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Myanmar: water shortage and Covid-19 pandemic against a political crisis backdrop

Published on Thursday 20 May 2021

The Burmese people have been afflicted by a political, a social, and an economic crisis since the military junta seized power on the 1st of February 2021. In this strained context, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is worried about the aggravation of the health crisis and the water scarcity that concerns Myanmar during the dry season.

 

The intense drought, a natural disaster that occurs every year

Every year, a long period of drought comes after the monsoon season, and people have to cope with water scarcity. The consequence of this natural disaster severely impacts the displaced people in the Rakhine State where nearly 130 000 Rohingya still live isolated in camps since the community conflicts broke out in 2012. In this tough situation, the global warming increases the pressure on the stocks of drinking water as well as it deepens and extends drought periods.

SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has been going into action for a decade in order to answer to the urgent needs of Pauktaw camp’s people and anticipate the repercussions of this scarcity that occurs earlier and earlier each year. Our teams keep a close watch on the drying up of the water reserves, especially the basins that collect monsoon water (which is then treated and distributed to the population). Campaigns are led alongside to raise communities’ awareness on the moderate use of water several months before the dry season thereby ameliorating the water stocks management and delaying the drying up of the stocks. Besides, this year again Ramadan – during which the use of water is generally increased- occurred during the dry season, affecting the level of the available stocks.

When basins and ponds are empty, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, in cooperation with UNICEF, provides water to the communities in order to meet their basic needs. To do so and when it is possible, our team uses a remote pumping system that enables the carrying of water from watering places to the water treatment centres in the camps or villages – which are sometimes located 7 kilometres away.

  • 54.5 million inhabitants
  • 26% poverty rate
  • 145th out of 189 on the Human Development Index
  • 160 000 people helped

For other areas in Pauktaw which can only be reached by water ways, the only solution is to deliver it by boat.

« It’s a real logistical challenge. The teams organize the tasks of the different actors involved in the process – contracting parties, partners, material suppliers and the communities who receive the deliveries- several months before the dry season so that everybody is ready on time. They have to handle daily difficulties: tide times, possible breakdowns, etc. The teams have to adapt to this kind of challenges all the time » explains Jean-Loup Gouot, Country Director of the mission in Myanmar. In the end, the local population receives about 7.5 litres of drinking water per person and per day, barely the third of the minimum amount recommended by the World Health Organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a challenge which adds to the water rarefaction

The water management became more complicated in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, since the mitigation of the virus’ propagation requires large quantities of water in order to raise the hygiene level. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL’s response to the pandemic consisted in the setting-up of hand-washing stations in Pauktaw, water taps and hand pumps, the disinfection of latrines, the distribution of hygiene kits (soaps, antibacterial) and the dissemination of preventive measures.

 

The current crisis may jeopardize SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL’s projects

The current political crisis reduces the public’s attention as well as the country’s capacities to prevent and handle the virus. This situation also impacts the banking sector and directly threatens our current and coming projects. While improved hygienic practices are essential in this pandemic period, limited access to liquid funds delay our payment capacities which in turn affect the maintaining of good hygienic conditions. This liquidity shortage equally affects the renovation of the basins which has to be done during the dry season and can’t wait any longer.

“We have to carry on with our efforts, in cooperation with the communities and the partners involved in the area in order to identify appropriate and lasting solutions, and therefore keep helping the most vulnerable people”, concludes Jean-Loup Gouot.

 

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