Our research findings address: the changing context of Myanmar and Chin State; town population growth and migration; access to water; watershed transformation and water source decline; local water supply governance; and the Timit dam and the municipalizationof water.
Overall, in Myanmar rapid changes are underway, including: an economy that has transitioned from state socialism to state-mediated capitalism since 1988 and that is now increasingly liberalizing; a political system that has transformed from a military junta to a ‘disciplined democracy’; and where public space for civil society and media has somewhat broadened.
Town population growth and migration
Hakha’s population was around 10,000 in the 1980s, increasing to 17,000 by 2001, and to 45,000 in 2015. Correspondingly, the town has expanded from 6.2 square miles in the 1980s to 7.9 square miles in 2001, to 33.4 square miles in the 2015.The town’s rapid population growth is from births, the growing government sector, and rural-to-urban migration. Regarding rural-to-urban migration, a key driver is the lack of economic opportunity and services in rural areas, and the possibility of work and better access to public services such as health and education in Hakha town. Whilst a town plan exists, and is widely recognized as important, historically until the present only weak town planning has occurred, which has had implications for water scarcity and landslide risk as the town has extended up the mountain slopes.
Access to water
Hakha’s annual rainfall is around 1880 mm. Yet, the availability of water for distribution in the town has worsened over the past decade, related to reduced supply from the watershed, a lack of water storage infrastructure, and growing demand in the town. Almost all of the population suffer water shortage in the dry season, with implications for health, hygiene, and household incomes. Many families must queue for a long time at water wells that reduces time available to work, or must purchase water. Migrants, as new town settlers, tend to be more vulnerable to water scarcity as existing reliable water sources are already allocated to houses in the town, despite an apparent general goodwill to share water with one another.
Watershed transformation and water source decline
Before the 1960s, there were no roads or houses in the Rung Mountain watershed area, and the forest was deep. Deforestation gradually started since 1965, once Hakha was made the State Capital Town. In the late 1970s, a road was constructed from Hakha to Mutupi, and in the early 1980s from Hakha to Gangaw, which opened up the area to agriculture and house construction. Deforestation, however, rapidly accelerated when two military bases were established on the ridge of the Rung Mountain in 1988, clear cutting the forest at the bases and in the surrounding areas. Much of the forest clearance and house construction has occurred illegally, especially following the intensified military presence in the town. In addition, a lack of grid-electricity in the town until 2014 also led the inhabitants to gather firewood sourced from smaller trees on the mountainside for cooking and house heating. Deforestation has affected the watershed storage of water, and many springs and streams that were once perennial are no longer so. Furthermore, the deforestation and construction in the watershed was a key factor in the June 2015 landslide, initiating an urgent and important discussion on town and watershed planning.
Local water supply governance
Given the absence of a systematic and comprehensive municipal water supply, a mosaic of community-led practices for water supply has emerged, in particular: local water user committees; private water supplies; public wells and streams; and private bottled water companies.
- Local water user committees manage larger water resource tanks that are distributed within town blocks of approximately 150 households. The committees are elected from and by the community, and their main role is to collect fees to operate the tank’s diesel pumps, and to maintain the distribution pipes.
- Some households manage private water supplies from springs located on their land, which often have been owned for generations. The families may sell or freely share the water with nearby houses. For private water supplies, there is no coordination between springs, and no higher-level committee.
- There exists in and around the city some public wells, or open-access streams, from which people may collect water if it is available
- There are around five bottled water companies who distribute water via Tuk Tuk or truck. These are relatively small companies, selling water for drinking in six gallon jerrycans.
Whilst these arrangements meet the basic needs of the Hakha population, the overall lack of coordination leaves water supplies at risk of overuse, contamination, and also fragmented from important related activities, such as town and watershed planning.
Timit dam and the municipalization of water
Whilst until 2014 the government’s response on water insecurity was weak, in February 2014, in response to a request from the Hakha Committee of Elders, President Thein Sein agreed to fund via the Union-level the Timit Dam for water storage. Distribution was to be managed by the Municipality, such that the project ultimately would establishes a municipal water supply in Hakha. However, the project was rushed, as it was intended to be commissioned within one year for the 2015 election. As a result, an environmental assessment was not completed, the engineering of the dam was poorly designed, and there was limited consultation with local people including on the location of water storage tanks in the town. At the time of writing (May 2017), the dam remains only partially complete. Uncertainty remains over when the project will be commissioned, including the distribution system throughout the town, how much water will be available, the cost of water given that the water requires pumping using electricity, and how the municipal water supply will coordinate and complement the existing community-managed water supply arrangements.