migrate and work in other places. That leaves women with more responsibilities for their household. These kinds of impacts will decrease if water issues can be resolved.