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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

UNICEF helps to clean contaminated water supplies in cyclone-affected Myanmar

© UNICEF Myanmar/2008
UNICEF Myanmar consultant Pyi Soe Oo monitors the draining of ponds in cyclone-affected Nga Yoke Kaung village, where people rely on the ponds for drinking water.

By Anna K. Stechert

IRRAWADDY DIVISION, Myanmar, 9 September 2008 – In Myanmar's cyclone-affected Nga Yoke Kaung village, drinking water traditionally comes only from two ponds. The recent cyclone in the Irrawaddy Delta not only destroyed homes and severely damaged the remote village's primary school, but also contaminated its primary water source.

Salt water and debris stirred up by the May cyclone have made the water unusable. The ponds need to be emptied and cleaned so that they can be filled with rainwater again.

“The villagers, the local authorities and aid agencies recognized right away that the cleaning of these ponds will be crucial to cover the drinking water needs of the affected population,” said UNICEF Myanmar’s Chief of Water and Sanitation, Waldemar Pickardt.

Providing pumps, monitoring progress

UNICEF has provided Nga Yoke Kaung village with water pumps to help drain the ponds, and is monitoring their progress. The first pond is already clean and, thanks to the constant rain, is now filled with safe water.

But the community is facing a dilemma; the ponds need to be drained quickly, because they must be refilled before the monsoon season concludes at the end of October. However, during the monsoon season, the rain is so strong that it is very difficult to empty the ponds. If the villagers do not manage to clean the second pond very soon, there will not be enough rain to fill it again this year.

“We are not quitting until this thing is empty,” said one of the workers in Nga Yoke Kaung, standing waist-deep in water and tossing mud onto the shore. He was joined by 50 more villagers, all of whom understood the severity of the situation. Without the ponds, the community will not have water to get through the coming six months of dry season.

The village head is confident that with UNICEF’s help, his community will be able to empty and clean the second pond quickly.

Alternative solutions

UNICEF is also working on alternative solutions to help cyclone-affected communities in high-risk areas of Myanmar. The organization plans to relocate eight water-treatment plants to strategic locations, so that ponds can be refilled with treated water from the rivers. In addition, UNICEF is advocating water rationing and is distributing tanks to villages to increase their storage capacity.
“Even though ... significant efforts are under way to pump contaminated water out of the ponds, I am worried we won’t be able to clean all the water ponds before the dry season starts,” said Mr. Pickardt. “Therefore, it is very important to identify high-risk areas with potential drinking water shortages during the upcoming dry season.”

UNICEF, with the support of other aid agencies and the Government  of Myanmar, has cleaned a total of 1,800 ponds so far.

“By working closely with the communities, local authorities and our partner agencies, I am confident that we can make a difference and be well prepared to avoid severe water shortages,” said Mr. Pickardt.



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