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What a difference a jar makes in Myanmar

© UNICEF/Myanmar/2009/Khin Zaw
"I'm so happy to receive these jars," says Daw Pauk Sa with a big smile. The mother of four lives in May Sa Ngu village, Mawgyun Township, one of the many villages in Myanmar’s delta region that the Nargis cyclone ripped through a year ago.

By Sandar Linn

Some times the biggest life changes come in the oddest of gifts, like a jar. This is not a mythical tale of a genie in a bottle but rather an account of the almost magical difference that shiny jar made in the lives of thousands of children in the cyclone-affected delta region of Myanmar.

Actually, there were thousands of the jars. Some 2,500 families each received two of them. Each jar holds 227 litres of water, and therein floats the magic.

Before the cyclone tore through their fragile village in the early morning of 2 May 2008, Daw Pauk Sa and her children spent nearly four hours every day fetching water from a pond. Too poor to buy their own jar, they were allowed access to a neighbour’s jar in the long dry season in exchange for filling several jars.

"We could not afford to buy a jar because the family has to depend only on my husband's income as a day labourer, which can’t cover much beyond the food expenses,” said Daw Pauk Sa, 48, who lives with her four children in May Sa Ngu village in Mawlgyun Township. The meagre income also meant the family could not afford to send their children to school.

Within a broad programme to improve the safe water, sanitation and hygiene situation within communities affected by the cyclone disaster, UNICEF Myanmar provided Daw Pauk Sa and other families in 227 villages with two jars (totalling 50,000 jars). Combined, the two jars store around 25 per cent of a family’s water needs in the dry season.

© UNICEF/Myanmar/2009/Khin Zaw
Daw Pauk Sa, filling water into the jar provided by UNICEF, in front of her house in May Sa Ngu village in Mawgyun Township, Ayeyarwaddy Division.

The capacity to store water is crucial in Myanmar. Many families, especially in the delta region, typically rely on the rain for their drinking water. Very few families have access to piped water. But the delta has a dry season that can last more than four months. In villages like May Sa Ngu, families have traditionally relied on rainwater stored in pots and jars in the home, along with water from the communal pond, to see them through the lengthy absence of rain.

Most families lost their earthen water jars in the Nargis’ rampage a year ago. "The impact of the cyclone resulted in the widespread destruction of the traditional household water storage jars. But most of those households did not have sufficient resources to replace them," says U Min Tun Tee, UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer based in the Bogalay field office in Ayeyarwady.

The lack of jars put many families at risk of suffering from water shortages this year. The 35,000 kyats (US$30) needed to buy one jar is what Daw Pauk Sa’s husband earns in one month.

For families struggling to get by, like Daw Pauk Sa’s, the jar donations have brightened the quality of their lives.

"I'm so happy to receive these jars," says Daw Pauk Sa, beaming. "I'm very proud to have earthen jars in front of my house. They mean more than water storage – they are also a precious asset."

Though they still fetch water from the communal pond, Daw Pauk Sa’s family no longer has to spend hours filling other people’s jars. The children have more time for playing with friends now. The jars also enable Daw Pauk Sa to work in the paddy fields to supplement the family’s income.

The extra income has opened a new world for her children.

“Both my husband and I are working, which means we can provide more support for our children’s education,” gushes Daw Pauk Sa. “I tell my children, ‘What we have now is enough. We have water, food and school. Our life will get better.”

 

 
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