Ma Yu launched her makeshift polystyrene boat into a Yangon creek for another day of trawling the filthy waters for plastic and tin cans with her team of “river cleaners.”
About 10 others join her in the dawn light, driven to work the fetid gray-brown murk of Pazundaung Creek by the economic crisis that has gripped Myanmar since the 2021 military coup.
They gather recyclable materials to sell to traders, their only source of income since losing their jobs after the putsch that upended the economy and sparked widespread unrest.
“There was no job for me on the land and I’m responsible for my children and my husband’s healthcare,” the 36-year-old Ma Yu told reporters, her cheeks and forehead daubed with the sandalwood thanakha paste popularly used in Myanmar to ward off the blazing sun.
“So I rented some polystyrene sheets and I went onto the creek with my neighbor. On the first day we managed to collect some plastic and cans to sell. We were happy,” she said.
Myanmar’s economy has been battered by the fallout of the coup, with more than 1 million people losing their jobs, according to the International Labour Organization.
Ma Ngal, 41, came to the river after losing her job selling vegetables and fish at a Yangon stall, with her carpenter husband also unable to find regular work.
“I didn’t tell my parents and family members that we are doing this work,” Ma Ngal said. “But they found out, and I had to explain to them that I’m doing this for my family.”
On a good day a picker can find trash worth 30,000 kyat (US$10), but more often the take-home pay is about US$3.
“Before we started working there was lots of plastic, cans and bottles on the creek,” said Kyu Kyu Khine, 39, who used to collect trash from Yangon’s streets.
The pickers try to time their working days with the tides — floating downstream in search of more trash when it ebbs and riding it back upstream at the end of a shift.
However, the tidal surges can be treacherous, said Ma Yu, who was knocked off her boat on one of her early forays onto the water.
“Sometimes I think that if something happens to me, I’m all alone here and I can’t do anything,” she said.
The waters also carry regular reminders of the breakdown of order in Yangon, where residents say crime is surging in the aftermath of the coup.
The pickers regularly see dead bodies floating on the water, Ma Yu said.
“It’s not an easy job but ... the important thing for me is that my children don’t starve,” she said.
Her fellow picker Ma Ngal said there are some lighter moments.
“Some people joke with us when they see us working. They say ‘here come the municipal team, they know how to clean up the river,’” she said.
The US and the Philippines plan to announce new sites as soon as possible for an expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which gives the Western power access to military bases in the Southeast Asian country. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr last month granted the US access to four military bases, on top of five existing locations under the 2014 EDCA, amid China’s increasing assertiveness regarding the South China Sea and Taiwan. Speaking at the Basa Air Base in Manila, one of the existing EDCA sites, US Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said the defense agreements between the two countries
‘DUAL PURPOSE’: Upgrading the port is essential for the Solomon Islands’ economy and might not be military focused, but ‘it is not about bases, it is about access,’ an analyst said The Solomon Islands has awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara in a project funded by the Asian Development Bank, a Solomon Islands official said yesterday. China Civil Engineering Construction Co (CCECC) was the only company to submit a bid in the competitive tender, Solomon Islands Ministry of Infrastructure Development official Mike Qaqara said. “This will be upgrading the old international port in Honiara and two domestic wharves in the provinces,” Qaqara said. Responding to concerns that the port could be deepened for Chinese naval access, he said there would be “no expansion.” The Solomon
CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS: The US destroyer’s routine operations in the South China Sea would have ‘serious consequences,’ the defense ministry said China yesterday threatened “serious consequences” after the US Navy sailed a destroyer around the disputed Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea for the second day in a row, in a move Beijing claimed was a breach of its sovereignty and security. The warning came amid growing tensions between China and the US in the region, as Washington pushes back at Beijing’s growingly assertive posture in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway it claims virtually in its entirety. On Thursday, after the US sailed the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer near the Paracel Islands, China said its navy and
Seven stories above a shop floor hawking cheap perfume and nylon underwear, Thailand’s “shopping mall gorilla” sits alone in a cage — her home for 30 years despite a reignited row over her captivity. Activists around the world have long campaigned for the primate to be moved from Pata Zoo, on top of a Bangkok mall, with singer Cher and actor Gillian Anderson adding their voices in 2020. However, the family who owns Bua Noi — whose name translates as “little lotus” — have resisted public and government pressure to relinquish the critically endangered animal. The gorilla has lived at Pata for more