Yangon residents queue for water as power blackouts bite

Clutching pails, tubs and buckets, residents of Myanmar’s bustling commercial capital Yangon queued for water on Monday, as rolling power outages aggravate the economic misery sparked by last year’s military coup.

Last week the junta announced the country’s already patchy power supply would be further reduced for seven days, blaming rising gas prices and attacks by anti-coup fighters on infrastructure.

The increasing outages see homes and businesses in Yangon, home to some seven million people, plunge regularly into darkness and leaving many unable to draw water to their homes.

“ We can use charcoal for cooking but we can’t live without water,” said Ko Aung as he queued with around 30 others next to a water bowser visiting his northeastern neighbourhood in the city.

“ Even if there is electricity, without water from the system, we can’t cook anything,” said the 40-year-old.

Power outages are common in Myanmar thanks to a creaky and outdated electricity grid, with demand regularly outstripping supply during the sweltering summer months.

“ Since the beginning of March we have been receiving 150-200 calls each day from people asking us to supply water,” said Htun Htun, heading a team of volunteers delivering the vital fluid.

“ Today we are giving water to about 3000 households,” he told AFP.

“ Shortages of water and electricity usually happen in summer but it’s worse this year.”

Last July Yangon’s power supplier warned customers their electricity supplies could be disrupted if they continued refusing to pay their bills as part of a boycott that has hit junta coffers.

Thousands of civil servants have walked out in protest against the regime, leaving schools, universities and hospitals empty and the State Administration Council — as the junta calls itself — struggling to issue bills or collect taxes.