Building resilience against COVID-19 through WASH and waste management support in urban informal settlements


The impact of COVID-19 is being most devastatingly felt in the world’s urban areas. As the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s policy brief on COVID-19 in an urban world elucidates, “with an estimated 90 percent of all reported COVID-19 cases, urban areas have become the epicentre of the pandemic.” Among the 218 countries affected by COVID-19, 95 percent of all cases are in urban areas. Urban poor communities including the homeless, residents of informal settlements, residents at risk of being evicted, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), undocumented persons, low-income renters, as well as homeowners are perhaps at the greatest risk from both COVID-19 and the response interventions to it.

Myanmar is no exception. The trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the country can be divided into four waves. A first wave lasting from March to August 2020, and a second wave which began in the last ten days of August 2020 to February 2021, third wave in May 2021 to Oct 2021, and Omicron as fourth wave in the early 2022.

Yangon Region is undoubtedly the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar. The success of the battle against COVID-19 in the country is in large measured linked to the success of the Yangon Region, hosting the largest urban agglomeration in the country. Among the hardest hit by the health and socio-economic impact of the pandemic are the urban poor of Yangon, specifically the estimated 400,000 residents of Yangon’s 423 informal settlements.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us once again of the central role that WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) play in protecting us from disease. The provision of safe water, sanitation and waste management and hygienic conditions is essential for preventing and for protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

However, most of the COVID-19 recommendations are almost impossible to implement in informal settlements, where overcrowding, housing design and lack of access to water, sanitation and waste management facilities, make any form of physical/social distancing and simple interventions, such as regular washing of hands, extremely difficult. In addition, most households rely on day-to-day work to meet their living costs and do not have any saving or financial buffer to rely on to pay for basic services such as WASH.

As informal settlements suffer from administrative neglect and infrastructural under-investment, it is vital that residents of informal settlements are equipped and supported to tackle the pandemic to ensure the safety of all residents of the city.

Therefore, it is urgent and essential to help build back better – which means constructing more resilient water, sanitation, and hygiene systems that will deliver these fundamental services particularly to the neediest – both in the short term for preventive and protective measures as well as in the medium term in improving living conditions for preventing from future pandemic. Ensuring access to critical WASH services is a critical component of Yangon’s battle against COVID-19.


Contribute to the effort to control and cut the transmission of COVID-19 by securing access to and sustain availability of WASH and solid waste management services in informal settlements including schools, and to reach most vulnerable households with responsible information with the aim to prevent further expansion of the pandemic at home and in the community. Moreover, to improve resilience of local communities to organize and work together both with each other and with the government in ensuring the efficacy of COVID-19 prevention interventions.


Component A

  • Construction of water supply systems (stand-alone water system with deep-wells, overhead tanks and purification system) for the delivery of clean, safe, and reliable drinking water to communities in informal settlements, and strengthen the capacity of communities to operate and maintain their water supply systems and to pay for the water services to ensure ownership, therefore sustainability.
  • Distribution of potable drinking water bottles to assist households who suffer from water shortage especially in dry season.
  • Construction of school and household latrines to improve sanitation of the community and students by installing latrine that appropriately manage defecation and minimize risk of virus transmission.
  • Improvement of living conditions and environmental sanitation through the construction of basic infrastructures for access to water including improvement of access roads to the water supply systems, and construction of adequate drainage network and culverts in some settlements. This will help replicate the approach to improve informal settlements through a systematic upgrading
  • Installation of a network of handwashing stations with soap in critical public areas within informal settlements and schools that serve communities in informal settlements
  • Installation of handwashing facilities and provision of essential utilities and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits in identified community health clinics, quarantine centres, and isolation centers serving residents of informal settlements

Component B

  • Support households of solid waste management pilot activities target areas to provide communal waste collection and transportation to the collection points through the procurement of essential garbage collection dump trucks, three-wheelers, and waste collection containers and in establishment of the collection system
  • Organize and mobilize communities to undertake proper collection of household waste, their separation and safe disposal to the containers. Link the community groups to the recyclers to promote circular informal economy
  • Providing frontline sanitation workers with essential PPE kits to enhance their safety and health during the pandemic

Component C

  • Build capabilities of community volunteers – particularly women and youth – to lead their community throughout the process hygiene awareness to support prevention of COVID-19 and promote attitudes and behaviour that will have overall positive effects on health
  • Create community awareness and promote practice on hygiene and environmental sanitation, and COVID-19 by disseminating information, education and communication (IEC) material through community volunteers
  • Build the capacity of community members to prepare Water Safety Plans (WSPs) for their respective community though system assessment, effective monitoring, and management to ensure the safety of drinking water supply from catchment to consumer
  • Enhance community’s capacity to improve environmental sanitation and waste management at the household and community level by preparing community action plans. The plans will aim to cover safe disposal of waste, segregation of waste at the household level, and methods of safe recycling, composting, and reusing

Development Partners/ Partners

Development Partner: Government of Japan

Implementing Partner: Thant Myanmar (Component B: Solid Waste Management)

Project Counterparts: Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), Community Volunteers, Local Communities, Community Development Committees (CDCs), Yangon Regional Government (YRG), Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), Department of Urban and Housing Development (DUHD)

Target beneficiaries

25,000 households (estimated 102,500 people)

257 schools totaling an estimated 170,777 school students

Geographical Location

Hlaing Thar Yar, Dagon Deikkan, South Dagon, Insein, Dala, Shwe Pyi Thar, Thanlyin, and North Okkalapa Townships in Yangon.