Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A New life after the Storm

By Mariana Palavra

Kale, Sagaing Region – Since last year, Ma Thida Oo’s life has been through choppy waters. It all started at the end of July 2015, when cyclone Komen brought one week of heavy rain and floods to Kyaukka village, in Sagaing Region. “I had never seen anything like that before”, recalls Ma Thida Oo. “The level of the river water rose so much, many boats sank and our house was surrounded by water”. As the waters threatened to take their house and lives away, the 19 year old fled with her husband, parents and brother to the nearest monastery, located a few meters up on the hill, some 20 minutes driving from Kale Township.

Ma Thida Oo using one of the village's new wells
©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Mariana Palavra
It was precisely during the time of Myanmar’s worst floods in 40 years that Ma Thida Oo found out she was pregnant. “Carrying a baby gave me the courage and the strength to face the floods”.  It also helped her deal with the consequent loss of her family’s house and livelihoods.

Almost 1000 people from Ma Thida Oo’s village stayed at the monastery premises for more than eight months.  In the meantime, not too far from there, a new Kyaukak village was gaining shape. During this whole period, METTA Development Foundation NGO, with UNICEF support, responded to the WASH emergency needs in the region: distributing hygiene materials, running hygiene awareness sessions, providing drinking water, latrines, and construction materials, as well as rehabilitating boreholes, wells and ponds. This initial flood response plan reached more than 400,000 people from both Sagaing and Magway regions. However, that was not enough.

 “As the needs persisted, UNICEF extended this WASH project with Metta, and included the construction of 32 wells, as the most cost effective option for re-establishing water supplies to flood affected communities”, explains Bishnu Pokhrel, UNICEF WASH specialist.
The new Kyaukak village was one of the locations included in this project extension, through which an additional 5500 people from Sagaing and Magway regions gained access to clean water.

As soon as Kyaukak villagers were relocated to their new houses, the works to access drinking and domestic water started through the leadership of the village community management. “Metta provided us training, tools and equipment and we did the rest with our own hands”, says the community leader U Aung Khin, proudly.

“It was difficult to finish the first well. After we tested it and it went well, we started to build the others”.  Since then, eight wells and two hand-dug wells were concluded. Until now, the wells seem to be enough for the entire village as everyone has access to safe drinking water.

“Life has significantly improved already”, affirms U Aung Khin. “When we were living at the monastery, we had to fetch water from the polluted river. Since we were relocated here, there hasn’t been any health problems, any type of water-related diseases”.       
Although life has improved, the village is willing to continue doing more and better. The next step will be to install a pipeline system to link the wells water to everyone’s house.

“We still need some support in terms of equipment to implement this by ourselves”, says U Aung Khin. “However, we have gained experience in the last months, especially through our mistakes. Therefore, even if we won’t get any financial support, we are all committed to making it happen”, he concludes proudly.    

U Aung Khin has more reasons to be proud. Besides a new house and new wells, he has also celebrated the birth of his first grandchild. After all, this baby symbolises a new Kyaukak village.

Ma Thida Oo using one of the village's new wells
©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Mariana Palavra
“I got a new house, fresh water, a new village, and my baby was born during Myanmar’s New Year. He is a symbol of new life”, says Ma Thida Oo. “I look at him and I wish that he will get an education, unlike what happened to me. And who knows, he might replace my father’s role and become the future community leader.”

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