Access to water is a recognised human right, vital for leading a life of dignity, and is a prerequisite for realizing other human rights. UN-Habitat is working to implement water supply systems to provide safe and clean water to the residents of informal settlements in Yangon. As part of the preparatory work, a knowledge exchange session on ‘Water Governance in Informal Settlements ‘ was jointly organized by UN-Habitat and WaterAid Myanmar at the Novotel Hotel in Yangon on the 16th of September. 30 participants from different NGOs and UN agencies attended the event to share experiences and learn from each other to strengthen approaches on the water governance system in informal settlements and to tackle common issues in the informal settlements of Yangon.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Catarina Camarinhas, Country Programme Manager a.i. of UN-Habitat, referred to the importance of delivering adequate water services: “This is a critical topic in Myanmar where 82% of the population has access to basic drinking water and only 41% of households use a safely managed drinking water service. These numbers are even lower for the population living in informal settlements we are serving. The impacts of climate change are also further aggravating these challenges. Without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, we cannot ensure good health, food security, dignity and equality for all. Nor can we help protect our fragile ecosystems.” She reinforced the need for integrated implementation of water-related SDGs as critical for ensuring that no one is left behind in relation to access to water and sanitation. The Country Director of WaterAid, Mr. Shihab Uddin Ahamad, also emphasized that access to safe water is a fundamental human need and basic right, and that it must be safe, sustainable, and affordable for the community.
To achieve the objectives of the session, three different organizations presented their projects and experiences on water governance in informal settlements. Firstly, UN-Habitat introduced the ongoing project for building resilience against COVID-19 through WASH and waste management support in urban informal settlements. The project is being implemented since March 2021 and completed a variety of activities in the target communities. One of the remaining activities is the construction of 22 water supply systems, and capacity building of local communities to operate and manage the water supply systems appropriately. UN-Habitat also shared past experiences and approaches on water supply projects including insights from four water supply systems implemented in Yangon, contents of Water Safety Plan Manual, and the plan for the new 22 water supply system operation and management.
WaterAid Myanmar presented their experiences of people-centered approaches for safe drinking water supply in communities, schools, and monastic schools in Myanmar. The presenter also introduced about their social enterprise model development process, which has three phases: 1) selection of social enterprise members, 2) social enterprise training, and 3) operation and maintenance training.
Lastly, Myanmar Kitchen gave a presentation on their organization and target area and several humanitarian programs, including food assistance, clean water supply, medical assistance, and water kiosks. In trying to address the identified issue of insufficient safe drinking water in the target area, Myanmar Kitchen constructed two non-profit water kiosks in Hlaing Thar Yar township. The presentation provided information, such as site selection, quality control, distribution, production team, and target and future plan.
The presentations were followed by group discussions in which participants actively discussed the following topics: interrelation between operation of water supply systems and communities with newly installed piped-water systems, differences of Community Development Committee (CDC) model and social enterprise model, operational and management costs and price setting, and sustainability. The discussion sessions were very fruitful to understand other organizations’ approaches clearly, while identifying current challenges and potential solutions for the future water governance in informal settlements.
The knowledge exchange session was a good opportunity to share lessons learned from different organizations and brainstorm ideas to improve water governance approaches in informal settlements. All participating organizations will continue to communicate and work together to provide safe drinking water to the vulnerable families in informal settlements.