Living without water – is that possible?
That was the question asked back in 2014 when Edwin Briels, then Khiri’s Myanmar GM, saw an article on the BBC announcing that there was a village in Bangladesh that had lived without a fridge up until that point. According to the BBC this was very unique given that even in the 21st century there were still entire villages living without a refrigerator.
Edwin thought about the situation in neighbouring Myanmar where many villages don’t even dream about having a fridge: they just dream about having access to clean water or even to electricity; which would be very, very welcome.
Even 4 years ago, the numbers in Myanmar were quite staggering as the government estimated that about 65% of the population was NOT connected to the national electricity grid. Only 50% of the population in Yangon was connected to the water grid by the government, with the rest having to rely on wells, on communal water collection tanks or water delivery services.
One of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar is Bagan – a fantastic area with thousands of ancient temples spread out over a few square kilometers in the dry zone. The Bagan Empire dominated the region for 250 years until the 13th century, when there simply wasn’t enough water or food to sustain the population of this kingdom and the population dwindled and moved away.
Eight centuries later the people in the dry zone are still struggling with the same problem and it looks like time stood still. Thousands of villages in the dry zone do NOT have enough water during the summer season (March – May) as there are not enough wells or natural creeks. This means that people have no drinking water, no water to take a bath, to grow vegetables or to keep their livestock healthy etc.
How to survive without water?
That is of course very difficult, indeed impossible; some people walk for many hours, some people temporarily move to other places, the Myanmar government tries to bring relief by water delivery, some NGOs are trying to help. Still it’s not enough and people die from diseases or poor health related to lack of access to clean water.
We’re not even talking about people living in temporary camps due to war or other social problems, we’re talking about ordinary citizens living in the center of Myanmar, areas that have been civilized since the Bagan period.
Khiri Reach decided it was time to help by building much needed Water Wells with the firm belief that it is important that everybody should have access to water. In 2014 the intention was to be able to build at least 5 wells in 2015 in the dry zones, to give communities access to water the whole year round. Since that decision was made Khiri Reach has actually co-ordinated the building of 25 Water Wells to date with a plan to build 25 more in the next 2 years.
As the ground water level is very deep in these dry zone areas, about 600 – 700 feet on average, the costs of a well (incl water pump, generator, collection tanks etc) is about 17 – 20 lakh Myanmar Kyats (about 1.700 – 2.000 $US) or far more, depending on the site where water has been found and the depth needed to dig underground in order to build the well. This is a fortune for most people in the area and something they could never afford on their own.
Money is raised by Khiri Reach from numerous donors; agents, clients, private individuals (in October 2014 a family donated an entire well, and others have even provided the funds for 2 wells over the last 4 years) and from Khiri Travel by charging 1$US from every client visiting Bagan. The money is collected and then a remote village is carefully selected based on the urgency of their needs to build a well.
Edwin strongly believes that access to water is a basic human right that everybody is entitled to and with clean water come many other positive life changes, such as health, better food security and increased animal welfare. Now 8 centuries after the collapse of the Bagan era it should be possible to achieve this in the dry zones of Bagan again and other parts of Myanmar with similar problems.
Want to read more about life in the dry zone?