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Myanmar: Clean water reaches isolated residents in Dedaye

28-05-2008 Feature

Around 10,000 people on a small island in the eastern part of Myanmar's cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta now have access to safe drinking water thanks to the Myanmar Red Cross Society and the ICRC.


  Delivering safe drinking water to cyclone-hit communities in the Irrawaddy Delta   
    Villagers throughout the low-lying delta normally get their drinking water from rainwater collection ponds, but in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, rotting animal carcasses, human corpses, saltwater and debris have rendered many of these ponds unusable.

This was the case on the island of Kyone Dar, which is located in Dedaye Township and is reachable only by boat.

Each village on the island used to have one or two ponds for drinking water and a few others for domestic purposes, such as washing clothes, bathing and cleaning utensils. The basins generally have an underground part, which is around two metres deep, and an exposed, upper part, which is about one metre high and protected by a mud wall.

" When Nargis struck, the ponds were flooded by salty seawater or contaminated by dead animals, " said Valerie Meilhaud, an ICRC water engineer in Yangon. " Since then, residents have resorted to collecting rainwater from their rooftops. But since many homes were damaged in the storm, and there is nowhere to store rainwater, residents can only save up enough to last for around two or three days at a time. "

The ICRC, in close cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Myanmar Red Cross, has sent water treatment equipment to Kyone Dar to meet the daily drinking requirements of around 10,000 people. A team of specially trained volunteers from the Myanmar Red Cross will help villagers flush out and clean the contaminated ponds.

The unit was set up on 24 May and it will take about seven to ten days before the ponds are refilled with fresh rainwater so, in the meantime, the Red Cross is providing residents with treated water, buckets and storage containers to gather rainwater.

" Some of the ponds have been cleaned by hand but people are still afraid to drink from them, because they know what was floating in there before and they are afraid of getting sick. Psychologically, they need to know that the ponds have been properly cleaned out, " said Meilhaud.

The Red Cross team on the island includes two ICRC water engineers from Myanmar and local Myanmar Red Cross volunteers. They form part of a wide national network of around 27,000 volunteers, many of whom have been working tirelessly to help the cyclone victims since the storm hit on 2 May.

In addition to providing water purification equipment and training, the ICRC is supporting the relief operation in other key areas, including restoring family links and reuniting relatives separated by the storm.

The ICRC has assisted the Myanmar Red Cross in establishing a department dedicated to the restoration of family links, enabling volunteers to collect information from people who are seeking news of their loved ones or who wish to inform their friends and family that they are safe and well.

The ICRC is also advising the Myanmar Red Cross, other aid organisations and the authorities on the most appropriate way to deal with the bodies of the deceased, which remain unburied more than three weeks following the disaster. Red Cross volunteers have been trained in how to deal with the corpses in a safe and dignified manner. They have also been provided with kits, assembled by the ICRC, containing the necessary protective equipment, guidelines, and forms to record important data about the deceased.

The ICRC is in close dialogue with the Director-general of Prisons concerning possible relief and rehabilitation activities, including structural repairs, in places of detention which were damaged by the cyclone.