All the water sector stakeholders need to be freed of bias, transcend our interest, and work together to give our country the best possible services.

by Thurein Maung Maung, a water and sanitation professional 

Over 19 years of working experience in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, one of the Myanmar water professionals landed to his home country again in 2015. He is an experienced water and sanitation professional with analytical skills and a broad understanding of international development cooperation.

I had a chance to interview Ko Thurein Maung Maung about his opinions on the water management of Myanmar. In our discussion, Ko Thurein used a water governance model from the Netherlands, a 3-layered model (which includes institutional, relational, and content layers), to outline his point of view on the water management of our country.

The three layer framework for water governance

CONTENT LAYER 

The content layer is about the composition of competent persons and technologies. Together with compliance technologies, the organizations need proficient members who can finish their jobs innovatively, effectively, and find alternative solutions to solve the problems better.

Human Capacity

"For the improvement of the management system, government organizations require competent staffs to catch up with the updated technologies, replace the old ways of doing works with effective ones, and have high adaptability to the new changes," he advises the new transformation which needs to be altered in the new era.

"In that case, compared to the government sector, the private businesses try harder to improve their ability as they are constantly competing in the market," he explained how the private sector could support the human capacity development rigorously.

Needless to say, there has been an increasing number of young water professionals in recent years. But he is concerned that there may not be enough job opportunities for the newcomers in the water sector. The water sector is underinvested, yet it is critical for the country's economy, health, and development. We need more investment in the sector!

"One of the solutions for this problem is to enhance the connections between the education sector and the industries, which in turn strengthen the content layer of the country," he shares his thoughts.

The education sector should know the industry's requirements and create human resources that will have the ability to fill the needs of the industry. And the industry can benefit from the education sector by collaboration with the universities and vocational training schools in technologies, financial investment, and capacity building programs for the development of the Myanmar water sector.

The students got priceless experiences through collaboration between industries and educational institutions; the private sectors get the skills and human resources they need. Then, the government has a chance to promote and scale-up the proven successful model and proven technologies. Such collaborative practices are much needed in the Myanmar water sector. 

INSTITUTIONAL LAYER 

At the same time, law enforcement, system strengthening, and creating an enabling environment are also necessary.

The "Institutional" layer addresses the organizational aspects that support the effective implementation of designed adaptation policies in which the organization behind adaptation policies is described. (Strengths and Weaknesses for Climate Change: Adaptation in Water Governance, Pg. 227).

The outlook of the institutional layer in the water sector is progressing as it is getting more functional and organized compared to the last five years. Outdated water acts and policies are in the process of replacing with the best international practices and modernized ones. Myanmar Water Law will be ready in the coming years together with other new policies and strategic plans for the future.

Yet, Myanmar needs to improve in civic education to promote responsible citizenship and business to comply with the law and regulations. "At the same time, law enforcement, system strengthening, and creating an enabling environment are also necessary," Ko Thurein points out.

Groundwater and Community

For the case of licensing the underground wells in Yangon, the business should follow the standard operating procedures. In contrast, the local should have the awareness and attitude to report the wrongdoing happening in their environment.

Community surveillance is useful during the Covid-19 outbreak, which makes contact tracing easier and containment strategy effective.

Such behavior is also necessary for the development of the water sector to keep an eye on the water related issues. Simultaneously, the authorized departments have to systematically monitor, overview, and investigate the processes while listening to the locals' reports and taking actions. If one of the parties fails to carry out their works; negative consequences like groundwater contaminations likely to occur. The recent residential building collapse in Yangon's downtown suggested the subsidence from groundwater over-pumping. One of the studies also hinted likelihood of the subsidence.

Ko Thurein also delivered a message to the youths to make campaigns and movements that will raise awareness of the civilians about water-related issues.

"In doing so, society will become more educated, resourceful, and they will finally have the ability to support, evaluate, and correct the action plans of the service providers to make our environment better," he suggests. 

Private Sector Development

Additionally, private sector engagement is still not strong in the Myanmar water sector despite being a great solution to fill in the gaps of inadequate resources and complement some government institutions' capacities.

He says that the government should enable the policies to support the private sectors and lure the investors to get more involved in the water in which many areas still need to be improved. We must not forget about the need for innovative technologies such as paying water bills online, similar to electricity, which saves time and energy. In fact, some companies are already using electronic ARM prepayment in some towns of Myanmar. Besides, real-time IoT water quality monitoring technologies are possible, and technologies are around the corner. We have the benefit of being a neighbor to India and China.

And Myanmar water sector possesses huge potentials for tech-oriented investments, yet still are few technologies in the market and is a window opportunity for the entrepreneurs. The government should encourage those innovations and technologies through tax exemption, easier processes on companies' registration, financial assistant plans, and promote more investment in the water sector to attract talent from foreign and local investors.

These will also help the private sectors to be stronger, create more job opportunities in the phase of COVID recovery, and get better water-related services for the people of Myanmar.

RELATIONAL LAYER

It is not simple to have a good relationship between the parties, get a decision that all the parties are happy with, and separate responsibilities and accountabilities between the departments due to complex cross-cutting nature of the water sector.

The last and the most complex layer is the relation layer to which even the well-developed countries face difficulties. The layer is about the relation of communication, cooperation, participation, culture, and ethics toward integrated water management.

There are several water-related issues; water resources management, flood, irrigation, power production, environment, and many more to name. These issues are all interconnected and usually require the involvement of all stakeholders: government organizations, NGOs, development partners, companies, universities, media, and many others. For example, when developing a water supply system for a village in Myanmar, the Department of Rural Development (DRD) is mandated, but closely related sanitation is managed by public health department. When it comes to the school's water supply, the department of education plays a role like urban cities as the City Development Council (CDC), so those actors have to work together. We need a functional coordination platform!

Myanmar is still trying to get used to the concepts of coordination, co-decisions, and benefit-sharing.

"It is not simple to have a good relationship between the parties, get a decision that all the parties are happy with, and separate responsibilities and accountabilities between the departments due to complex cross-cutting nature of the water sector," he claims.

Suggesting that allocations on responsibilities and accountabilities have to be clear in these projects to save resources and avoid conflicts. And having a centralized platform and good relationship between stakeholders is a vital part of the process.

"All three layers needed to be built-up together concurrently and continuously to strengthen the water management of our country. All the water sector stakeholders need to be freed of bias, transcend our interest, and work together to give our country the best possible services," he remarks. 

Written by Si Thu Khant Min