24 July 18 - Half of the municipal water supply in Mandalay – Myanmar's second city – leaks out. In 2014, more than 30% of Mandalay state's population were part of urban households. With this number only set to rise, water management needs to be improved to cater to the surging demand.
The city has been increasingly using newer technologies to combat its urban challenges, such as using sensors for water management. "One thing that we can do is leapfrog because we have old systems," Chief Smart City Officer Ye Myat Thu points out.
He caught up with GovInsider to discuss how this rising city is turning to data to keep up with growth.
Leapfrog with technology
To tackle the loss of water in the municipal system, the city is using IOT sensors in the system to report data in real time on the conditions of the pipes and water meters, Ye Myat Thu says. The data will help reduce the time it takes to identify issues in the system and lessen the amount of water lost.
The water meters in houses are also employing new technology to improve the accuracy of water readings. The previously used RFID systems are being slowly weaned out to be replaced with readers that report water readings automatically. In the meantime, other households can directly scan their water meters through barcodes to their water readings.
Meanwhile, there is a bigger challenge to Mandalay's ambitions to use data: the city holds data on only a third of the households in the city. "[An] urgent project in our city is that we have only registered data is only 10,000 households," he says..
To counter this, the city is taking a digital census survey on mobile apps to collect data on its residents. Another ongoing project also is looking into replacing paper-based identity cards with smart ID cards. "This will help analyse data in the city more," Ye Myat Thu notes.
Drones are also deployed to help survey the land around Mandalay. The city has around 30,000 acres on land that has not been built on and the city is hoping to use the extensive data collected from drones to use them in master planning drainage systems and other essential infrastructure. "This is the problem for the smart city network," Ye Myat Thu highlights, "We need help to arrange and standardise the data."
In the last 10 years, the number of vehicles in Mandalay has increased by four times. The number of motorcycles in the city also equals to its population of 1.3 million, Ye Myat Thu highlights. To avoid increasing issues with congestion the city is rapidly investing in traffic and road infrastructure.
Bus and train operations do not fall under the jurisdiction of the local government but instead are the federal government's responsibility. The city instead builds infrastructure around these services. "Inside the city, we cannot control [the bus and train], but most of the bus stops and other facilities of the road are our responsibility," Ye Myat Thu notes.
The roads in the city are being expanded where possible and covered with nylon tar to smoothen them. Recently, plans of a mega bus terminal upgrade have been announced. The new terminal expected to be completed in 2020 will boast departure and arrival halls as well as shops, food courts and hotels.
The Committee is also drawing out legislation for cycle taxis in the city and ride-sharing apps such as Grab and other local competitors will start operations this year. Currently motorcycle taxis pick up tourists from hotels and city spots, and recently many crimes have been connected to the unlegislated taxis. In an effort to improve safety, the city is legalising the system and drawing out rules such as requiring drivers to wear uniforms and identify themselves with badges.
The city has been using data to automatically manage traffic for three years. Now, they are upgrading to sensors that can detect when cars arrive at intersections and automatically change traffic lights. The city is also putting CCTV cameras with number plate recognition capabilities to ease traffic congestion and collect more detailed data on transport patterns around the city.
Thrashing out trash issues
Waste management is another big problem for the city. "Our city [population] is about 1.3 million, but every day we collect solid waste – it's about 100,000 tonnes," Ye Myat Thu identifies. The city not only collects garbage from allocated bins but also from the roadside, sewers and drainage system. Land prices in Mandalay are also rising, and landfills in the city take up much-needed space.
To counter the piling trash, the Committee has started training programmes in schools to teach how to separate solid waste and warn the dangers of throwing garbage outside of the bins.
Every Sunday, the Mayor, along with public officials and NGOs, take out the trash at various points of the city. "It's not to clean the roadside, but to show and talk directly with the people about difficulties in managing our waste system," he adds.
The city is modernising its garbage collection mechanism. Currently, they have over 2,000 staff and 600 trucks deployed in the city. The trucks are now being installed with GPS, sensors, and are being upgraded to empty garbage bins on their own.
The city is also looking at ways to eliminate the need for landfills and directly destroy waste and is also changing the way solid waste is managed. Instead of using landfills, there are plans to build garbage transfer zones as well as garbage separation and recycle collection zones. About 68% of Mandalay's waste is kitchen waste, Ye Myat Thu points out, and there are plans to make fertilisers and natural gas from the waste as well.
With a rapidly urbanising population and booming economic growth, Mandalay like many other developing cities face growing urban struggles, but with new, data-driven initiatives cities like Mandalay can face these challenges head on.