Monsoon doesn’t seem to bother the residents of Yangon much. Boys selling snacks by traffic lights open up their umbrellas and continue peddling goods from car to car. A taxi driver chucks a food wrapper into the gutter on the roadside.
Litter is causing a flooding problem in the city, the Yangon’s Mayor U Maung Maung Soe says, with garbage clogging up drainage systems during the rainy season. But most citizens are not aware of these consequences: “The citizens don’t know about what happens once it becomes the rainy season”, he says.
The city is bringing in actors, actresses, dance troupes and even popular icons such as the Power Rangers to help raise awareness of the city’s garbage problem. “We have a special programme; we organise with the celebrities, the actors and actresses, and we pick up the garbage and learn how to keep the garbage systematically,” the Mayor adds.
With rapid urbanisation, Yangon’s challenges are skyrocketing on a daily basis. GovInsider caught up with the city’s Mayor to see how he can tackle these growing pains.
Blackouts and water crisis
Yangon, Myanmar’s bustling commercial capital, contributes to more than 35% of the country’s GDP. This is not unlike London, where economic activity is also famously unbalanced – the city contributes 23% to the United Kingdom’s GDP. Yangon’s population is nearly more than 10 million, the Mayor points out, and the city’s infrastructure has not been able to keep up with this growth.
Residents are concerned about the city’s water supply. The artificially-created Inya Lake on the western edge of the city provides some supply. But the city is looking for more sources of water. “Now we are trying to take the fresh water from the river and also from the dam,” the Mayor says. The city’s water supply network also needs to be repaired, with old leaky pipes adding pressure on the limited supply.
Electricity city is another point of concern. Yangon currently consumes half of the country’s electricity production, and yet it suffers blackouts throughout the day. “There is a frequent lack of electricity,” the Mayor agrees.
The city’s residents are often left in darkness when consumption is too high. The frequency of power outages increases during summer as well as the rainy season. In another four years, the city will need the amount of electricity the entire country currently consumes.
This year, three new power plants were built to cater to electricity needs in the city, but more needs to be done to meet Yangon’s power needs in the future. In response, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) has recently installed a new gas plant and plans to build more to cater to areas with poor access. The Committee is also upgrading older electricity plants with the new transmission lines and power stations.
The local government is also fixing the city’s worn down public transport system. The city has recently started to regulate the Yangon bus service, and the service was rehauled with newer buses, more accessible bus routes and standard fares introduced.
Yangon is now installing cashless payments systems on the buses, with prepaid public transport cards being introduced. Residents will also be able to use them on trains, water taxis and even in restaurants and supermarkets once it has been linked to their bank cards.
The city development committee is also improving roads and traffic signals across the city. There are plans to launch a traffic control system that will direct traffic through automated systems and change traffic lights depending on the number of cars on the road. “Traffic in the city has improved”, the Mayor adds – “not all the times, we have traffic congestion, only the morning and evenings, but otherwise all the other traffic is normal.”
Yangon also wants transport to be disable-friendly. The committee is putting up signs and signals for the disabled under traffic lights, to make it easier for them to move around. “Before we did not have this chance,” the Mayor notes, “but now we have this chance to do something.”
The city wants help from residents and companies to solve these challenges. Just last week, the local parliament passed a new municipal law that allows any resident over the age of 18 to vote on local matters. Before, only the breadwinners of each family were allowed to vote. The law will introduce guidelines on “how to collaborate with the people, how to collaborate with the company and how to improve in what way,” the Mayor says.
In the meantime, the Power Rangers and local celebrities must continue their civic duty to engage Yangon’s residents in its development.