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Ye Min Aung: Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene in rural areas

Posted: 12 July 2021

Alumni, COVID-19, Rural development, Social inclusion, WASH,

Australia Awards alumnus Ye Min Aung is playing a leading role in improving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in rural areas of Myanmar. He is drawing on the skills and knowledge he gained during his study in Australia to scale up basic WASH services and practices, which are critically important to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since finishing his Australia Awards Scholarship in 2017, Ye Min Aung has worked at UNICEF Myanmar as WASH Officer. In this role, he is also leading water supply, sanitation and hygiene activities for schools in Kayin (Karen) State, Mon State and Tanintharyi Region to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes managing coordination to provide technical assistance, procurement and installation of handwashing stations in schools and public locations.

“Access to handwashing stations is vital for preventing the spread of COVID-19,” says Ye Min Aung. “So, we have installed handwashing stations in schools for the schoolchildren, and in public spaces such as markets and bus terminals for the general public.”

Kayin State is one of Myanmar’s high-risk areas for COVID-19 infection. This is because its Myawaddy–Mae Sot border point is a major trading hub between Myanmar and Thailand. It has also received a huge number of returning migrant Myanmar workers from Thailand over the past year.

Ye Min Aung explains that UNICEF’s WASH activities are implemented in collaboration with a range of partners, “such as through the Department of Basic Education, Department of Rural Development, Department of Public Health, through NGO partnerships and non-state actors in the South-East regions of Mon, Kayin and Tanintharyi.”

He also emphasises that social inclusion is a core component of the school-based WASH activities he is leading. Examples of inclusion measures include ensuring that students with disability are able to access WASH services and practices, and overseeing construction of gender-segregated school latrines that also include access ramps.

Ye Min Aung received an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Master of Water Resources Management at Flinders University. The Scholarship built on his existing experience and skills in water management, equipping him to be able to drive change and contribute to Myanmar’s development.

Through the course, Ye Min Aung was particularly interested to learn about water management in Australia. “Australia is the second-driest continent on earth. I wanted to learn how water professionals in Australia are managing and tackling the water shortage issues,” he explains. He also valued learning from leading water management and research experts in South Australia through his course.

During the global pandemic, Ye Min Aung is drawing on his experiences in Australia to provide virtual training for teachers, principals, and volunteers about WASH activities. He is also involved in UNICEF’s global outreach activities such as promoting the importance of handwashing.

“As a WASH professional, I feel very much motivated about my contribution and working on the front line, using my qualification to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from the state, regional and township level to the community level for the people in Kayin and Mon States, and Tanintharyi region,” he says.

Ye Min Aung is continuing to work in the sector and is facilitating systems strengthening of WASH programs in Myanmar’s South East region.