Four days after a 13-year-old boy was killed by a downed power line submerged in a deep, murky puddle in his neighborhood, several branches of the Yangon government convened to formulate a plan to address the city’s electrocution problem, which claims dozens of lives every rainy season.
Their conclusion: With local authorities ill-equipped to fix the city’s infrastructure, the public must do more to stop people from dying.
“When the weather is particularly severe, the authorities can’t respond immediately,” said South Okkalapa Township MP Saw Naing, who attended the meeting on July 17. “When you see an electrical wire go down, it is the public’s responsibility to notify the relevant authorities.”
The MP said the circumstances surrounding the death of Myo Min, the boy who was electrocuted in his constituency on July 13, exemplify the need for more public involvement.
“On the same day as this case, we were undergoing street renovations just two streets down from Than Thu Mar Road [where Myo Min was killed]. It was raining so hard that we had to wait in a tea shop until the rain subsided. The rivers were overflowing and flooding the surrounding streets, so we were stuck,” Saw Naing told Coconuts. He recommended that all Yangon residents have the phone numbers of their township officials, parliament representatives, and the Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation (YESC) on hand in case they need to report a fallen power line.
“Even if they don’t immediately answer the phone, you can leave messages on their phone,” he said. “Everyone shares responsibility in cases like this.”
However, witnesses to Myo Min’s untimely death say Saw Naing’s advice rings hollow because it describes exactly what they did that day.
“My father in law reported to YESC as soon cable went down. They didn’t come,” said Katherine Lu, whose security camera captured the moment of Myo Min’s death in a video that has since gone viral.
“After incident, nobody helped him because the electricity still on. Around 10 minutes after hearing about it, YESC cut off the electricity, and the boy’s parents took him away to hospital, but it was too late to save him,” Lu said.
When asked why YESC did not turn off the power flowing through the fallen power line until three hours after it was first reported and 10 minutes after Myo Min was killed, Saw Naing said: “We have to accept that the response was weak in this case. We can’t argue against this,” he added.
Nonetheless, he said, budget constraints and the YESC’s abrogation of responsibility over the city’s electrocution problem leave him with few options other than advising the public to step up. He explained that YESC announced this year that it would no longer be responsible for clearing foliage that could damage power lines, leaving the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) to take up the task. However, YESC still controls the flow of electricity to different parts of the city, meaning YCDC must ask YESC to switch off the power in parts of the grid that require maintenance.
Saw Naing said there was a “lack of coordination between the two departments” in his township, which may have led to the power line breaking and going ignored for hours.
He said the meeting last week ended with a resolution to come up with funds to repair South Okkalapa’s utility poles and power lines and to educate local schoolchildren on how to avoid electrocution and administer basic first aid. However, he recognized that the process of putting the budgets together could take months.
In the meantime, the lawmaker doubled down on his reliance on public action, advising to South Okkalapa residents to use the YESC phone number as a makeshift hotline to request that power be cut off in areas with fallen power lines.
He said: “You can’t wait for an electricity-related emergency to resolve itself; they require immediate attention. We hope the hotline will help us respond faster.”