Northern Rakhine State townships face water shortage in aftermath of Cyclone Mocha

Locals in northern Rakhine State have been left with no choice but to drink boiled “dirty water,” as a shortage of freshwater continues to plague the region more than a week after Cyclone Mocha made landfall. 

Freshwater sources, such as ponds, became contaminated with saltwater after the storm hit on May 14, affecting communities across Sittwe, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Pauktaw and Kyauktaw townships, according to locals. 

The market rate in most towns for purified drinking water, sold in 20-litre bottles, is currently 700 to 1,000 kyat (US$0.35-$0.50), up from 500 kyat ($0.25) before the cyclone. In rural areas, the same amount of water is selling for as high as 1,500 kyat ($0.75)

“Much of the water in ponds in villages had dried out before the storm, but the storm further muddied the waters that remained and rendered them useless,” said Maung Kyaw Nu, a 60-year-old man from Ponnagyun. 

Three such ponds in the village of Kha Maung Taw, six miles southwest of the township’s administrative centre, were flooded with rising tides during the storm, he added. 

Maung Kyaw Nu said that he had to travel more than two miles to procure drinking water, only to find that in his destination, a neighbouring village, the ponds had also been contaminated. 

He described the water they were consuming as “tasting salty.” 

While social welfare groups had provided drinking water in some areas, around the village of Taw Hpyar Chaung in Ponnagyun, people reported collecting water from holes dug by hand, and boiling it even though it was mixed with organic matter and dirt.

“The water in the ponds in our village has gone bad but we are too afraid to pump it out [and get rid of it], because we could face a water shortage if there is a drought in the future,” Lin Maung, a resident of Taw Hpyar Chaung, said. “Instead, we are drawing water out of small holes and boiling it and drinking it. We can’t use the water from the ponds even after we boil it because it has a foul smell.”

Locals reported similar circumstances in Pauktaw Township. 

“Essentially, every village is facing a water shortage here. Some have zero water, while some have contaminated water,” a man from the area said. “Locals are now going to villages that still have water in order to get it.”

He added that the conditions were “still bearable” in urban areas, but that it was worse in rural communities. 

A source in Kyauktaw, Kyaw Hla Myint, told Myanmar Now that it was difficult to transport water from freshwater creeks, ponds and rivers to other parts of the township that needed it. 

“We don’t have regular electricity, or normal weather. It’s hard to transport bottles of drinking water because roads are still blocked by fallen trees and branches,” he explained. 

At least 5,000 locals across nine villages in Rathedaung Township reported saltwater contamination of their water sources as well. 

Locals in the affected townships are concerned that they will contract gastrointestinal infections from consuming unclean water in the aftermath of the cyclone, and be unable to obtain medical treatment. 

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