MPs take steps to relieve water stress

MPs take steps to relieve water stress A resident of Dagon Seikkan pumping water from the ground to wash clothes. Photo: Diageo Southeast Asia

16 January 2021 - Source: Myanmar Times

Infrastructure and electricity are priorities for discussion in the new Hluttaw. Only a few MPs from townships facing water stress raised issues of access to clean water. For their constituents, there is nothing as important as access to a reliable water supply, one that is safe and clean.

One of the many townships facing water problems in Yangon is Hlaing Tharyar, which has one of the highest numbers of migrant workers in the city. The 2014 census identified 684,700 residents, about half of whom were squatting illegally on the land. Many of these residents migrated to the area in the wake of cyclone Nargis in 2008. One of the main challenges for the residents in Hlaing Tharyar, apart from securing a permanent place to live, is access to clean water.

According to parliamentarian U Win Maung (Hlaing Tharyar 1), only FMI City, Nawaday Housing and Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone (1, 2, 3 and 4) have access to the Gyo Phyu above-ground pipeline water supply. The rest of the township's water users pump groundwater or purchase freshwater (Gyo Phyu piped water), which is delivered by water vendors within the quarters.

U Win Maung raised a question first raised the issue of water access for his constituency's residents back in 2018. In response to his concerns, the Kokowa Water Project was initiated.

The project aims to distribute water to Hlaing Tharyar and surrounding townships by 2025. For the short term, water will be sourced from ponds in Hlaing Tharyar and Pun Hlaing and Hlaing rivers, which is to be distributed to residents for emergency use.

''The Kokowa [2025] plan is being rolled out. In the meantime, we still haven't initiated the short-term plan. That's why residents in Hlaing Tharyar are facing water stress this year," U Win Maung said.

The quarters which do not have access to the city's water supply pump water from the ground. Since Hlaing Tharyar township was established in 1989, the quality of groundwater is not the best.

Htein Pin dump has been located in the township for some 20 years and poses a health risk to those living near the site. The waste and runoff can seep into the ground, contaminating the surroundings and groundwater, U Win Maung explained.

"In this township where most of Yangon's basic workers live, residents can't even get access to reliable groundwater," he said.

The region's main water supplies flow from the Hlawga Reservoir, which was built in 1904 and has 12 billion gallons storage capacity; and the Gyo Phyu Reservoir, which was constructed in 1940, and has 16.6 billion gallons storage capacity. The Phugyi Reservoir, built-in 1992 with a capacity of 23 billion gallons, and the Nga Moe Yeik Reservoir, which was built in 1995, are Yangon's other main water storage facilities.

At present, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) can only supply portable water to around 45 per cent of the region's population. Townships like Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, Dala and Seikyi Khanaungto get very little municipal water, but residents hope that Kokowa Plan will provide 90 per cent of Yangon's residents with a more reliable supply by 2025.

"We want it to be easy to access clean water," U Win Maung said.

"Our township lags far behind other townships in terms of development. It was weak in systematic planning since its establishment. We are working on repairing old infrastructure as well as making an effort to integrate the township with the rest of the city," U Myat Min Thu, regional Hluttaw MP from Hlaing Tharyar township (2), said.

U Myat Min Thu was re-elected at last year's election and wants to make good on his promises to improve the situation in his constituency.

Likewise, U Zarni Myo Nyunt's priorities are to improve access to electricity and clean water in his constituency. The young candidate won the parliamentary seat of Dagon Seikkan at the 2020 polls.

Dagon Seikkan also has many low-cost apartments, as well as a large population of migrant squatters. Dagon Seikkan is home to Yuzana Garden city, but according to U Zarni Myo Nyunt, the housing complex also faces water issues. Many residents only have access to dam water on alternate days, with groundwater being the main supply source.

"In some quarters, residents in Dagon Seikkan will see brown-coloured deposits accumulate in their sinks. We have to work hard to keep the water clean," U Zarni Myo Nyunt said.

Having access to clean water is also important for U Wai Phyo Han, MP of the Yangon Region Hluttaw for Insein (2) constituency. He was also re-elected in 2020.

Over the past five years, he has tried to ensure that all the quarters in Insein have access to water supplied by the government. Residents living in high-rise apartments in Insein experience supply shortages. This is a problem that U Wai Phyo Han aims to remedy over the next term of parliament.

"Water is important for everyone, especially clean water," U Wai Phyo Han said. 

U Kyaw Thiha, NLD MP for Constituency 12 in the Mandalay Region and chairman of the Amyothar Hluttaw (Upper House) Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee, said residents seem to think that water scarcity is not something to complain about. His constituency of Thazi regularly faces water shortages over summer.

"When we were young, we had free water pots on the side of the streets. At schools, we drank water from a tap after sifting it through a filter. Time has changed, people are using PH7 water. Even if we ask what they need, they demand electricity, bridges and agricultural water," U Kyaw Thiha said.

"If I ask residents where they source their water from, most will say they buy it from a supplier. They just accept the situation, and don't complain about the shortages. They get into habit of carrying water, and that has become normal for them," he said.

The parliamentarian U Win Maung echoed a similar sentiment, and said that people didn't think water shortages were a serious issue for Myanmar. Most people think that the country is rich in water resources.

"Access to clean water is our top priority. Even industrial products can't be produced without water. So, for human survival, water is essential," U Win Maung said. 

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