Lakes and freshwater wells in central Burma are drying up, fuelled by hot weather and abnormal river flows resulting from hydropower projects.
A local in Sagaing division’s capital, Monywa, said that wells were drying up in every ward of the city. “The well in our ward dried up and now everyone is out of water,” he said.
Water levels on the Irrawaddy river and its largest tributary, the Chindwin river, which flows through Sagaing division, 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.
Residents of Pyin Oo Lwin, in central Burma’s Mandalay division, said that villages located south of Myit Nge river were also suffering water shortages because a hydropower dam recently built upstream had blocked the channel.
In Monywa, locals are being forced to travel three miles to collect water from the Chindwin river; until recently the water had been pumped to the village, but ongoing electricity cuts have made this impossible.
Despite Burma’s aggressive expansion of its hydropower sector, much of the electricity is sold to neighbouring Thailand and China, despite the country being plagued by electricity shortages.
Around 60 villages in Bago division are also reportedly facing severe water shortages, which has been fuelling stomach illnesses as people revert to drinking untreated water.
A civilian who has been coordinating water relief efforts in Bago said that bottling factories had been donating water while “we haven’t seen any work from local government administrations yet”.
In Irrawaddy division’s Laputta township, residents said that even government troops were being affected by the shortage, while lakes “aren’t even holding enough water for animals such as buffalos to drink”.
In nearby Ngaputaw, villagers are being forced to stand in queues into the night to collect water from wells “where they spend a lot of time skimming shallow water from bottom of the wells”, a local said.
Additional reporting by Naw Noreen