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Myanmar: the challenge of water supply in Pauktaw

Published on Thursday 23 April 2020

HIGH RISKS – At the end of monsoon, Pauktaw’s Displaced Persons Camps, in Rakhine State, are suffering from severe water shortage. Every year, our teams fight to guarantee them minimum access to this vital resource. A task that is proving more difficult lately, in face of the Covid-19 outbreak.

By Clotilde Bertet, Field Communication Officer

 

In Myanmar, monsoon season gives way to a long period of drought, inducing water scarcity. This issue strongly affects Displaced Persons Camps and villages around Pauktaw, in Rakhine State, where more than 22.000 people live – of which 5.400 are children under 5 years old. Since 2012, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL teams are mobilized to anticipate this period of time and address the water needs of these vulnerable populations.

“The first signs of water shortage appeared as early as March”

“In 2020, the depletion of resources and the first signs of water shortage appeared as early as March, one month earlier than last year” relates Eve Hackius, Program Manager in South East Asia. The main indicator is the drying-out of the ponds installed by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL to collect monsoon water, in order to store it, treat it and then distribute it to Pauktaw populations. This system enables our teams to ensure water supply during several months after the monsoon.

 

“BOATS ARE ONE OF THE ONLY WAYS TO BRING WATER”

In times of shortage, supplying water to people in Pauktaw poses a major logistical challenge. “Boats or remote pumping are the only ways to bring water because all the camps where we take action are by the waterside” explains Eve Hackius. Once water is transported by boat, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL teams take over to carry the water through pipelines from the pier to the camps, where it is treated and then distributed.

“We can only provide 7.5 liters of water per day and per person”

 

“During the water scarcity, we only supply a minimum of 7.5 liters of water per day and per person” explains our Program Manager. This amount is far from the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) that advises about 20 to 50 liters per day and per person to drink and meet basic hygiene needs. “It is very little, that is why we go out of our way to make this period of time as short as possible” emphasizes Eve Hackius.

In order to mitigate the impact of the shortage, our teams raise awareness among the Pauktaw population about using water moderately. But this year, these prevention activities are harder to carry out considering the storage ponds dried out so early on and that this period of time coincides with Ramadan celebrations during which water is used in high quantity by populations. The shortage might also worsen the tensions between neighboring villages and displaced populations who could be tempted to get water outside of the camps.

 

ANTICIPATE THE COVID-19 THREAT

As we write these lines, no case of Covid-19 has been reported in Pauktaw camps, but the crowded living conditions as well as the lack of adequate access to water and hygiene are risk factors. Therefore, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is mobilized to anticipate the threat. Especially since quarantine measures could aggravate the situation of the area’s most vulnerable populations who can only rely on the humanitarian aid provided to them.

In order to anticipate this crisis, our teams have decided to pre-position additional stock of hygiene supplies as well as look for ways to increase the amount of water available per day and per person. “We run the risk of populations not getting sufficient access to water, drinking unsafe water or not being able to comply with preventive measures such as hand-washing” explains our Program Manager.

“What will happen if a case of Covid-19 is reported?”

 

Faced with the Covid-19 threat, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has also heightened its hygiene promotion activities.  All necessary measures have been implemented: communication about prevention measures, social distancing during distributions, installation of mobile hand-washing stations, increased distribution of hygiene products (soap, disinfectant) as well as megaphone broadcasting of prevention messages. Moreover, in order to adapt to this water shortage situation, our teams are considering alternative water supply such as the river’s salty water instead of transported drinking water to wash hands regularly.

Despite these precautions, the specific situation of Displaced Persons Camps is prompting concerns.  “What will happen in case if a case of Covid-19 is reported?  Will we be able to treat this sick person? Now more than ever, we have intensified our advocacy work towards the authorities so that humanitarian workers’ access be maintained” sums up our Program Manager.

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Translated by Clara Cohen