With pond the only water supply in village near Yangon, Myanmar's boom is uneven

Just outside commercial capital, villagers rely on pond for all their water

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 2014, 5:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 5:33pm


Every afternoon, the long queues start to form, hundreds of men, women and children waiting to dip their plastic buckets into the lotus-filled reservoir just outside Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon.

It is their only source of clean drinking water, they say, and during the dry season, April and May, there is only so much to go around.

"It wasn't always this way," said 72-year-old Tin Shwe, one of the village elders, as he looked at the queue, some boys as young as eight waiting their turn, yokes at their side.

"It used to be only paddy fields. Only a few houses. There was enough water for all of us."

Nascent democratic reforms implemented by Myanmar's new civilian government since 2011 have resulted in a development boom. But so far, it is the big cities that are seeing the benefits.

Even places like Dala township - just a 20-minute boat ride from Yangon - have so far been left out. Authorities tell residents that maybe next year the government will start installing pipes so that water can be delivered straight to their homes.

The water shortages began with a population boom in the 1980s, with the number of inhabitants jumping from a few dozen to more than a thousand in part because they wanted to be close to the big city. With no restrictions on how much water each family could take, the natural, fresh-water pond started running low. Eventually, just a decade ago, it dried up entirely.

With no offers of help from the government, men like Tin Shwe decided to step in, devising a rationing system as water started seeping back so that residents could rely on it year-around.

Villagers have only one hour - 4pm to 5pm - to get their water during dry season, to limit its use. They are charged a tiny sum - 10 kyat for each bucket, or 8 Hong Kong cents.

With so many takers it's enough money to pay for small upkeeps, like fixing the fence that surrounds the reservoir or stringing up electricity for lights.

People walk for up to five kilometres with their empty buckets. They are allowed to fill up two each. If they need more, they can get back in line.

"I usually get three buckets," said Aye Thu Zar, 19, as she neared the front of the queue. "There are seven in my family, so that's enough for drinking and cooking."

She and others hope the privileges of the new Myanmar will eventually reach Dala.

But for now, said Ko Ko, one of the villagers waiting his turn, "We are like water-shortage refugees."