Work on the hydrogeology of Myanmar’s Dry Zone to be published after 30 years

Ayeyarwady Basin, Myanmar Central Dry Zone (Image: Matthew McCartney/IWMI).

As part of the Ayeyarwady River Basin Planning Program under the World Bank’s Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management Project (AIRBMP), the AWP is supporting partners to conduct a Groundwater Review of the Central Dry Zone in Myanmar, a 54,000km expanse of land home to almost a quarter of Myanmar’s population of 52 million people.

Map of Myanmar's Central Dry Zone.

Map of Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone.

Leading the Groundwater Review is Aqua Rock Konsultants (ARK) with the support of International Centre of Environmental Management (ICEM).

From 1978 to 1988, the Australian Government funded the Burma Village Water Supply Project, which provided safe drinking water through 3,100 tubewells in the Dry Zone.  The Project was executed by the Rural Water Supply Department (RWSD) with technical support from Australian consultancy Coffey and Partners, where Dr Len Drury was Project Manager from 1984 to 19881.  During this period, an assessment of groundwater resources of the Dry Zone was undertaken by RWSD Hydrogeologists and a draft report prepared by Dr Drury titled ‘An assessment of the hydrogeology and geology in the Dry Zone, Central Burma’.  In 1988, the work was interrupted and not published due to factors beyond the project team’s control.

During the last 30 years, as the names, composition and locations of government departments changed, many databases have been lost. This original hydrogeological assessment remains the most comprehensive to date for this water deficient part of Myanmar.

A groundwater tubewell providing safe drinking water.

A groundwater tubewell providing safe drinking water.

Though the report was never published, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) retained copies and have used the information as the basis for much of their work in the Dry Zone since then. Copies of the original hand-annotated report are still in circulation today, and many MSc theses and groundwater literature reference it extensively.

The current program under the AIRBMP presents an opportunity for the Australian Government to provide a continuity of support to Myanmar through completion of work from that period.

Enduring science and positive reunions

Map from the 2014 census showing how important groundwater is for Myanmar’s rural water supply (Image: IWMI).

Map from the 2014 census showing how important groundwater is for Myanmar’s rural water supply (Image: IWMI).

In 2016, as part of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) review of groundwater issues, Dr Robyn Johnston, IWMI Representative in Myanmar, contacted Len, whose career as a hydrogeologist has since taken him all over the world. Their discussions culminated in his proposal to AWP for support to return to Myanmar to update and publish the report as input to the Ayeyarwady State of Basin Assessment, under the AIRBMP.

“The science of the report is still completely valid—geology doesn’t change much—and the well observations from the 1980s provide a hugely valuable baseline against which to compare current conditions. The information has been very valuable, but not widely accessible. There are no comparable studies anywhere else in Myanmar,” Dr Johnston said.

IWMI organised a workshop with MOALI, which turned into a grand reunion with Dr Drury’s colleagues from the 1980s turning out in force.

“It is a great story about the enduring value of good science, the longevity of Australia’s commitment to Myanmar, and happy reunions,” she said.

With support from the AWP, Dr Drury plans to publish the full updated technical report and will work with IWMI to produce a summary version in English and Burmese, including digital versions of the original maps* and figures by ICEM, to facilitate access to the information for government and NGOs working in rural development, where groundwater is critical.

“After such a long time of international work, it is great working with former counterparts who have developed technical skills and passion for their profession. It is gratifying to be able to complete such an important document for the benefit of future development of Myanmar,” Dr Drury said.

Len Drury (left image, front center) with the team from MOALI in 1988, returning in 2017 (right image) to continue work on the Groundwater Review of the Central Dry Zone, Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Len Drury (left image, front center) with the team from MOALI in 1988, returning in 2017 (right image) to continue work on the Groundwater Review of the Central Dry Zone, Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

The AWP thanks Dr Len Drury and Dr Robyn Johnston for their contributions to this article.
Top image: Matthew McCartney / IWMI

[1]  In Myanmar, Dr Drury also worked on Mandalay City Water Supply, Taung Zin Piped Water, Monywa Copper, NW Village Water Supply and Water Supply to Petroleum Sites projects.
* Maps available soon from the Groundwater Review of Central Dry Zone Project page.

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