Access to safe water has been a turning point for communities in Myanmar

Published: 18 March 2015 15:42 CET

By Jay Matta and Narendra Pal Singh

Daw Aye Htwe, a housewife and her husband U San, a casual labourer live in Myanmar’s Oak Shit Kone, Natogyi Township, Mandalay division. On average, U San earns between 1,500–2,000 Kyats a day (approximately 1.5 to 2 United States dollars) while his wife takes care of the children and household.

The Myanmar Red Cross Society’s community-based water and sanitation project has been supported as a Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI) since 2013. The primary objectives of the programme have been to improve access to safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene practices of vulnerable communities in what is termed as the dry zone of Myanmar.

Prior to the Myanmar Red Cross Society starting this project in Oak Shit Kone, there was no access to drinking water in the village. Water was collected either from distant villages, surface water sources or almost dry river beds. The arduous job of collecting water was left to women and young children. Furthermore, due to lack of access to basic toilet facilities, community members were practising open defecation. Drinking and/or bathing in unsafe water led to increased cases of skin diseases, diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases especially among young children.

This situation more often than not has meant that the meagre savings of families like Daw Aye Htwe were being spent on medicines that are bought from the rural health clinic making it practically impossible for them to break the cycle of poverty and therefore achieving the basic aspiration of a better life for the family.

Through community-based participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation (PHAST) training and hygiene promotion sessions, communities have been empowered with the knowledge to understand how open defecation and the cycle of faecal-oral contamination spreads disease. The community members involved in the trainings all expressed their commitment to end open defecation practices in their village, build latrines of their own and keep the environment clean.

Water supply systems have been developed in Oak Shit Kone including a new tube well and safe water supply network line taking safe water to the premises of community members. This initiative has been resourced and managed by the community themselves. The health benefits from accessing a ready supply of safe water have been enormous for the community. Since women no longer need to walk long distances to fetch water, they can invest their time looking after the welfare of their families; tend to the livestock and home-based vegetable gardens.

Hygiene messages are being promoted at schools to ensure that change in behaviour and practises are sustained and maintained at the village and household level.

Under the umbrella of the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative 2005 to 2025, the Red Cross Red Crescent addresses both acute water and sanitation needs in emergencies (such as cholera), as well as in the long-term developmental context. To date the initiative has served over 15 million people with safe water and improved sanitation facilities in more than 80 countries. The plan is to reach an additional 15 million by 2025. Further to this, 6.5 million people have been reached by hygiene promotion activities and campaigns.

The Global Water and Sanitation Initiative has been made possible through the support of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their partners, AusAID, Cartier Foundation, Coca Cola, European Commission, Land Rover, Nestle, P&G and UK aid.