Limited capacity hinders Myanmar’s water management

Khine Kyaw (Myanmar Eleven)
Aung Myo Khaing, deputy director of the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (Photo-Myanmar Eleven)


River basin organisations should be established to support the activities of the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC), to enhance the country’s water management which has faced serious capacity limitations, said an official.

At the Global Water Conference 2016 last week, Aung Myo Khaing, deputy director of the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWIR), the focal department of the national committee, said that safe navigation, river conservation and pollution control would be prioritised and international good practices would be learnt by means of cooperating with many international organisations in all water sectors. 

“We still need to improve our capacity. We need to develop many technically strong organisations for water resources management. We should monitor discharge, water level, velocity, and water quality in all rivers and streams. We need to analyse, assess, and do more research. We need to invest in non-structural measures such as GIS, numerical modeling studies and data monitoring,” he said.

He said that Myanmar has the right policies but capacity – financially and technically - remains a major challenge. This requires more international cooperation.

Aside from capacity, the official sees lack of cooperation between line agencies, access to information, lack of online access and database system as the major challenges to Myanmar’s water management. He said river basin organisations should be established to support the activities of NWRC. The country’s water usage data is not yet available in the country, but Myanmar has recently launched its water policy and is drafting the National Water Law. 

Some international agencies have been involved in enhancing the capacity.

The World Bank allocates US$100 million to the Ayeyarwady-integrated river basin management (AIRBM) project, focusing on capacity building, hydro-meteorological observation and information systems modernisation, and navigation enhancement.

Workshops and training have also been conducted with the support of international organisations including United Nations Environment Programme and Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). 

The department’s data show that 91 per cent of available raw water resources is consumed by the agricultural sector, while domestic use accounts for 6 per cent and industrial use 3 per cent. 

Sein Tun, an expert with DWIR and former Myanmar national focal point to Asean Working Group on Water Resources Management, said that water was essential to ensure food security and support a sustainable economy. In this regard, access to safe and affordable water supply, hygiene, and sanitation, and protection of water environment are vital. He also underscored the importance of water quality, governance and capacity building.

Vikram Kumar, country manager of International Finance Corporation, noted that part of the management should involve the country’s plan to build hydropower plants in the river basins. This requires discussions with key stakeholders including the civil society and non-government organisations to identify which projects should be implemented first and how to make them sustainable. 

According to the statistics, Myanmar is home to more than 52 million people and the required water for each person is 73 cupid metres per year. The available groundwater is 494.71 cupid kilometres and the available surface water is 1081.88 cupid kilometers.