Sharing Invaluable Experience of a Water Resources Expert - Interview with U Khin Latt

Sharing Invaluable Experience of a Water Resources Expert - Interview with U Khin Latt

There are many experienced water experts who have been working over many years in the Myanmar Water Sector. They came across the military junta ruling from 1962 - 2011 (ref. here) and experts and specialists were oppressed under the military regime. Till today, they stand up in their self-righteousness. They are willing to share their valuable experiences to young generations who are willing to lift the water sector into the next level. U Khin Latt is one of the veterans who really wants to connect with young water experts to develop the Myanmar Water Sector.

He is a water resources expert who is currently working as a senior consultant and advisor to National Engineering & Planning Services: NEPS Co., Ltd. He is one of the advisory group members of National Water Resources Committee (NWRC) which developed a National Water Policy with a clear vision on sustainable water management. He is also a volunteer visiting professor (water resources engineering) of YTU, specialized in irrigation subjects.

Moreover, with over 32 - years experience in the irrigation department, his life has been occupied in planning and design of various irrigation structures, constructions, operation and maintenance, survey and investigation, administration and procurement, etc. starting from an assistant engineer position up to a director.

As for his professional qualifications, U Khin Latt graduated from Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT), now called YTU as a Civil Engineer in 1965. Then, he got the diploma in Hydraulic Engineering in International Institute for Hydraulics and Environmental Engineering Delft, the Netherlands, sponsored by UNESCO in 1981. He had also participated in many training programs such as Engineering Water Management (Irrigation) training in New England University, Training in Irrigation Network Design and Implementation at Sanyu Consultants Inc., Japan, Recent Development in Integrated Water Resources Management, UNESCO-IHE, TU-Delft, Refresher Course Myanmar and so on. 

U Khin Latt in 1957: College Student
International Student in Delft - 1981
Myanmar - Delft Student in London:1981

"Not every career life has started with their professional field."  

The same is true for U Khin Latt, soon after his graduation, he worked at an Oil Company called People Oil Industry (POI) formerly known as BOC: the London-based Burma Oil Company as a Driller as well as a Rig Building Engineer. Then, he quit his job after two years because it was not related to his field.

So, the year 1967 was actually a great year for U Khin Latt as he started his professional career in the Irrigation Department. He started working as an assistant engineer where he had carried out and participated in many irrigation projects.

Some of the remarkable projects are, 

  1. Yezin Dam Project (1967- 1977)

Irrigation Drainage System with intensive labor at Yezin Dam Project

This was the project of planning and implementing the Yezin Irrigation and Drainage System, including the total length of 85 miles canals and over 180 infrastructures to irrigate over 16,000 acres farmlands. He was responsible for surveying, planning and designing the conduit outlet, spillway, irrigation structures, irrigation and drainage network. He also implemented and operation the system as per designed.

The project was planned for 5 years but it took 9 years due to the 100-year return flood in 1974, which damaged the Delta region and embankment network. So all the heavy earth-moving machines, equipment, water pumps, and motor boats from the project were temporarily transferred to the delta region to rehabilitate its embankment system. Thus the project was postponed over three and a half years. 

2. Lower Burma Paddy Land Development Project Phase I (1977- 1981) 

After handing over the Yezin Dam Irrigation Project in 1977, he joined the Lower Burma Paddy Land Development Project Phase I as a surveying team leader. In collaboration with the World Bank, the purpose of this project was to drain water and reclaim paddy-land areas and install the irrigation system for the 11 polders in the Ayeyarwady Delta such as Shwe Laung, Betut 1 and 2, Bantbwaysu, Daw Nyein, Middle Gyun, etc with the total gross area of 250,000 acres. He was responsible for topographic surveying, drainage structure layout as per design; including the alignment of drains and embankment.

  3. YeYwa Hydropower Project (2003 -2010)

Final Workshop with International Experts

YeYwa Hydropower Project is a unique project that has been done differently from previous irrigation projects; it was a mega hydropower RCC dam project. As a consultant and counterpart of NEPS, he worked as a local team leader for designing all CVC and RCC Mix Design. He was also the quality control engineer (under the supervision of RCC professional from CPEM-Switzerland, Dr.Dunstan) of conventional concrete, RCC, and its materials.

RCC means Roller Compacted Concrete and it's a kind of special and low heat concrete with a very little amount of cement: a mixture of porcelain, cement and aggregate. It can be called tailor-made concrete without a fixed ratio. YeYwa RCC production mix had to go through many trial mixes which were carried out systematically step by step of numerous mixed designs with different types of cement, pozzolan, and aggregate from different sources with different water-cementitious ratios to come to an end mixed design result. Then the best mixed designs were selected to find the most reliable setting time with varying admixture dosage by using three admixture products. And finally, selected with the best retarding admixture. "We had to carry out step by step process of MIX design production as follows;

  • Investigation of Pozzolan: Pozzolan was found in Mt. Poppa, Htamanthi in Chindwin river valley. Pozzolan is a kind of old volcanic lava and we chose the required properties and did strength testing for 9 months.
  • Trial Mix design and Strength Testing: Firstly, mix design with absolute method and strength testing with thousands of samples. We have seen that strength increases steadily up to one year and we used 9-month strength in our designing process.
  • Full Scale Trial: We finalized the core test of the full scale trial by using the final mix with three types of retarding admixture. Then we move on to the construction process after selecting the best admixture mix whose performance agrees with the lab and full scale trial.

This hydropower project is the very first Mix design of RCC in Myanmar and maybe the highest of RCC volume placed in a dam in Southeast Asia ever, with 2.4 million cubic meter."

After working over 30 years in many projects in the Irrigation Department, he retired in the year 2000. Currently he is responsible as a consultant and coordinator for many projects.

His Thoughts Sharing Pieces 

According to his experience, we have to know that there are many different approaches and considerations that have to be determined in Ayeyarwady Delta Irrigation.

Nature of Different Irrigation Approaches in Ayeyarwady Region

 Upper Delta Region

The highest point in the upper delta is 12 ft above the mean sea level and the lowest point is nearly 3-4 ft below the mean sea level. Most of the borders are higher in the outer region because of the siltation called levees and lower in the inner region and they form in a pan shape. When flooding, lakes occur in the inner region because of the overwhelming amount of fresh water over the levees. At that time, the reclamation together with the drainage system has to be considered to find possible farmland areas. Thus, in the rainy season, fresh water was drawn out from the lakes and reclamation was carried out and monsoon paddy was cultivated. Again, in the summer season, fresh water was drawn in from the river to irrigate the farmland areas and cultivate the summer paddy, taking advantage of the tidal effect to irrigate the freshwater into the farmlands.

Middle Delta Region

In the middle delta region like Phyarpone, Latputta and so on, the irrigation system is similar to the upper delta. Unlike the upper delta region, saltwater intrusion occur during the high tide and so the tidal effect is necessary to consider. Normally, high tide and low tide occur alternatively every 6 hours. At that time, the sluice gates are opened usually for the first 3 hours of high tide and allows fresh water to the inland areas. Then, the sluice gates are closed for the later 3 hours because of the probability of saline water intrusion.

In addition, pluvial (because of rainwater) and fluvial (flood protection because of tidal effect) effects are needed to consider in both the upper and middle delta regions.

Lower Delta Region

In the lower delta, the possibility of salt water intrusion is the highest because it is near to the sea mouth. Therefore, fresh water couldn't irrigate at all for cultivating summer paddy in these lower delta regions. In those areas, both humans, animals and plants have to depend on just rainwater for their living. Embankments are also needed to protect from the surge and tidal storm.

 The way to improve the irrigation sector of Ayeyarwady Delta

 In the previous decades, there were a lot of mangrove forests in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, so they could protect storm surfs and disasters to a certain degree. However, because of the fuel crisis, those forests were depleted and they couldn't protect storm surf anymore. Nargis Cyclone is the most significant evidence. Actually, the combination of infrastructure (embankment) and mangrove forests are needed to defend that kind of disaster from the environment point of view. In many developed countries, they mostly construct the grey structures but they are expensive and risky. Moreover, they can't be considered as safe because of climate change, if they break-out, the risk will be the most severe.

So, the consideration and balancing between all the environmental, social as well as economic aspects is becoming the first priority for now. The most adaptable and sustainable way is "the combination of Blue, Green and Grey Structures: water, plants and infrastructures combination". 

Necessary Conditions to develop Myanmar's Irrigation Sector 

System Management Vs On-Farm Management 

Overall management system is still weak and requires upgrading.

System Management: It refers to the management of the whole irrigation network. Nowadays in Myanmar, irrigable areas are increasing by almost 2 million hectares. On a global scale, irrigation could cover only 13 percent of the agricultural sector. However, it can still provide over 40 % of food security. In Myanmar, the effective area is only within 30 – 40 % as per 2012 Irrigation Dependency Review. For example, due to urbanization and industrialization, at least 10 - 20 % is being lost. Moreover, it could also say that another 40 % is not effective because of lacking water supply, not enough water reaching, water logging, saline intrusion etc.

"That's why we need to upgrade the whole existing irrigation network and its overall system management instead of new projects. For instance, reclamation of the earthen canals to lined canals by reviewing the original design and by lobbying with the World Bank, ADB or other international donors. In accordance with this, system efficiency can be regained up to 80%. However, we can't be said definitively without the proper on-farm management system,"

On-Farm Management:  Due to lack of maintenance fund and lack of water management supervision, farmers are using water from the irrigation outlet without any limitation and control.

  • Raising Awareness for farmers

Farmers need to have knowledge how much water is required for their crop: they must know clearly between the irrigation water requirement and crop water requirement depending upon the type of farmland soil. They have to assure any defects in their canals and have to fix before the cultivating season.

Everyone has his/her own Responsibility

Common irrigation system in Myanmar is a dual system which is enforced manually with the Irrigation law called Irrigation Act. The authority of the irrigation system has the responsibility to keep the system in an effective way, i.e. having proper gatekeepers, good canals which can evenly flood the farmlands. The authority needs to assure his available water amount in the reservoir and how much water has to supply and record how much water is flowing to the farmland from each outlet.

On the other hand, there has to be a "Water Clerk" who has to measure the water depth from the outlets of the irrigation system and determine what amount of water should irrigate to the water course. Before starting the cultivating period, he needs to check all the gates, furrow system/ canals to be clean and accessible to flow water. Otherwise, he needs to inform senior engineers and what canals should not be supplied with water and what gates should be closed.

Simultaneously, farmers need to have awareness on water use, keep their own water courses and ditches clean and should follow rules and regulations.

This is called the dual system: the authorities have their own responsibility and farmers also. Combination of this is controlled manually by the Irrigation Act. Being harmonious in the overall management of irrigation systems could reduce the losses to a certain amount and thus the system will be effective again. 

U Khin Latt - Water Resources Expert

Suggestions to Private or International organizations in Myanmar Water Sector 

"Be the right person and be responsible"

The most important thing in Myanmar is that people need to know their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone should have skills, good mindset, awareness and motivation over what they are doing.

Actually, it doesn't mean people in Myanmar are not smart enough, they just need to be the right people with the right responsibility. In this way, capacity building could be improved.

"Whether you are a private or international company, if you know what you can offer successfully and know well what you can do, you can be successful in the water sector." 

Suggestions to inspire younger generations 

My immense suggestion for them is to "Learn, and unlearn and Relearn: Lifelong Learning"

As for the younger generations who want to specialize and are passionate about water, there are many branches and they have to know first "what is water?". "Water is a crucial requirement for all living things. Not only drinking, but domestics and even production require water."

Then, they should try to fulfill water knowledge such as what are the sources of water, how and why we use and operate the systems not only in Myanmar but also in other Asian countries. They have to ask themselves how and why Asian countries develop more than Myanmar even though they have less water sources.

My immense suggestion for them is to "Learn, and unlearn and Relearn: Lifelong Learning"

Today, technology is becoming more advanced but the younger generations should not just rely on that technology. They should study the conventional methods of water management systems and learn the lessons from this. The best thing is having common sense and integrating between the advanced technology and conventional methods. 

His Portfolio 

Moreover, during his working in Irrigation Department, he was involved in the feasibility study and implementation of many other projects financed by world bank, Asian bank and OECF like

  1. Final feasibility report of Pump Irrigation Phase II (ADB Project)
  2. Final feasibility report of Yin Dam, Sadon Dam and Lower Paddy Land Development Project Phase III (World Bank Project)
  3. Kinmuntaung Irrigation System Water Management (World Bank) design, implementation, and research farm.
  4. South Nawin Dam QC, Irrigation System Design and Implementation (OECF) concerning design and planning of ID Project, he had worked with various consultant companies; Halcrow U.L.G Ltd., SANYU Consultant and SMEC.

As an Irrigation Director, he has served as Administrator, Designer, Planner and Construction Engineer for years. He worked as a Deputy Director in planning of national, regional and sector irrigation developments including overseeing of budget utilization for construction of new irrigation projects and maintenance of works of States and Divisions for six years from 1993 – 1999 and as a director in administration, account management, procurement, supervision of land survey of the whole Burma Irrigation Project for one year till 2000.

Activities after Retirement

After retiring in the year 2000, he had been responsible as a consultant and coordinator for many projects to conduct and audit their success after a certain lifetime. Some of them are auditioning for the Insein locomotive industry, South Nawin Project after 3 years, LawPita hydropower project after 7 years. Kyan Kin Cement Industry, Billu Chaung Project, etc.

Moreover, he had participated in many water-related projects in collaboration with World Bank, JBIC (previously OECF), ADB or local: sometimes as a construction director, as administrator, as Project Leader, or as Procurement Director.

Some project examples of significant projects are

  • YeYwa Hydropower Project, 2003-2010.
  • Design of Irrigation Development of Phyu Chaung Multipurpose Dam (IWRM), 2012
  • Data Collection survey on ESIA in the Ayeyarwady Delta and lower river, 2013
  • Pan Hlaing River Integrated Development Plan (PHRIDP) and Feasibility Study of Pan Hlaing Sluice, 2015-2016
  • Integrated Ayeyarwady Delta Study IDS with Arcadis as a deputy team leader/Project Director, 2016-2018
  • Pyat Ywa Pump Irrigation Project, 2019.

Written by Thandar. 

Co-author: Kyaw Nyunt Linn

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