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A Local Self-Driven Man Solving Floods – The Importance of Local Leadership in Myanmar Water Sector

One of the fundamental essences of leaderships is self-motivation, the ability to motivate yourself and drive people to keep going even in the face of setbacks, to create opportunities and to demonstrate a commitment to what they want to achieve.

Aside from the definition, this is a message that I want to share by showing an example from the real world.

Here is U Tin Tun Win, the man who has been trying to mitigate flooding since he became an administrative officer at Ward 5 of Thaketa Township, Yangon. He was elected by the local community and acted as a guardian for the ward. A 52-year-old local, who was born and raised in Thaketa, has an ambitious vision to change his native township into a clean, safe and friendly environment.

“Fixing the Drains” Journey  

Starting from March 2016 when he started his administrative position in Ward 5, Thaketa, the first thing was he wanted to fix the drains to mitigate frequent floods every year. He started a plan of dredging the sediments from the drains in April after Thingyan. 

In the beginning, U Tin Tun requested financial support from a friend of his who have told him before to ask for help when it comes to local community development of where his company also was located. Aside from getting help from the business actor, he also initiated fundraising campaign in which he summoned every household to donate for his “fixing the drains” journey in ward 5. He said, “at last I did it with two third of funds from the ward and the rest was from his friend’s company.” With a backhoe and a couple of workers who joined voluntarily and with the payment, he did accomplish his first “fixing the drains” journey. He had led the team throughout his regime and cleaned up and dredged the drains 3 times every year before the monsoon season.

“When we started doing this, we received few supports from the community as they did not know what beneficial things came up from this work,” he mentioned his journey. “After we did, people felt the new experience of fixing the drainages as few floods occurred and neighborhood became cleaner,” he compared the situation of how the locals responded before-and-after conditions. He mentioned that some of the people condemned him of collecting budgets from each household for his campaign on social media. “Eventually, those people became silent when we finished the works, and the result was gratifying,” he shared his experience.

In Yangon, most places suffer floods during the monsoon season every year due to the pile of garbage in the drains, which is one of the reasons caused by urbanites. I reckon that people can say who is responsible for this and how we can fix it by dredging the sediments, telling people “do not throw the trash into the drains” phrase virally. It is indeed, simple and easy. Of course, it is easier said than done. Only few local authorities are performing their jobs done without waiting for the international donors and government support.

U Tin Tun is one of the very few people, driven by his devotion and believe his works. On the other hands, his desire is practical and achievable when he tried to alleviate the floods with the knowledge he had. I wonder how he got himself such a devotion and why he wants to achieve a clean and friendly environment in his neighbourhood.

Why he wants to achieve a clean and friendly environment – A vision to change in Myanmar  

His inspirational vision derived from his experience while he was working in Singapore in 2008.

In retrospect, he could see the differences in the environments as soon as he arrived at the airport. “I thought it was wonderful to see Yangon airport before we took off. However, when I arrived in Singapore, things are completely different,” he said his remembrance.

“Everything was clean, and pedestrians were safe while walking around the city,” he inspired the city nature. “During my free time, I looked everything and went every corner of the places as I wanted to see everything they have in the city,” he rewinds his memory. From that memory, his vision was born someday if he had any authority; he would like to change his environment alike.

Not all Water Leaders are water experts.  

Sometimes, in reality, people who lead society and wants to create a change do not have a fancy or advanced degree. U Tin Tun is not a water expert, and he also admitted himself. He is a diplomat who got a degree in political science from the University of Yangon.

Admittedly, he agrees that when he needs to take the lead, he has to work with specialists. Of course, he got knowledge support from the workers who are actually dredging the sediments by hands, cleaning up the vegetations, and maintaining the retaining wall of the drains.

I wonder water experts should involve in his enthusiasm as support which could leverage his vision to become a sustainable living area. So, I asked him whether there is any support from the government in his regime. So far, he claimed that he got support from an international consortium of which is to build a climate adaptative community in Thaketa.

“They (International Consortium) provided financial assistance in cooperating my work for this year which was turning the drains into concrete retaining wall that could be financially beneficial in the long run,” he added. He estimated that due to creating the concrete wall, the maintenance will not be performed every year. Check out more detailed here.

2-year pilot project by international consortium aims to design, implement and evaluate a variety of climate adaptation interventions in the Thaketa township in Yangon. This project is undertaken at the request of the Yangon Region Government and Yangon City Development Committee and funded together by the consortium partners, the Yangon Region Government and the Dutch Government (Partners for Water program).

This local water leader, U Tin Tun, prefers to carry out his vision and continues to believe his vision in the next years.

One important lesson for me is the role of leaders the ward 5 administrative officer showed the courage to stand up and speak out. He could have easily hidden behind the ‘too busy’ and ‘no money’ excuses. As a sector, we desperately need to find ways to better support local leaders to find the best-fit solutions to complex water challenges. This is not just technical skills but the skill to be able to influence to communicate a shared direction and seek alignment and commitment from all key stakeholders.

I take my hat off to Ward Officer of Ward 5 in Thaketa, Yangon.


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