Irrawaddy water shortage fuelling disease

A worsening shortage of clean, drinkable water in Burma’s southern regions is fuelling the spread of waterborne diseases, locals complain.

Much of the problem stems from cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which devastated swathes of land in the Irrawaddy delta and polluted water supplies. Nearly two years on, and the problem is persisting.

“Water in the main lake in the town which we have been drinking out of is not in a very good condition,” said a local in Bogalay town in the Irrawaddy division. “In  recent years when a maintenance work was done at the lake, we found out the water’s colour had turned bright red – it wasn’t good to drink anymore.

“Now the hot, sunny weather is making the situation worse,” he added. “The lakes are drying out and we have to refill them with water from the river for drinking.”

As a result, people are being forced to buy water at 1000 kyat ($US1) per barrel; a hefty price in Burma’s poor rural regions. The local said that residents had also run out of water-purification tablets given by aid agencies.

“I was at a hospital the other day and saw some people suffering from diarrhoea and stomach pains, but they are not a big number and no life has been lost yet.”

A resident of the nearby Laputta town said that that although the water shortage hadn’t reached the urban areas, villages in close proximity to Laputta were being affected as sea water had encroached on the rivers.

But another Irrawaddy native said that water shortages were common at this time of year, as were the resultant liver diseases that increase in number.

A township-level health official at a hospital in Wakema town also said that it was a common phenomenon but that education workshops were being offered to affected locals.

“We are educating people to use clean water and to boil water before drinking as well as putting chlorine in the lakes,” he said.

A local NGO in Irrawaddy capital, Bassein, said that there is no significant water shortage problem, but complained that a clean water programme it was running there has been stopped after the UN children’s agency withdrew funding.

“We have stopped our summer water supply programme as we have no funder now. Last year, the agency funded the programme but this year there is no one so we couldn’t continue it.”

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