Empowering local communities to improve water and sanitation access in Myanmar

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The local residents in Nyaung Hla village, Pyaw Bwe Twonship, which is located in the central part of the country, have seen a number of transformations in their village over the last two years. The community, mostly made up farmers, labourers and local traders, have been working in partnership with the Myanmar Red Cross to help improve the health of the local population and to address their poor access to water and sanitation facilities.

“Previously, the villagers in Nyaung Hla were struggling due a lack of basic water and sanitation infrastructure and health and hygiene knowledge. People were walking for up to an hour just to access safe drinking water and worryingly, over a quarter of the families didn’t have a toilet” said Dr. Maung Maung Hla, Deputy Head of Division from the Myanmar Red Cross.

Now, two years later and thanks to the ongoing work of the Red Cross community volunteers, the results speak for themselves. A community water supply system now pipes safe drinking water to each household in the village and each family also has access to a toilet. Sanitation issues at the local school have also been addressed with teams constructing toilets and handwashing facilities.

“The success of the water and sanitation programme lies with the local community. While the Myanmar Red Cross has supported the construction of infrastructure by providing materials to build latrines, it is the local residents who have actually carried out the building” continued Dr. Hla Pe, Honorary Secretary from Myanmar Red Cross.

“The village also now has a water and sanitation committee and local Red Cross volunteers who are working to share health and hygiene knowledge and this has resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of people reporting regularly washing their hands and using soap” he continued.

To mark this years World Water day (March 22nd 2013) the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) is calling on governments, donors and communities to recognise the important role sanitation plays in human health and dignity.

2.5 billion people in the world lack access to adequate sanitation, including 1.1 billion people who have no sanitation facilities at all. This represents 15 per cent of the world’s total population. Yet despite its critical importance, sanitation continues to receive less funding and attention compared to water supply.

In Nyaung Hla village, addressing both the water and sanitation needs of the local residents has provided a solid foundation for a healthier community.

“The infrastructure and the training of community volunteers means the community can now take control of their own water and sanitation needs. It’s not just about building toilets and wells; it’s about educating people so they are empowered to make changes which will protect their families” said Dr. Maung Maung Hla, Deputy Head of Health Division, Myanmar Red Cross.