Water quality improvement options being explored in Himalica pilot sites in Myanmar


Something as basic as ensuring that there are no contaminants in the water we drink can drastically improve human health and well-being. Keeping this in mind, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) organized trainings on water quality improvement options for communities in Myanmar from 16–18 March 2017. The trainings were organized under the Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) Project.

Participants of the water quality training.

Training sessions were conducted in three different locations over the course of three days where 110 villagers, fifty percent of whom were female, participated. The participants came from six villages in Himalica pilot sites in Myanmar: Pan Tin, Tha Yat Pin, Kyaung Nar, Kyaung Taung, Zee Yar and Antpet.  The main objective of these trainings was to raise awareness regarding contaminated water and its adverse effects on human health. Participants were also trained on handling, cleaning and maintaining ceramic filters, and various water quality improvement options were demonstrated.

On the first day, the morning session focused on helping participants understand the various levels of quality that drinking water derived from different sources such as lakes, ponds and rainwater harvesting systems can have. This was followed by a discussion on the incidence and severity of waterborne disease in their villages due to poor drinking water quality. A series of water quality tests were conducted using hydrogen sulfide (H2S) strips to demonstrate microbiological (E coli) contamination of water samples derived from various drinking water sources used by the villages. Also, the concept of and good practices associated with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) were shared with the participants.

Water samples from the Kyaung Nar monastery pond. Here were see two vials tested with H2S before (right) and after filtration. The black color indicates coliform presence.

In the afternoon, Nang Sein Nwe Oo of the Lily Pad Filter Company introduced a ceramic filter as an option to improve drinking water quality.  She demonstrated how to use it to filter water and elaborated on its technical aspects, including operations and maintenance. The participants then took part in a hands-on-exercise on using a ceramic filter to filter pond water. Other methods of water purification such as boiling, chlorination, using aluminum sulphate (Alum) and solar water disinfection (SODIS) were also discussed.

On the second and third days, the morning and afternoon sessions were facilitated by MIID’s WASH engineer and project officer respectively, with the support of David Abrahamson of MIID and Madhav Dhakal of ICIMOD. All in all, 60 ceramic filters were distributed—one per participating household—for use and demonstration.  It is hoped that the households that received these filters will share their experience with neighbouring households during water management users’ group meetings. 

The training was targeted at participants from six villages that depend on contaminated ponds for drinking and domestic use, especially during the dry season. Contamination is visible in and around their community ponds. Bathing, washing of clothes, watering of animals, open defecation in nearly locations and use of agricultural chemicals in pond catchments all contribute to the contamination. 

It was found that most households in Kyaung Taung village used plastic net filters and boiled water before drinking even before participating in the training. Households in the village were found to be better off than in neighbouring ones with lower incidences of water borne diseases and illnesses: diarrhea, typhoid, jaundice, headache and fever. 

H2S tests of pond water samples indicated the presence of coliform bacteria in most ponds. When the contaminated water samples were filtered using ceramic filters, no coliform was observed. Ceramic filters are glazed with silver nitrate, which kills coliforms. The participants found the ceramic filter very effective in eliminating turbidity and biological contamination. Some participants expressed interest in purchasing these filters, which retail at USD 10 per filter at Lilypad’s company showroom at Nwaung Shwe.