In wake of crisis, UNICEF brings clean water to vulnerable urban families
08 November 2021
UNICEF and partners have been distributing safe bottled water to vulnerable families in Hlaing Thar Yar and other areas.
When Swe Mar, 39, her husband and four children left their home in Ayeyarwady Region to seek a better life in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, they struggled to make ends meet. Unable to find work, her husband returned home to search for a job.
But Swe Mar remained in Yangon, in Hlaing Thar Yar Township, where she works hard to make a living. Living in a tiny house that was once a construction site kitchen, Swe Mar and her family have no toilet of their own and have to share with Swe Mar’s parents, who live in a neighbouring house.
Swe Mar sells sweets and on a busy day can earn up to 6,000 Myanmar Kyat, or about US$3. This, combined with the income of her eldest son, Chit Naing, 16, who works on a nearby construction site, is barely enough to cover basic living costs for the family, which includes three younger children: Kaung Sett, 12, Zwe Htet, 6, and 18-month-old Kyal Sin.
During the recent crisis, one of Swe Mar’s main worries has been obtaining safe water for her family. Until recently, her only option was to buy water from vendors selling water from large containers, pushed through the neighbourhood on trolleys. Swe Mar had to provide her own containers and was never sure whether the water was really clean or safe to drink. “Sometimes, I filtered the water before using it,” she said. The water, which Swe Mar used for cooking and drinking, cost her approximately 4,000 Kyat a month, a significant expenditure for her family.
Bringing clean water to doorsteps
The challenges faced by Swe Mar and her family are common to most residents of the poorest areas of Yangon. In these districts, approximately 16.3 per cent of households have insufficient water to drink, cook and wash with, and for latrine use. This creates a serious risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid as well as COVID-19.
As part of the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF) response to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, UNICEF and partners have been distributing safe bottled water to vulnerable families in Hlaing Thar Yar and other areas, prioritising families with young children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.
“I receive two 20-litre water bottles every two days, direct to my doorstep. I don’t need to use a water filter or provide my own containers. We can drink directly from the water bottle. I use this water for drinking only as I collect rainwater for cooking. I now have extra money”, said Swe Mar.
Clean water makes a clear difference
While water distributions have faced challenges including COVID-19 restrictions and security risks, the impact of these efforts have been widely felt and appreciated.
Some 50,000 people like Swe Mar have benefited so far from the UNICEF-supported efforts.
UNICEF plans to work with its partners to expand coverage of water distribution to reach more communities experiencing water shortages, while also working to rehabilitate water systems, install water treatment and supply systems, and continue to promote awareness around the importance of proper hygiene.