11 Oct 2020 - Source: The University of Hong Kong - A group of students from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) took part in a novel solution to address the water supply problem in a slum area in Myanmar.

Twenty HKU students went on a three-week trip organised by the Department of Civil Engineering in January 2020 under an experiential learning programme titled "Horizons Mingde" to study the water supply situation in Myanmar.

During the trip, they were invited to join a water supply project proposed by Community Care Myanmar (CCM), an NGO based outside of Yangon City to help the impoverished communities. They designed a small-scale water supply system for a new kindergarten-cum-primary school with about 80 students in the Dagon Seikkan Township in the east-central part of the city of Yangon after taking account of the site constraints.

The school is situated in a populated slum area with about 10,000 residents, most of them living in wooden huts. The area does not have any fresh water supply network.

"It's hard to imagine what is considered a necessity in advanced economies is a luxury here. The lack of clean water source is a big problem in the area. Residents rely on rainwater as a cheap source of water supply. They use buckets and plastic bags to collect rainwater during the rainy season. They cannot afford to buy bottled water, which is expensive and is by no means a sustainable source of water supply. The problem residents face at Dagon Seikkan is in fact a common phenomenon across the country," remarked Fiona, a Social Sciences student, and Ken, an engineering undergraduate student.

Upon completion of the Myanmar trip, 15 students took part in a follow-up activity during their 10-week summer break in Hong Kong. Despite the outbreak of Covid-19, they held on-line weekly meetings, collated and assessed information, developed and appraised hypothetical virtual schemes, and consolidated their findings and recommendations into a Feasibility Study Report on a Low-impact Water Supply System for the school.

The scheme is based on a 140-meters deep well sunk in the school site to extract groundwater from the deep aquifer as a new source of water. The students studied the geology of the site, determined the yield of the well, prepared storage and plumbing schemes, and recommended water quality tests and filtration installations to ensure that the groundwater is suitable for consumption. The recommendations have been accepted by CCM, their collaborative partner in Myanmar. HKU Horizons Mingde would also make donation to support the project, which is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

The team hopes that the project can serve as a pilot scheme which will eventually be extended to benefit more people in the area.

"It is a great experiential learning experience for the students. They observed and identified a key livelihood problem faced by the school and have taken a first small step to design a sustainable water supply system here. I believe this will bring real changes and benefit the local community," said Dr Ryan C P Wong of the HKU Civil Engineering Department, who joined the Myanmar trip and the student study.

"The fact that these poor living conditions in impoverished areas have prevailed will let students understand that very often the complex real-life issues could not be resolved easily and completely. I hope we shall be able to engage in similar projects in future as they are good experiential learning opportunities for our students. And the successful implementation of these projects would bring real benefit to the local community," remarked Professor CK Mak who also joined the visit and study.