An Introduction to Chin State
Chin state is in northwestern Myanmar. It is the most sparsely populated of Myanmar’s 14 States and Divisions. The state is broken into North and South, with Southern Chin comprising 4 Townships (Matupi, Pawetla, Kanpetlet and Mindat). These 4 Townships are among the poorest in all of Myanmar. Northern Chin tends to be in a better socio-economic situation, due mainly to cross-border trade and development with India.
My experiences of Southern Chin are mostly of Mindat Township, though I have some connections to Kanpetlet Township as well. The project I coordinated took place entirely in Mindat Township. This township comprises 197 villages and a population of just over 29,000 individuals in approximately 5300 households. Our project targeted roughly 1/5 of the township, including 35 villages, 1190 households, 5979 individuals.
Water and Sanitation:
Mindat Township is situated in a mountainous region, with elevations ranging from 500 to 2500 meters. Most villages are situated on steep hillsides, meaning water sources can be difficult to come by. Our preliminary surveys revealed that most people had to travel between 15 minutes and ½ day to fetch water at the spring sources. There are few to no roads in Southern Chin, and as people do not have money to own vehicles (with the average locally-produced jeep costing USD5,000-8,000 and monetary incomes ranging from non-existent to USD200 per year per family), all water collection is done on foot, almost exclusively by women and children.
Because the water fetching comes at such a high cost (time, effort), quantities collected are generally too little to allow for proper sanitation practices such as personal hygiene or environmental sanitation. This has resulted in diarrhoea becoming the leading cause of death in Southern Chin. It is important to understand that the people of Southern Chin still live mainly traditional lifestyles involving traditional medicinal practices and animistic rituals (often combined with Buddhist or Christian practices). So, even if higher quantities of water were available at the household level, people would not have the knowledge or desire to use the water for preventing or treating diarrhoea. For example, traditional methods of treating diarrhoea include consuming red millet wine mixed with dog faeces, swallowing live insects or eating the meat or brain of a black dog. Traditional beliefs state that diarrhoea or malaria come from spirits (or ‘nats’) as punishment for bad behaviour. Thus it is clear that education on personal hygiene and water hygiene are crucial elements in reducing mortality rates and improving the quality of life in Southern Chin. In this context, provision of water alone will not save lives.
The public health system has many levels, with the lowest level being the Sub-Rural Health Centres are supposed to be located in rural villages and employ a Midwife or Assistant Midwife (the degree of formal training varying between 2-6 months) to provide basic health care to those in remote areas. Rural Health Centres (RHCs) are supposed to located in small towns in rural areas and offer services by Health Assistants and/or Midwives. Township and District Health Centres (or Hospitals) are found in larger towns such as Mindat or Kanpetlet and will have a handful of qualified physicians and Health Assistants.
The main problem in remote villages in Mindat Township is that the Sub-Rural Health Centres do not really exist. Not only are there virtually no dedicated buildings for health centres, but Midwives who are responsible for providing basic health assistance to clusters of 5-7 villages are most often from Mindat town and do not spend enough (or barely any) time outside of Mindat. When you combine the distance of the villages from Mindat (some take 1-2 days of walking and 5-6 hours of driving) with the extreme poverty in the villages, then it becomes clear that most villagers are unable to find the time or financial resources to reach the nearest Rural Health Centre or Hospital for necessary medicines or medical attention. They simply cannot reach Mindat on their own. Also, without the regular presence of educated health providers, the levels of health and hygiene knowledge in the villages and individual households are dangerously low, leading to frequent deaths from excruciatingly simple illnesses such as diarrhoea.
Next blog entry:
Traditional music and handcrafts