19th of November is World Toilet Day and the time has come to celebrate the advocacy day to realize more about the importance of sanitation. WASH Thematic Group has arranged an awareness sharing campaign via online live streaming with three panelists who are currently working in respective departments and organizations for the better sanitation management of Myanmar.

Toilet or A Threat to Climate Change 

The opening session of live streaming discussion is started with a question, "Does toilet impact global warming?"

Without a doubt, improper sanitation systems are all the factors that could accelerate global climate change. Scroll down to the end of article and you will understand how climate change is related to toilets.

Myanmar has been widely utilizing two systems of sanitation known as, centralized sanitation system and on-site sanitation system (decentralized system). Centralized systems in which a series of sewer pipes are constructed to collect and transport fecal sludge, is primarily adopted only in six townships of downtown Yangon and a few areas in Naypyidaw. And apart from these areas, all the population around Myanmar are practicing on-site sanitation systems. Both systems, however, deal with climate change and environmental degradation when improper management in collection, transportation, and treatment of wastewater has occurred.

Environmental contaminants such as sewage leakage to ground water sources, overflow of wastewater from sewer pipes can be happened when the construction of sanitation systems does not meet the relevant design criteria. Lacking proper maintenance of sewer pipes in centralized wastewater systems will also impact the leakage of untreated wastewater to the environment and depending upon users and management of the plan, collection and transportation of wastewater could have effects on the ecosystem.

On-site sanitation system being applied especially in high population density areas have to face problems with insufficient municipal services as there are inadequacy of sewage suction vehicles and human resources in municipal departments. In a situation like this, some of the residents discharge wastewater directly to drainages which will lead pollution to nearby water resources and some might solve the problem by getting services from illegal sanitation businesses.

"As each septic tank being used are one of the sources of producing greenhouse gases which could highly influence on global climate change, long-term planning for an ecofriendly sanitation management should be considered," Dr. Wutyi Naing who is working as a project associate at UNICEF said.

Dr. Wutyi Naing - A Project Associate at UNICEF

The septic tanks from houses will be tanks with full of greenhouse gases while domestic sewage is not collected and transported to the treatment areas within the allocated times. On the other hand, there is still no designated protocol for sewage disposal and most of the local residents discharge the fecal sludge when the tanks are full and it makes the gaseous emission worse.

The above mentioned consequences of mismanagement sanitation system determine why planning sanitation systems which are resilient to climate change and the application of suitable technology for the country could have been implemented. Designing effective treatment plants concerning with the weather conditions, population density and economy, capacity building of the workers, supporting infrastructure and transportation demands for sludge management, promoting public awareness and cooperative actions are needed to be developed for certain and it will be a prosperous investment of the national revenue. 

Ongoing Urban Sanitation Plans 

U Soe AungHead of Water and Sanitation Department, Mandalay City Development Committee.

 "All the public toilets which are being built by our Mandalay City Development Committee are for the aim of achieving Sustainable Development Goal - SDG (6) clean water and sanitation. We make policy decisions in accordance with this goal and we have operated Johkasou wastewater treatment technology in every toilet constructing project by our department," shared by U Soe Aung, a head of water and sanitation department, Mandalay City Development Committee.

Johkasou wastewater treatment system is one kind of Japanese on-site wastewater treatment plant which meets an effluent BOD of less than 20mg/l and is mainly used in two situations; (1) when there is no access to sewers and (2) in high population density areas for on-site wastewater treatment including water reclamation. (Ref; Here)

In compliance with mayor guidance, Mandalay city development center has established a regulation which is the implementation of Johkasou wastewater treatment plant in public buildings, high-rise buildings, hotels and private schools to reduce environmental degradation by unsuitable disposal of untreated wastewater.

"Besides the implementation of Johkasou treatment plants, we also have to follow the prescribed criteria of ASEAN Public Toilet Standard while we build on-site public toilets," U Soe Aung added.

In order to meet first prescribed criteria, design and environmental management system, Mandalay city development center has well arranged in building processes. Nonetheless, when the unexpected utilization of public toilets by citizens has overtaken than the estimated amount, it became a serious problem with sludge treatment. The collaboration of rapid sand filtration system with Johkasou treatment plant then has been operated for better functioning of effluent treatment and it has been working well. And this success story has enlightened the significance of management in sanitation systems. 


Upgrade Policies are Needed 

The insufficiency of labors in providing sanitation services is a pretty big deal in cities like Yangon and Mandalay. The municipal departments have been organized under the year 2000's department establishment framework and it leads to unbalance amount of workload when it compares to nowadays' growing population. U Thet Tun Win, the chairman of Transport Communication and Construction Committee has highlighted the fact that third party inspection should have been organized for monitoring and controlling of the sanitation systems.  

U Thet Tun Win, Chairman of Transport Communication and Construction Committee

"But the taxes, revenues and fines for all the municipal services has been specified with the coordination of the municipal departments and other responsible departments. And we have accelerated the development of the sanitation and wastewater management in 33 townships of Yangon and because of that the socio-economic of residents who are living in these 33 townships has improved," U Thet Tun Win said.  

Take-Home Messages for Better Sanitation Practices 

At the end of discussion, the panelists shared take-home messages with the aim of improving behavioral changes and enhancing public participation towards a developed system of sanitation.

"People should have known their power. Each behavior of them could impact the environment. Eutrophication in lakes, ponds and other water sources is all started with one's careless action when they let the untreated wastewater discharge through drainage. While there is environmental degradation near our communities, it will come into effect to our health, education, economy and daily lives. So, never neglect your power and help the country by practicing well manners," Dr, Wutyi Naing shared her take-home message.

U Soe Aung also delivered his opinion to carry out together the goal of SDG (6),"Neither a person nor a group can fulfill the duty of SDG (6). It needs a collaborative effort of citizens and all responsible organizations to reach the goal. We, Mandalay water and sanitation department is always willing to help to all regional departments and communities in sharing ideas and solutions to some difficulties which were faced during the implementation of smart toilets."

As the final message of the panel discussion, U Thet Tun Wai added, "We have to learn that if there is an error in urban sanitation, it will bring a greater risk of contagious disease and it can be a pandemic too. Hence, we should have awareness of cleanliness and coordinate for the sake of healthy living."

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 Written By Thidar Maung Maung.