Myanmar residents shown simple solutions for clean water


A Myanmar woman carries buckets to collect drinking water. Photo: Hein Htet/EPA

In Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon, dirty water has been a problem for a long time. Local residents like Aung Soe Min have to buy drinking water from shops, resulting in a substantial financial burden.

"There is a dirty water problem here because we are living on the outskirts of the city. We pay 350 kyat (9 baht) for a bottle of drinking water," said Aung Soe Min, 33, a day labourer who was among 200 local residents who joined an event to mark World Water Day on March 22 at a local temple.

The event was organised by World Vision International and the Procter & Gamble (P&G) Children's Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) programme, which aims to bring clean drinking water to those who lack access.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of World Water Day, a UN-sponsored event held annually on March 22 to raise awareness about the importance of freshwater and to advocate for sustainable management of water resources.

Each year, World Water Day addresses a specific aspect of freshwater. This year, the theme is wastewater.

"Clean water is vital to your health and communities," Moe Thu, associate director of humanitarian and emergency affairs with World Vision International in Myanmar, told the gathering of local residents at the Yangon event.

Moe Thu of World Vision International demonstrates how to use P&G Purifier of Water packets at a temple in Yangon. Photos: Anucha Charoenpo

"There are nearly 200,000 people living in this area. We really want to help all of you to have access to clean water which is important to your health."

World Vision has been working with P&G in providing clean and purified water in emergencies since 2008. The non-profit organisation aims to ensure the health and wellbeing of children and families in Myanmar during the time of greatest need. At the World Water Day event it gave out P&G Purifier of Water packets to local residents so that they could make clean drinking water for themselves.

P&G launched the CSDW in 2004. The programme's scientists invented P&G Purifier of Water in partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each four-gramme sachet contains a powdered mixture that removes pathogenic microorganisms and suspended matter, making previously contaminated water clean.

Mr Moe Thu demonstrated how easy the system is to use. With only a bucket, a spoon, a cloth and a P&G sachet, one can purify 10 litres of dirty water in only half an hour to provide enough drinking water for a family of five for one day.

P&G has a long history of improving lives in Myanmar, starting with relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 when it joined with other partners to provide over 30 million litres of clean drinking water to disaster victims. Since 2011, the company has worked with World Vision, and in 2013 Chelsea Clinton travelled to Myanmar on behalf of the Clinton Foundation to celebrate the delivery of 6 billion litres of clean water by the CSDW programme worldwide.

This year, P&G aims to donate 750,000 days worth of drinking water along with training sessions, health and hygiene promotion for mothers and children through World Vision Myanmar, providing clean drinking water to those who need it most.

Mr Aung Soe Min said he was surprised to see that a little bit of powder could make dirty water clean and drinkable.

"We're happy with this (CSDW) programme. We hope that we will not have to buy clean drinking water again soon," he said.

His 37-year-old wife Ni Ni Win said bottled water was expensive in Myanmar. "I think I can save a lot of money. I will use the powder to clean our water every day. All people depend on clean drinking water," she said.

Kannika Jarusuraisin, external relations director for Thailand, Myanmar and Laos with P&G Trading (Thailand), said the company had been working closely with World Vision and the US Embassy in Myanmar to help provide clean water.

"We are delighted that we are a part of this project in Myanmar where many people in remote areas have difficulty obtaining access to clean water. So this project is vital to their health and quality of living," said Ms Kannika.

Kristen Bauer, deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy, said American companies were proud to be contributing to the development of quality of life and communities in Myanmar.

"And I think the P&G programme allows people to have clean water which is significant to life. The programme is very helpful, especially I would say for women and the whole family. Women in particular are responsible for children, their food and water. The programme will help them access clean water more quickly," Ms Bauer said.

Mr Moe Thu said that during the dry season from mid-April to the end of June, many people have difficulty getting clean water, especially those living in remote areas.

With the CSDW programme, he said, they can use water from natural sources, add the powder and stir, and within 30 minutes they have clean and drinkable water.

He acknowledged that some residents asked him whether there would be side effects from drinking water treated with the powder. But he assured them that if they followed the instructions there would be no problem.

"During a disaster they have no other choices. They have to drink clean water," he added.

Irina Bokova, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), said most human activities produce wastewater and over 80% of the world's wastewater is released to the environment without treatment.

"This cannot go on," she said, calling on people to limit the discharge of untreated wastewater into nature. "This not only saves lives and strengthens healthy ecosystems. It can help advance sustainable growth."

Access to safe water and sanitation services is essential to human rights and dignity, and the survival of women and men across the world, especially the most disadvantaged, noted Ms Bokova. It is vital for progress under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as water links all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their interconnected targets, she added.

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