Failing water quality in the Chindwin
The Chindwin River is the largest tributary of the Ayeyarwady River. One of the major sustainable development challenges in the basin is the decline in water quality. The Chindwin River and its tributary, the Uru, are a crucial source of water-use for the local communities living in the basin, from drinking, bathing and household use to raising livestock and irrigating fields.
As part of the Chindwin Futures project, in collaboration with Myanmar government departments and scientists from Myanmar Environment Institute, SEI initiated water quality tests in 17 sites along selected locations in the river.
The tests showed that some drinking-water wells close to the rivers are contaminated with bacteria. In the Uru and Chindwin Rivers themselves, the tests found high levels of mercury in the wet season.
Local livelihoods at risk
Local communities are most affected by the deterioration in water quality. For many people in the basin, access to, and availability of water, are daily challenges even as they are dependent on the river and groundwater sources for their livelihoods. A warming climate is also making it more difficult to maintain farming livelihoods.
In Myanmar as a whole, 26% of the population live with less than USD 1.25 a day. But the situation for farming families, and rural populations in general, is even worse. In rural areas, 29% live below the national poverty line. In Myanmar, per capita farm earnings average around USD 200 per year, or about one-half to one-third of the levels in other countries in the Mekong Region.
To alleviate poverty among farmers, the Myanmar Development Poverty Alleviation Action Plan was established.
The Chindwin Futures project surveyed 600 households in Homalin, Kani and Monywa townships in the upper, middle and lower Chindwin, respectively. Through this research, SEI discovered that poverty levels are 33% in farm households and 55% for landless households. SEI’s livelihood surveys also showed that the stresses of water insecurity, climate change and poverty are expected to worsen in the coming decades.
Engaging with Myanmar’s planners and parliamentarians
To address these challenges, SEI is supporting the establishment of the Chindwin River Basin Organisation (RBO) to improve the management of water resources and improve policies and planning for development of the river basin.
“The Chindwin RBO … illustrates how SEI builds partnerships to bridging science and policy while serving the needs of local people.”
—Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, Programme Leader, Chindwin Futures, SEI
The RBO also aims to build public awareness and education about river conditions and integrated water resource management. It also coordinates training in local communities to monitor water resources so that local livelihoods are supported.
Our efforts to build the RBO have required the close participation of more than 100 elected parliamentarians from the Sagaing Region, along with scientists, and representatives of government agencies, civil society, private sector, and local communities. We have also built bridges with officials from Thailand’s Pollution Control Department and Department of Water Resources, to provide expertise on water quality monitoring and river basin management.
After four years of work, the Sagaing Regional Government and other stakeholders endorsed the creation of the RBO. The regional government also agreed to allocate resources for the Chindwin RBO’s Secretariat. The RBO members will represent all the key sectors in the Chindwin Basin while SEI will act as an adviser. One of the tasks of the RBO will be to continue monitoring water quality in the Chindwin Basin.
Peace, justice and strong institutions
Implementing the 2030 Agenda requires institutional capacity as well as scientific evidence. Across the world, SEI is building capacity to deliver the SDGs, whether by helping to set up a River Basin Organisation in Myanmar or creating a certification framework for sustainable rural sanitation.
Connecting to the SDGs
This project in Mynanmar shows how a shared resource requires effective institutional arrangements to manage diverse interests and maximise benefits for people and the environment. In this case, a new institution, the Chindwin River Basin Organisation, is unlocking the potential to deliver goals locally, on health (Goal 3), water resource management (Goal 6), agricultural production and livelihoods (Goal 8). And by creating an inclusive process, the chances of success have increased.