Fukuoka city worker on mission to save Myanmar water supply

by Yuki Arai

Kyodo

Masaru Matsuoka, a Fukuoka city employee, has been stationed in Yangon since April 2012, teaching officials of Myanmar’s biggest metropolis how to improve their municipal water system.

Soon after his recruitment by the city government in Fukuoka in 2002, Matsuoka, a 34-year-old civil engineering graduate, was tasked with managing the municipal water distribution facilities.

And since his boss frequently referred to him as “energetic and proactive in everything” Matsuoka undertook, the city government nominated him when the Japan International Cooperation Agency asked it to provide a water supply adviser for its mission in Myanmar.

Matsuoka’s main task in the fast-emerging country is to pass on the water service management techniques and knowhow of Fukuoka, which experienced major droughts in 1978 and 1994 and worked hard to enhance its supply system to cope with any recurrence.

Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, is estimated to lose around 40 percent of its water supply because of leaky distribution pipes. Matsuoka has been busy instructing local officials how to locate seepages using equipment imported from Japan, and is also teaching them how to determine whether meters are operating correctly or if water is being illicitly siphoned off.

As the first person dispatched to Yangon with this mission, Matsuoka has to figure out any problems and come up with solutions practically on his own. He said there are times when he is unable to operate or even locate valves shown on the schematics of the city’s water supply system, but he remains positive nonetheless.

“I would like to improve the city’s water system together with local workers and always remember to keep a smile on my face,” said Matsuoka, who remains fascinated by Yangon’s ever-smiling residents and considers Yangon “my second hometown.”

For the past year, he has been pushing for the city’s water usage fees to be collected electronically instead of through the traditional ledger sheets used. He has managed to get it going on a trial basis.

Myanmar has made rapid strides in its democratic and economic transition since a civilian government came to power in March 2011 after decades of oppressive military rule. But since this shift is still in its infancy, “I suppose people here might have had few opportunities to learn advanced techniques from overseas,” Matsuoka, who is scheduled to complete his mission next April, noted.

“I would like to contribute (to Myanmar’s development) as much as possible,” he said.