It is an on-going challenge to provide adequate quantities of safe water efficiently and reliably for all refugee and IDP camps. The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar may not be consistent front-page news, but it is no exception to this problem.
Safe Water for Every Child – Myanmar is another excellent Disaster Aid Australia’s (DAA) project that aims to empower communities to test water quality and access and maintain clean drinking water for better health. The project provides safe water filtration systems and water as well as environmental education in rural areas and refugee camps in mainly eastern Myanmar.
During the past year DAA volunteer and environmental scientist, Fleur Maidment and a former Karen refugee and Rotarian, ThaBlay Sher have been the driving forces behind nine SkyHydrant installations in eastern Myanmar.
“The Karen situation [in Myanmar] is one of the longest-running regional armed conflicts in history, lasting for over 70 years. The Karen people have been struggling to hold on to their identity and culture, despite oppression and discrimination at the hands of the central Burmese military and government. Currently, over 100,000 people live in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Another 200,000 have been forced by the military to flee their homes and villages in the mountains. They live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Myanmar, along the river that forms the border between the two countries,” Fleur Maidment said.
While the situation is dire in the camps, without critical supplies including access to safe water, the situation will rapidly escalate. The advantage of a SkyHydrant system in these conditions is its lightweight, long-term sustainability of the system and its design for disaster and emergency conditions. The system is easy to install and maintain, and importantly, can be moved if the people have to flee or relocate.
“I first visited the region in April 2018. We went to test the water to establish if it could be causing water-borne diseases in the communities,” Fleur told. “When we visited a remote IDP camp located in a narrow valley, we found the stream and all the wells were indeed contaminated by E. coli bacteria due to the close proximity of latrines to the wells. All water sources for the camp, with a population of over 2,500, contained E. coli exceeding World Health Organisation standards for drinking water, and were considered unsafe,” she continued. Remarkably, since the installations of a SkyHydrant system, camps where diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid were rife, now report virtually no cases of waterborne diseases.
The terrain in the eastern parts of Myanmar and the local political situation have presented numerous challenges for the installations. The locations are remote with great deal of political tension making travel exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, for foreigners. Travel is often through non-existent 4WD tracks through a forest or with a boat up a river. The SkyHydrants, all the tanks, pipes, and concrete must be brought via these routes and carried by hand. Fortunately, the team behind the project is determined and resourceful. “At times these systems have been built by sharing photos of handwritten plans and diagrams via Messenger. People learn to be resourceful,” Fleur explained.
Access to safe drinking water in refugee camps provides many benefits far beyond those of health and hygiene. The ability to ensure education in the camps has long-term effects on both the refugees and their communities. “I have been working with young people who have been educated in the refugee camps. They are highly intelligent and have a great enthusiasm to help their communities facing persecution in their home villages… Everyone I work with has a strong sense of obligation to gain a good education then go back to work in their communities when a peaceful solution can be brokered,” Fleur said.
Water is in fact, one of the simple gifts of life.
Please consider supporting the Safe Water for the Karen Refugees by donating through Disaster Aid Australia.