Big steps forward for water and sanitation in hard-to-reach Myanmar communities

By Rajesh Pasupuleti, Grants Manager

Earlier this year, World Vision Australia’s Rajesh Pasupuleti travelled to Myanmar to evaluate a water project. Having previously lived in Myanmar for three years, Rajesh is not unfamiliar with the difficulties that can come with travelling to remote locations in the Delta region. He spoke to us about the journey, the destination, and the impact the water project is having for the local communities.

The challenges in getting there

"There are many difficulties for World Vision staff to reach the villages because those villages are very close to the sea. You have to go via rivers, and you go in small, old boats. If it rains, if it was windy there are big waves, it’s a bumpy ride, it’s dangerous. And that’s the only way to get into the project area – sometimes it takes three hours, four hours. There are a lot of mosquitos and a malaria problem so we started early to get back before the mosquitos come out. Another thing is the low tide and high tide. When it is low ride we cannot enter the creek because there is not enough water. In high tide we have to watch out for waves, in low tide we have to walk. Myanmar is a beautiful country but the Delta where we are working right now is very dangerous.”
The project

“The trip was mainly to evaluate the Delta Drinking Water Project. We visited around 12 villages in two townships in Myanmar, and we did the evaluation with the help of the community, government officials and also World Vision staff.

There are two main issues in this particular project. The first one was water quality – because most of the villages in these two townships are affected by arsenic contamination. Arsenic is like a poison, it’s a heavy metal, and the levels were 10 times higher than the acceptable level in those villages. World Vision educated people about the dangers of arsenic and created new water sources so that they can avoid the ones that are affected by arsenic – rehabilitating existing ponds and building new ones with water filtration systems.

Apart from that, most of the villages in those areas don’t have toilets – only around 15-20 percent of households have access to one. People generally defecate out in the open near rivers and creeks, increasing the risks of diarrhoea and other water related diseases. The project built a demonstration toilet and shared technical expertise with everyone, with the help of village water and sanitation committees. Now all the villages have achieved total sanitation – every household has a toilet now.

The most important thing in this particular project is that there is a very good community contribution. For example, if they want to rehabilitate a particular pond, the community members do most of the work – World Vision just supplied some materials, advice and one or two paid workers. It’s important – they have to own all of these resources because at the end of it, it’s they who have to make sure it’s running well. So that’s why the main focus of the project was to train communities on the day-to-day operation and maintenance.”

The impact

“In 2014, 82 percent of children in the targeted villagers suffered with diarrhoea. After the project intervention, this dropped down to 53 percent.

We had a lot of members from the communities who are disabled, so the project supplied disability-friendly toilets for them. The open-defecation rates have gone down to about two percent because people are motivated to use toilets now. So the village is clean, the environment is clean, there’s no faeces around.

People are aware, they know about the importance of clean water and how it affects your body. So that has been very well explained and shared among the communities. In schools, I’ve seen almost 95 percent of school children are using soap and washing their hands – which is a big achievement. That was something which I was very much impressed about – they have included in the curriculum of the school information about hygiene as part of our project.

The gains on arsenic mitigation will take time. But at least the knowledge is there in the community.”