Yangon floods, and litter bugs

Yangon floods, and litter bugs Municipal workers repairing the drains in Sanchaung township, Yangon on May 30, 2020. Photo: Phoe Wa.

05 June 2020 - Source: Myanmar Times

This year's monsoon has already reached across half of Myanmar, with last month's Cyclone Amphan also dumping hundreds of millimeters of rain across Eastern India and Bangladesh.

Though the rainy days have been far and few between, the city is already witnessing the usual madness that comes along with the annual tropical downpour.

Whilst cars came to a standstill in the flooded city streets last week, Daw Nyunt Nyunt Aye came out of her Tarmwe house to prepare for the deluge. With a pair of tongs in hand, she headed to the drain outside to fish-out the trash accumulating in the rising torrents of water.

This is a chore she performs every year, during the monsoon season.

"When it rains hard, I have to bring out the tongs. I have to grab all the plastic and large pieces of paper that clog the drain, otherwise it will overflow and flood the house," she said.

Daw Nyunt Nyunt's house is located on 155th Street, a poorly drained part of the city that often experiences knee-high floods. Water from the higher-up townships like Bahan often flow into Tarmwe, causing the water to swell to higher-than-average levels

The sight of the floods always frustrates Ko Aung Soe, who sells electronics goods from his ground floor shop on 155th Street. As soon as he suspects a storm, he packs up the low-laying shelves in the store and shuts the doors.

"I would love to leave Tarmwe every monoon season," he said.

Tarmwe roundabout is crowded with shoppers and pedestrians who, when caught out in a major storm, can find themselves wading through knee-deep water to get home. Cars and buses grind to a halt, and the roads become littered with overflowing debris from the town's sewers.

A large drainage channel that flows into the Nga Moe Yate Creek in Myinttar Nyunt Ward, Tamwe township, Yangon. Photo Mar Naw.

Areas like Sanchaung, Myinttar Nyunt, Yankin and Kan Taw Kalay were also prone to severe floods, until a much larger drainage system was installed. Currently municipal workers have been digging the old drains in the city, dumping tones of sludge and rubbish our of the old sewerage system.

The work is brutal, tireless and dirty, but the new pipes help to relieve the foods in many places. "It's a relief to have clean drains around here, especially when it rains," U Min Thu, a resident from Sanchaung, said.

He expects their township to be a flood-free zone next year, as a result of the drainage repair work. The old 1.5-foot PVC pipes at Mayangone market are being replaced with wider 3-foot long ones, helping to improve the flow of sewage and waste through the system.

Clean Yangon is an organisation helping to do exactly what its name suggests, promoting civic duties around littering and making the urban environment a much cleaner one. Ko Zayar Tun, head of the charity group, praised the municipal government for their action on improving the city's drains.

"Since May, municipal workers have been removing garbage and digging drains in different townships. This is good sign for the city," he said.

With a population of 8 million people, Yangon's waste disposal system often feels the strain. Though the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) introduced giant wheelie bins for each street block several years ago, the city is still full of litter bugs.

The city produces some 3,000 tones of garbage every year, but including rubbish that ends up on the streets and in drains, that figure is much higher.

"This is a dirty city. People haven't stopped throwing their rubbish on the ground, and until they stop nothing will change," Daw Mya Win, a YCDC sanitation worker, said.

"We clean the garbage every day and night, but the amount we have to clean always increases after the floods. I don't think people will ever stop littering," she added.

Despite efforts from the municipal government, the street workers and charities trying to clean the city, nothing will improve until people on the streets change.

To some extent Yangon may always be burdened with floods, but how the rains impact other aspects of daily life – on the streets and in peoples' homes – can be changed with a different attitude towards the city. One where people no longer litter, and take pride in their neighbourhoods.

"The municipal committee is cleaning many drains around the city, but they will not be able to get rid of all the dumb people," said Ko Naing Soe, a drainage maintenance supervisor.

In large apartment blocks some residents leave rubbish on the stairs, or outside on the street, leaving it to be picked up at a later date. Without disposing of the rubbish straight away, the refuse bags attract rats and dogs which then spread the trash across the streets.

"These people are really unruly. The drains and streets are full of rubbish, all because some people can't be bothered to put their trash away properly," said Daw Mya Sabei from Tarmwe.

Ko Kyaw Zeyar Tun believes that Myanmar should adopt policies similar to other countries, and fine litter bugs.

Rubbish collects in the city drains and channels throughout Yangon, leading to flooded streets. Photo: Mar Naw.

"Drains and streets are not where we should be dropping-off garbage. It's about time the authorities fined people who litter the streets," he said.

There is also a sense of apathy that pervades the residents of the nation's largest city. The mindset is something like this: "If nothing has changed for so many years, then why bother changing now? And if everyone else does it, then why should I change?"

As some people say – the people of Yangon wear Thanaka on their faces, but walk in a stream of urine under their feet. They may look smart, but their environment reveals a lot about the quality of city life.

It remains to be seen whether or not Yangon, with its many litter bugs, will continue to suffer more unnecessary floods due to blocked drains later this year.

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