Friday, July 21, 2017

Solar-powered system brings water to drought-stricken villagers

A solar-powered scheme to deliver water door to door has rescued a Magwe Region village from the fear of drought – and given it a future. In Bin village, Pauk township, had been gradually dying of thirst over the past several years, its population draining away as people sought work, and access to water, elsewhere. Now villagers say they will stay, and the community looks set to prosper.

Residents of In Bin enjoy their new solar-powered water distribution system. Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar TimesResidents of In Bin enjoy their new solar-powered water distribution system. Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar Times

Instead of waiting all night by the village’s single well, hoping it could supply enough water for their needs the following morning, all the villagers have to do is turn on the tap in their own kitchen.

The transformation cost each villager about K25,000.

In Bin is located about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Bagan, and can be approached through Pakokku, Kan Ma and Pauk. Fields adjacent to the village are harrowed for cereal on either side of the road. A nearby stream had dried up, revealing only a sandy bed. But roadside trees in the village were green and lush.

The head of the quiet, clean village said 667 residents occupy 115 households.

But many spend little time there, having taken work in Lashio or even Yangon. They come home only for the annual Tabaung pagoda festival in March.

The village’s only well is half a mile away. It is an unreliable source, and often villagers would have to spend the whole night beside it waiting for enough water to accumulate. They lived with constant drought, or fear of drought.

“We had to wait at the well all night to get water. Our children couldn’t bathe. I wanted to get out because of the drought,” said resident Daw Khine, 40. Villagers even bathed in their cattle mangers to save water for the livestock.

All that is now in the past. With the help of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Department of Rural Development and the UK Department for International Development, the villagers have built a solar-powered door-to-door water distribution system. Underground water is pumped by solar power into a tank that stands on a hill in front of the local primary school, and is then distributed by underground pipelines to every house via a water meter. The supply can be accessed at any time of day or night.

U Tun Myint Aye, head of the village and a patron of the water committee, said the committee would use the water rates collected to offer loans to villagers for business use.

A number of nearby villages have also benefited from the same project. U Kyaw Win, a patron of the water supply committee in nearby Kan Pyo village, said, “UNICEF and the Department of Rural Development invited all the villages nearby to build a water supply system. It was at a time when many workers were leaving because of the drought. With this project, we have no more worries about water and we can run businesses in our villages.”

He said the village water committee collects K3 million a year in water charges, which they lend to villagers at low interest.

Daw Khine said she had paid K25,000 toward the scheme. “Before, I was ashamed to invite guests to my home because there was no water. Now I don’t mind who comes. I can live here until I die,” she said.

A near neighbour, Daw Ohn Htay, 49, who has nine children, said, “I cried when we got the water. Lack of water was a problem for so many years. We could never use a single drop without thinking about it. Now our three family members can get on with their work without wasting their time waiting for water. Our family earns much more than before. I can use as much water as I need.”

U Khin Aung Thein, project manager for UNICEF, said the agency had been working with the Department for Rural Development, with DFID funding, to bring water to 110 villages in the dry zone, and that the project could be extended elsewhere in the country. About 70 of the villages had already installed door-to-door water supply systems.

U Khant Zaw, director general of the department, said they were working in about 64,000 villages throughout the country with a target date of 2030 to provide all of them with similar systems, spending K25 to K30 billion to provide water to more than 2000 villagers annually.