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Widespread Myanmar water shortage kills scores of people

Nearly 50 villages in western Myanmar are facing shortages of water, residents told RFA on Tuesday, after the hot season brought record high temperatures across the region.

Ponds and small lakes across Rakhine State are drying up, leaving residents with limited water for drinking and cooking. The United Nations has warned that tens of thousands of people displaced by conflict face the risk of disease as a result of the lack of water.

Villages across Ponnagyun township have faced severe drought since April, as the hot season reached its most intense period, said one resident, who declined to be identified in fear of reprisals. “There are two or three ponds in the village. But this year, the daytime temperature rose so high that the ponds went dry,” he said. “Some people don’t even bathe regularly and sometimes even lack drinking water. There are some aid groups donating water but it’s not enough because most of the villages need it.”

Ponnagyun faces a water shortage every year but this year has been the worst, he said, adding that some residents were suffering from diarrhea from drinking dirty  water.

Nearly a quarter of the households in Ah Htet Myat Hle village’s camp for internally displaced people are facing a water shortage, a camp administrator said. Water-borne illnesses killed three people in the camp in April, with similar symptoms killing nearly 80 in other  camps across the state in the same month, aid workers have said.

Camp official Aung Myint told RFA that hundreds of people were facing various  symptoms from drinking unclean water.

“We are already having a lot of trouble in the camp. Hundreds of people are suffering from diarrhea. My child is also suffering from it, too,” he said. “Three people from the camp have died from disease. It is caused mainly due to unclean drinking water, rising heat and the toilets.”

Mass displacement and disruption in Rakhine State from fighting between junta forces and ethnic minority insurgents from the Arakan Army, has forced thousands of people from their homes and deprived them of their livelihoods. Those forced into camps, mostly members of the persecuted Rohingya minority, lack access to doctors and sanitation. 

RFA tried to contact Rakhine State’s junta spokesperson, Hla Thein, but he did not respond.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.