Water Woes for Residents of Chin State Capital

By Salai Thant Zin 30 December 2014

Local residents in the Chin State capital Hakha are facing a potable water shortage amid a partial suspension of the township’s water supply that has lasted more than three months.

“It is about three months now that the municipality has stopped supplying water, which has caused a lot of trouble for people. I have to buy water for my shop, for which I have to spend around 20,000 [US$20] or 30,000 kyats monthly from my profits,” the owner of an eatery in Hakha told The Irrawaddy.

The municipality stopped providing water after underground water pipes were damaged during the expansion of roads in Hakha, the administrative seat of the Chin State government.

More than half of Hakha’s 15,000 residents have been affected by the water crisis and have had to rely on private water sellers, according to locals.

The majority of the town’s pain has been gain for some entrepreneurial spirits, however, who have taken to fetching water from the nearby Thee River and selling it to needy residents. A bucket of water is sold for 200 kyats and an entire car’s load worth of water goes for 12,000 kyats, locals said.

The head of Hakha township municipality, Aung Tun Lin, told The Irrawaddy that efforts were underway to restore the town’s piped water system.

“Pipelines in certain areas were damaged as roads in downtown Hakha were broadened. Therefore, we cannot supply water to those areas. We plan to repair the pipes and resume water supply by January 15 [of 2015].”

While some locals have relied on buying water from private sellers, others drive to the Thee River, some seven miles from Hakha.

“Those who can afford it buy water. Those who can’t afford it go to Thee River by motorbike and fetch water. They take their clothes and wash them there. I have to buy water, 200 kyats per bucket, when I don’t have time to go to the Thee River,” said a departmental staffer.

The system used by the Hakha municipality sees piped water supplied from eight watersheds in areas surrounding the town, and the late 2014 water woes likely will not be the town’s last.

The surrounding watersheds have been decreasingly productive since 2000, due to deforestation and hillside cultivation, making water shortages in the months of March through May an annual occurrence, said Aung Tun Lin.

“The watersheds produce less water and creeks are drying up year by year, mainly because of cutting down trees for fuel or crop cultivation,” he said.

“Now, we only get 65 percent of water from those sources. Therefore, Hakha is always confronted with a water shortage in March, April and May every year,” he added.

In an effort to resolve Hakha’s water scarcity, the Chin State government started building a dam on the Thee River in April of this year. The project comes at an estimated cost of 8 billion kyats.