ASIA-PACIFIC feature story for Myanmar

© UNICEF Myanmar/2009/Linn

Residents of Mawgyun Township in Ayeyarwaddy Division wait in their boats to receive earthen water storage jars, provided with UNICEF support, to replace those destroyed by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.


MA-BAY VILLAGE, AYEYARWADDY, Myanmar, 23 September 2009 - The sun glared on the mid-day sky, shining light on the row upon row of large, glazed earthen jars as cargo in a local wooden boat that had docked on the bank of the Ma-Bay River. The loaders of this precious cargo are met by a team of volunteers wearing blue shirts and caps; the volunteers had already travelled nearly five hours on this day to this remote village in Mawlaminegyun township, located in the cyclone-affected Ayeyarwaddy delta, to arrive in time for this delivery of the water storage jars.

The waiting crowd cheered as the volunteers reach the village and the loaders bring the jars from the boat.  “We have gathered here to take the jars. Not having storage for us often amounts to going without water. Even though some aid agencies delivered water along the river, water storage remains a critical need with all our belongings swept away by Nargis,” says U Tin Soe, 60, waiting in queue for his turn and a call from the blue-shirt volunteers.

The volunteers are from Noble Compassionate Volunteers, an NGO that is partnering with UNICEF to provide safe drinking water in villages that were hit by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.  Even though it has been over one year since the disaster struck and disrupted the lives of some 2.4 million people, around 1.2 million people still are in need of humanitarian assistance as they live in difficult-to-reach areas and continue to suffer economic hardship.

Cyclone Nargis additionally caused massive destruction of traditional household water storage jars used by families for rain water collection and storage. Having lost all their possessions, few families could afford to replace them.

Since then, UNICEF has provided at least 80,000 earthen jars. The majority of these jars are distributed in partnership with the Noble Compassionate Volunteers and in the most-affected townships of Bogalay, Laputta and Mawlamyinegyun townships.  To date, this effort is estimated to have benefitted 25,000 households in 227 cyclone-affected villages.

Noble Compassionate Volunteers manages the actual distribution by calling out the name of each head of household to hand over a bamboo stick they have been given as a tally.  Once the tally is handed over, they each can receive a jar.

"The capacity of our volunteers to help and perform was made possible through various partnerships," says U Maung Sein, chair and founder of the NGO organization. “This partnership augmented our ability to reach hard-to-reach areas and deliver aid to the affected communities.”

Apart from the distribution of jars, Noble Compassionate Volunteers also helps in the construction of new ponds as part of the reconstruction effort supported by UNICEF, including in Laputta, one of seven badly affected townships where water sources were partially or totally destroyed by the cyclone as well as tidal surges.

“Accomplishing the tremendous challenge of reaching families and children in remote and hard-to-reach areas poses human, logistical and financial challenges that can hardly be handled by one organization alone,” says UNICEF Myanmar Emergency Water Specialist U Nyunt Lwin. “Finding partners that are dynamic, committed and active is the key to reaching families with access to quality safe drinking water and sanitation that could prevent water shortage and disease outbreak.”