UNESCO-IHE fellowship: strengthening Myanmar’s water security

Water security and improved management of water resources, in conjunction with improved land management, are featuring more prominently on Myanmar’s agenda as the country takes a further important stride forward after years of isolation.  

Water security and water resource management in Myanmar being prioritised after years of neglect © EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

Despite regular disasters, including cyclones and frequent episodes of serious flooding that have resulted in huge losses of life and property, water security and water resource management has historically been neglected and overlooked in this country.

But on June 23-28 in Yangon, academics, officials, experts and international guests oversaw the graduation of Myanmar’s first fifteen Ayeyarwady Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) fellows who presented their research and work after 10 months of mentorship.

In his opening remarks at the symposium – which was organized by the WLE project leads, UNESCO-IHE and Mandalay Technology – Director General U Htun Lwin Oo of the Ministry of Transport spoke of his hope for the future.

“Serious threats still face Myanmar’s water systems and water security,” he said. “But assembling a combination of international organizations, civil society, private interests and new leaders such as these [fellows] is key to taking Myanmar forward.”

The Ayeyarwady WLE Fellowship Progamme - which is being implemented by the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, along with key partners - aims to move the issues of water security and water resource management further up Myanmar’s list of priorities, whilst injecting the field with fresh minds and new leadership.

International expertise and local specialists play equally critical roles in this mentoring and training process. 

The first diverse group of water professionals - selected and trained by Yangon Technological University, with the support of international mentor organizations such as IUCN – have been heralded as “Myanmar’s future leaders in the fields of water security and water resource management,” by officials here in Yangon.

UNESCO-IHE WLE fellows posed with their trainers, mentors and invited guests at a symposium in Yangon © IUCN/Jack Laurenson

The first batch of WLE fellows came from a variety of backgrounds and different areas of expertise, but all were regarded as displaying the qualities required to make significant contributions to Myanmar’s increasingly important water policies.

Presenting a variety of interesting research projects on subjects ranging from sedimentation buildup in rivers, industrial pollution in drinking water and mangrove conservation approaches, the fellows drew both praise and some constructive criticism from the symposium’s guests.

Some leading experts pointed out that despite the huge progress made during the program, some fellows could still improve their research, their information gathering methods and their critical thinking and debating abilities.  

Prof. dr. Swe Swe Aye of ARBRO and dr. Nora Van Cauwenbergh of UNESCO-IHE (the project leaders of the WLE training programme) distributed certificates to participants after they completed their presentations, pointing out to assembled guests how much progress their fellows had made over the 10 months.

“They’ve especially made great improvements in their ability to engage in interdisciplinary discussions and better explain their work,” said Dr. Van Cauwenbergh, highlighting communications improvements as a vital component of the programme.

“They’ve also started applying new concepts and approaches to their work, whilst improving their writing and their ability to think critically about their work and the work of others,” she added.

Speaking after the fellows had been presented with their certificates, Zaw Naing, the Managing Director of Mandalay Technology, congratulated the program’s first graduates and said they had exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“This is just the beginning of your journey,” he told them. “I have no doubt that you will now go on to become Myanmar’s leaders in this important area.”

“And we also expect you all to return as mentors for the next batch of fellows!” added Dr. Van Cauwenbergh.


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