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Myanmar: bracing for the dry season in the camps in Kachin

09 Apr 2015


Kachin, Myanmar, March 2015 - Young girls in a camp for displaced people in Kachin collect water from one of the wells dug by humanitarian partners. Credit: OCHA/Z. Nurmukhambetova
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Every year, the dry season poses a serious challenge to the thousands of displaced people in Myanmar: access to clean and safe water.

Helping displaced people have access to enough clean water throughout the year

As temperatures soar towards the end of March and with little to no rain until the month of May, the dry season poses a serious challenge to the thousands of displaced people in Myanmar. Every year, inadequate access to water affects the health, hygiene and sanitation of displaced people and hampers essential activities like cooking.

 “There are too many people in one place here at this camp, so water becomes a problem during the dry season,” says water committee member Tang Nan, 61, at the Maina RC camp for displaced people in Waingmaw, Kachin State.

As she speaks, several women and kids repeatedly pass with buckets of water collected from the wells dug by humanitarian organizations. Water shortages tend to affect women and children disproportionately, since they are the ones who are usually tasked to collect water. The more time they have to spend on getting water, the less time women have for income-generating activities, and the less time children have for studying.

 “When we lived in our home villages, we each had our own sources of water which we didn't have to share. It was easier then," says Tang Nan.

Many of the 98,000 people displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States have been living in camps since 2011. Every one of them requires at least 15 liters a day for drinking and domestic use – this is the minimum standard that humanitarian organizations strive to meet all year-round.

“Quality of water and its availability are equally important.”

Knowing the complexity of water issues, humanitarian organizations began preparations for the dry season well ahead of time.

Since August 2014, humanitarian staff have monitored 91 camps in Kachin State. However, access for international organizations to areas beyond Government control remains restricted, affecting the ability of water, sanitation and hygiene experts to carry out important monitoring and maintenance work to water infrastructure in the camps such as wells.

Despite the best efforts of local organizations such as Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS) who do have access to all areas and who are central to the humanitarian response, people in more than one third of the camps have been found to be at risk of water shortages during the peak of the dry season. This means that many displaced people will be forced to walk long distances in search for water, while others will reduce their consumption of water, putting at risk the health and well-being of their families.

Making sure that there is enough water is just one part of addressing water shortages.

“The issue of water is about both its quantity and quality,” says Didier Boissavi, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster coordinator in Kachin State. “Inappropriate design of water facilities, insufficient depth of wells or inadequate maintenance of water facilities can lead to water scarcity,” he explained.

Solving water issues: one size does not fit all

Every camp has a specific water situation that requires tailored measures. WASH actors have to examine the type of water source, the quality of the water, the number of people living in a camp, the surface area over which the camp spreads, the location, and the landscape. The WASH Cluster in Myanmar estimates that it will need $10 million in 2015 to assist approximately 120,000 people affected by the conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States.

UNICEF, international NGOs, local NGOs, and the Red Cross have all been working through the WASH cluster to make sure that the most vulnerable camps are better prepared to deal with water issues. Together, they are upgrading water sources prone to seasonal shortage, helping camps devise water safety plans, and are informing people of how best to deal with water issues.

But no preparedness measure can replace what the displaced people in Kachin and northern Shan States want the most – peace and the chance to go back home.