When long-term plumber Allan Toole first set foot in Seikkyi 16 years ago, he was struck by the pollution.
Seikkyi island sits in the middle of Yangon city in Myanmar. Sharing its waterways with Yangon’s huge commercial shipping industry, its water is unsafe for consumption given the pollution in Yangon’s ports. Floods and king tides bring waves of garbage and disease.
“It’s a very poor community,” says Allan, “living in close quarters with rubbish and without access to clean water.”
Allan has received a $10,000 Reece Abroad Grant to support the community in water sanitation initiatives. He and the team are travelling to Seikkyi to install more than 100 bio-sand filters (BSFs), which comprise layers of sand and gravel, topped with a biolayer holding bacteria that destroy disease-causing pathogens in the water. This system doesn’t need a power source – it works by gravity – and generates 12-18 litres of drinkable water in an hour.
The project began earlier this year, when the team first installed 20 filters in Seikkyi, currently catering to roughly 200 people. Allan hopes to reach around 1000 more individuals with the new installation. The BSFs already active in the community have prompted a drastic decline in illness, and the islanders are in noticeably better spirits.
“I’d say the filters are just 40% of the change,” says Allan. “Things really picked up after the installation of that first lot. We started noticing efforts to clean up the area, and that was the first sign of the community’s belief in this cause. A big part of that is awareness. Education has such an uplifting quality to it, and that’s what sparked the noticeable change – clean water and better sanitation was the first building block.”
Allan has seen what the absence of clean water can do to a community. It shatters spirits, he says, and leaves little room for a conversation around any other type of progress. “After all,” he points out, “how can you talk to anyone about democracy or good governance when their children are dying?” Long-awaited access to clean water has finally sparked some belief within Seikkyi, that positive change is possible.
The early signs of success have motivated Allan to look beyond installation of the filters, to empowering the islanders to build their own filters in the future. Allan hopes to set up BSF manufacturing capabilities and train the community in maintenance and quality control of the filters.
“We’ve been bringing some of the youth in and training them. This has really helped in boosting their confidence – many of these young men have moved on to other work as a result.”
For more information on Allan’s ongoing work in Myanmar, visit http://livingwater.org.au