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Improving Water and the Environment in Myanmar

Yangon's basic water data (2011)
Administrative population 5.14 million
Service coverage 39%
Population served 1.93 million
Non-revenue water (NRW) ratio 66%
Leakage ratio 50%
Sewerage service connection ratio 4.2%

In their master development plan, before 2040 (population: 8.52 million), Yangon City aims to increase service coverage to 80%, serve 6.81 million people, and lower NRW and leakage ratios to 15% and 10%, respectively. No target is set for sewerage service connection ratio.

KUBOTA's Total Contribution Approach

One of the unique advantages of KUBOTA's Water & Environment business is its proven track record of offering a broad range of solutions, covering everything from purification to treatment of domestic and industrial water. One might naturally wonder what kind of approach KUBOTA could take for domestic water in Myanmar. We headed back to their former capital Yangon to see what is happening there.

First, it may be helpful to consider the facts about water supply and sewerage in Myanmar. According to data from JICA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Yangon's waterworks date all the way back to 1842, the year in which development started. Now, they source water from four reservoirs and a large number of wells. A survey by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), which assumes jurisdiction over water supply and sewerage in the city of Yangon, indicates that approximately 39% of its population is served by the water supply system. What's more, as much as two-thirds of the surface water in reservoirs, which account for some 90% of the city's water, are supplied without being purified. It seems clear that their water supply leaves much to be desired in terms of both quality and quantity.

Their sewerage is also still undeveloped. YCDC claims that only 4.2% of the people covered by the sewerage system are actually connected to it. Sewerage development began in the inner-city district in 1888, but a sewage treatment plant was not built until 2004. Even with the plant, sewage is treated in some commercial areas at the city center with only a system for collecting waste water from toilets in place. Gray water and sewage in other parts of the city are discharged into the storm drainage system without being treated, which only worsens the city's living environment. To improve the situation, JICA has come up with a master plan in which they suggest that plumbing be developed by using yen credits. Nonetheless, it will likely be some time before this plan takes on a concrete shape.

Tapping into its wealth of knowledge in water and green engineering, KUBOTA is offering innovative solutions to the situation in Yangon. Deputy General Manager Tsuyoshi Suzuki of KUBOTA Corporation Yangon Branch spoke to us about the strategy.

“Like Japan, local governments here are responsible for developing water supply and sewerage systems. Because it costs a lot to build large plants, plumbing, and pipelines, however, it would most likely require some time before they develop that kind of infrastructure. Such being the case, KUBOTA has opted for on-site service' rather than ‘centralized services,’ and our salespeople have started moving accordingly.”

Those salespeople are in the process of visiting the owners of buildings and factories, hospitals and clinics, hotels, condominiums, and restaurants to explain why they need to install water purifying systems and waste water treatment tanks. Their strategy is to install distributed water treatment equipment at points where many people are concentrated, so that they can then connect those points to create a network.

From industrial uses to everyday applications, KUBOTA offers its water and environment technologies as a total solution. Seeing is believing, as they say, and so we headed to the venue of MYANWATER, a comprehensive exhibition showcasing a wide variety of water-related technologies.

  • Posing in front of a waste water treatment tank (left: Yangon Branch Deputy GM Tsuyoshi Suzuki, right: Section Manager Wataru Yokoyama, Water Engineering & Solution Overseas Dept.)

The Epitome of KUBOTA Engineering – “Small Plants”

We arrived at the site of MYANWATER to find a bustling venue. The first thing that caught our attention at KUBOTA's booth was a water purifying system. Combining ceramic membranes, which are under development by KUBOTA, with RO (reverse osmosis) membranes, the system produces high purity water known as RO water. Until now, most conventional systems that use RO membranes have typically used disposable organic filters, which require frequent replacement. Use of ceramic membranes, which can be recycled after cleaning, make it possible to develop water purifying systems with low running costs and a high level of environmental friendliness. Much of Myanmar's water is hard and contains significant amounts of salt and iron, making such untreated water unsuitable for industrial use, let alone for drinking. KUBOTA's water purifying systems are notable in that they help to advance the quality of life and industry by positively contributing to Myanmar's water and environment.

KUBOTA asks local bottled water manufacturers to install such a system for a test. We sampled their bottled water to find that it was odor-free and even more soft and drinkable than mineral water purchased in Japan.

“We asked people living in the suburbs, who said they usually drink well water, to try it. They looked puzzled at first, saying ‘It has no taste.’ About half a year later, we were surprised to hear them say ‘This water is delicious!’ and find that they enjoyed drinking it,” said Suzuki.

“It's hard for people to lower their standards once they've encountered something good. Myanmar's GDP will only grow in the future, and I'm sure that KUBOTA's water purifying systems will find broad acceptance among the people in this country.”

Suzuki said that he wanted to delve deeper into the needs of Myanmar's people through test marketing, which started in December 2014.

The next thing that drew our attention at the booth was a waste water treatment tank named “Johkasou,” which treats toilet waste water and household effluent. Referred to as Model Number “KZ-5,” the unit is manufactured in Japan, exported, and distributed here by local agencies. Sewage in the tank is separated through filters, and undergoes both anaerobic and aerobic treatment, which use microorganisms that are averse to or thrive on oxygen, respectively. The effluent becomes clear as it circulates through the process before finally being discharged. This compact tank achieves a level of processed water quality equivalent to that at large sewage treatment plants. This “small plant” is the epitome of KUBOTA's proprietary technologies.

  • High interest was shown in state-of-theart water purifying systems.
  • Bottled water made from KUBOTA’s water purifying systems was passed out at the venue.
  • Some members of YCDC, who are responsible for waterworks, paid a visit to KUBOTA’s booth.

Wataru Yokoyama is in charge of Johkasou, the waste water treatment tank business at the Water Engineering & Solution Overseas Department.

“We began distributing this two and a half years ago, and have sold a total of over 100 household Johkasous. If only the government would offer incentives to prospective buyers in the form of environmental regulations and subsidies, we would be able to sell even more…” he said with anticipation.

If Myanmar is to sustain its current economic growth, the development of water supply and sewerage is inevitable. In fact, the low water quality in the country has something to do with the high infant mortality rate reported in the UN Millennium Development Goals (the UN's mid-term goals for its challenges). JICA's statistics state that the infant mortality rate in Myanmar is 48 for every 1,000 births, making it the worst among Southeast Asian counties. Improvement of water environments is thus an imperative issue in Myanmar.

Some people say that Myanmar lags far behind other Southeast Asian countries in terms of economic development. Once you set foot on the soil of the country and get to know warm and simple people living here, however, you will develop the single wish of seeing them live in comfort.

“I came to Myanmar from Japan on business, but actually being here makes me really wish for people's lives here to become comfortable. I would be truly happy if I could contribute to environmental improvement in Myanmar, and by doing so help advance our business here,” explains Yokoyama. Having spent nearly two years in Myanmar, Suzuki continues while nodding.

“Myanmar is going through a bubble economy period, but it strikes me that this benefits only some rich people and hardly any ordinary people. I love this country. People here are honest and don't lie. I see so many good people, and I wish that these people could lead more affluent lives. I do what I do in the belief that it will help make this country truly better.”

Contributing to the improvement of water and the environment in Myanmar means nothing less than underpinning the very lives and livelihood of the general public there. The words that we heard impressed us with the commitment to making social contributions through business, which is something that only KUBOTA can do.



MYANWATER is an international water and waste water technology show launched in November 2013 by a Malaysian event company. Its visitor profile encompasses owners of buildings, factories, and hotels, as well as government officials. Many YCDC officials can also be found there. At the second event in 2014, concurrent events included MYANBUILD (a building materials and construction trade show) and MYANENERGY (a trade show of electric power equipment and alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic power generation systems), which together drew a large number of visitors from infrastructure-related businesses. Many trade shows like these have been organized in Myanmar since 2012, serving as evidence of the powerful thrust behind the country's rapid economic growth.