Water crisis hits Rangoon

Dwindling water supplies to Rangoon are being exacerbated by frequent electricity cuts in the city, with some residents now unable to pump water to their apartments.

Burma has in recent weeks been hit by a major water crisis resulting from a combination of abnormally hot weather and increasing damming of rivers. The shortage has affected major towns in Sagaing, Bago and Irrawaddy divisions, and now Rangoon is suffering.

“There is a big shortage of water in our area,” said one resident from Pazundaung township in central Rangoon. He added that residents were being “forced to manage [water] like oil” because the lack of water in nearby Gyo Phyu reservoir had depleted supplies.

Rangoon has also been hit by regular electricity cuts since the annual water festival in April. One resident in Kyauk Myaung township said that with the reopening of factories after the festival, power cuts were becoming more frequent.

“[The electricity] is out most of the time. It came back after midnight yesterday and went off again around 3am, and hasn’t come back on since,” he said. “It’s getting cut often and randomly.”

“When the electricity came back on this morning, everybody started pumping water [up to their flats using electric pumps] at the same time,” said the Pazundaung resident. The shortage in the township meant however that “our building didn’t get any water”.

People are increasingly resorting to buying bottled drinking water at around 600 kyat ($US0.60) per five litres. The average annual income in Burma is $US220. “People are very frustrated, and now not only because of the economy – we can’t even have enough water during the hot weather,” said the resident.

Rangoon’s municipal, electricity, water and sanitation departments were unavailable for comment.

Water levels on the Irrawaddy river and its largest tributary, the Chindwin river, which flows through Sagaing division in northern Burma, are low, and sand banks are appearing with increasing frequency.

The Mekong river, which supports millions of people from China to Cambodia, is at its lowest level in nearly half a century, largely as a resulting of heavy damming by the Chinese.

A number of unofficial relief workers in Bago division who have been helping with water donations have also complained of government harassment, with checkpoints being set up in affected areas.

“The government officials at the [Waw township] checkpoint…were asking every single one of them who the donation is by and what they are doing,” said a local.

“They write down all the details collected – such as in which village a donation was made and how many households received the donation – and are also taking photos of people.”

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