Partnership for Problem Solving
Over the past few months, with Support from the Disciples of Christ Week of Compassion (WOC) and our CWS Myanmar team, communities in the Ayeyarwady Region in southwest Myanmar joined together to repair and improve 30 hand-pump wells so more than 500 people now have access to clean, safe water year-round. In addition to making everyday water access easier for families, the improvements also help address and reduce the risk of waterborne disease and diarrhea, and also generally improve families’ personal hygiene.
The problem that families faced, and which CWS and WOC helped them addressed, arose from the fact that the hand-pump wells they use to get their drinking water from deep aquifers were situated too low to the ground. So, during rainy season, the pumps were submerged and contaminated by dirty, polluted floodwaters. An alternative was for people to use rain water for drinking and cooking; but often they could not collect enough rain water and so they default to using river water, which increases their risk of waterborne disease and diarrhea, especially.
Since poor rural communities in Myanmar do not have pooled funding to address their water issues, and since the Government is not prioritizing rural well rehabilitation, several villages sough humanitarian and development support from CWS to help them solve the problem of limited safe, clean water access, using their own knowledge and some outside technical advice.
With WOC funding “Improving Water Resources in the Ayeyarwady Delta” allowed CWS to support seven communities to build 1.5-meter to 2-meter high concrete platforms, which increased the height of hand pumps in order to protect the pumps from submersion and well water from contamination during perennial flooding.
And, although it was not included in the activities, CWS shared information about the risk of arsenic with village leaders and hand-pump well owners after finding out some wells were contaminated with arsenic.
Community Participation and Cooperation
Leaders from village tracts and individual villages were joined by community members for activities throughout the project, starting with consultations to select wells for renovation / improvement. Communities were supported by skilled masons for earth work, brick work, plastering, painting and installing hand pump to ensure the quality. On average six men and women (per well) supported the project with menial labor by carrying materials from the river jetty to the work site and by helping build platforms.
The Ayerwaddy Region is bordered by Bago Region to the north, Bago and Yangon regions to the east, Rakhine State to the northwest and the Bay of Bengal to the south and west. The region covers 35,140 km2 or 13,566 square miles, which makes it the size of Maryland. According to the 2014 national census, there are 6,175,123 people in the Region. Maubin District comprises four townships: Maubin, Pantanaw, Nyaungdon, and Danubyu; there are 76 village tracts comprising 470 villages in the Township.
Daw Hla Yee, who is 50 years old and married with 5 children, is the owner of one of the improved hand-pump wells in Inn Ma Su Village. She and her husband are daily farm workers and each of them earns about $2.30 per day during the dry season, which lasts from November to April. They fish during the monsoon season, which lasts from May to October, and use their catch to feed their family. Sometimes Daw Hla Yee sells her surplus fish and prawns for cash, though it is always a negligible amount – maybe one US dollar or so.
Their first daughter is married and has her own family. Their second and third daughters are daily workers and live with them. Each of them also earns $2.30 per day. And even though four family members work for wages, their lives are not easy financially as their incomes are not stable. The fourth and fifth children are boys and studying in Grade 5 and kindergarten respectively.
About two years ago, Daw Hla Yee and her uncle shared the cost of installing a hand-pump for the well in her yard. As is local custom, they now share the hand-pump well with neighboring families, and all of them feel fortunate in having a pump for the well to lessen the hard work of collecting and carrying water from distant water sources.
However, as is the case for countless families who live on low-lying river delta land, and cannot afford to build raised platforms for the hand-pumps, they cannot use the well for about three months of the 5- to 6-month long monsoon season because it floods.
So during this time, from November until April, families collect and use rain water for drinking, cooking and bathing – if they have enough containers to collect and store it, which many do not. Now, with completion of the raised platform for the hand-pump well they share, Daw Hla Yee and her neighbors are very happy to have year-round access to clean water nearby. And they are grateful, Daw Hla Yee said, to have support for improving their hygiene, and health, which plentiful clean water gives them.
Khin San Wai, who lives in Ye Lae Gyi village in southwest Myanmar, is 43 years old; she is married and has three children. The eldest son is already married and he has his own family, and the second son works in Yangon as a construction worker, but can rarely help his family financially. The family’s third child is a school girl in Grade 3 and, sadly, a fourth child died when he was just one month old – though we don’t know why.
Khin San Wai’s husband farms a small plot of land, where he grows mung beans to sell, and for which he earns about $400 each year. Khin San Wai herself weaves grass mats and earns $2 per day when she works on this task, which averages about five days a week unless there is pressing housework, like her main daily task of collecting water for drinking, cooking and bathing from a neighbor’s well, which is a five-minute walk from their house. According to local custom, many families use their neighbor’s hand-pump well for free when it is working, and they collect rain water during monsoon season when the well flooded. If it doesn’t rain every day during the monsoons, the family doesn’t have enough water.
And, sometimes, in addition to not having enough water, the family does not have enough money to buy even the most basic food: rice, oil, vegetables and fish. So they borrow money from rich farmers who charge high interest rates, which then takes some of their future earnings from selling beans and mats. Life is quite hard for Khin San Wai at times. But, now, with Week of Compassion support and CWS technical assistance, her neighborhood hand-pump well is substantially improved so she can get water more easily and quickly year-round, and she has more time to weave mats and keep trying to improve her family’s life.