Protecting our children

Innovative water filtration techniques are being pioneered in Rakhine State in response to deadly cases of diarrhoea among children.

By JENNIFER MACINTYRE | TAT LAN

Daw Ma Soe and her three-year-old son, Mg Aung Hein Phyo, collect purified water from their new filter tank in Sin Boke village, Kyaukphyu Township. “I am warmly happy to take clean water from the tank,” she says, remembering her anxiety last year when Aung Hein Phyo suffered severe diarrhoea and she feared for his life.

Her son was successfully treated with antibiotic injections administered by a nurse at a pharmacy in nearby Kyaukphyu. But, Ma Soe and her fellow villagers do not want to see the lives of other babies in Sin Boke village threatened by diarrhoea.

Last year, when Myanmar NGO Better Life Organization invited 15 Kyaukphyu villages to participate in a project to trial solar-powered filtration systems for the purification of pond water, the Sin Boke community responded enthusiastically. Every family in the village willingly gave their tools, time and labour to deepen the pond by two metres so the water could be piped through a filtration system of sand, gravel and carbon into a holding tank.

Better Life Organization and two other Tat Lan partners, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, are experimenting with ways to provide Tat Lan communities in Rakhine State with sustainable, clean, fresh water.

Community hygiene promotion

At Kyee Gaung Taung, an island community in Myebon Township, parents are keenly interested in their new bio-sand filter. The mothers here still fear diarrhoea because when they were young an average of five children died every summer in their village of 240 households.

But although some children are still infected each year, there are no longer deaths when the water level is low. The mothers attribute the change in survival to their hygiene knowledge. They now boil their water, use latrines, and wash their hands regularly. This is simple but life-saving behaviour; the World Health Organization estimates that 88 percent of diarrhoea cases are caused by drinking unsafe water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene practices.

Parents listen to instructions on the use and maintenance of their bio-sand filter, which was designed by an IRC water specialist, Dr Hla. This US$50 homebuilt system is one of 230 installed in villages in Rakhine State to provide clean water for schools and the community.

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As mothers sieve water into the top bucket, they measure the speed of water flowing from the tap. When water slows down they need to clean the top layer of sand to remove the accumulated mud and clay. Regular cleaning will be undertaken by residents and the community water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) committee.

Community hygiene promoters and members of the WASH committee regularly test the water for biological pathogens and send the data to IRC’s senior WASH manager. To ensure the health of their community, a record is kept of all incidents of diarrhoea in the village, both for adults and children under the age of five.

‘Life is getting better’

In Pauktaw Township, Save the Children staff designed a gravity-flow system to draw water from the village pond into a filtering well, where it passes through layers of gravel, charcoal and sand before being drawn into a stilling well from which villagers can collect clean, fresh water.

Zee Cho Maw was one of 22 villages invited to participate in a project to filtrate pond water through a system of wells. Village chairman, U Aung Kyaw Thein, says almost everyone in Zee Cho Maw helped to fence their pond or build the wells to filter the water. He is proud of his community’s response to his encouragement to work together.

“Everyone hoped for clean water. Before, animals came into the pond to drink, but now it is fenced and protected. The maintenance committee also knows how the filter works and can maintain it, because we built it together. Our life is getting better,” he says. “We also know how to use latrines and practise good handwashing.”

Meanwhile, in Kyaukphyu, the Sin Boke solar-powered filtration system has changed the community’s quality of life. Chairman of the pond maintenance committee, U Kyaw Zan Aung, 54, ensures the water is clean and sends samples to Yangon for testing every fortnight.

“This purified water is very important for our village. I believe we will get a healthy life with this filtration system. I have taught the villagers to use it carefully, so we have the system for the long term,” says Kyaw Zan Aung, who mobilised the community to deepen the original pond. “Our community is 300 years old. We are very close to each other and everyone was happy to be involved in the community activity to protect our children.”

The Tat Lan programme is building resilience in 259 vulnerable Rakhine State villages through an integrated programme aimed at improving food security, livelihoods, water, sanitation, nutrition, community participation and governance. The programme is funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT).

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