Drought or not, children are dying in Tharparkar, Qaim Ali Shah

Published: January 14, 2016

The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers. PHOTO: AFP

Death is a regular visitor at the doors of Tharparkar’s mothers. Within the first 10 days of 2016, 17 children died in just the Mithi area of district Tharparkar in Sindh.

Nothing new.

Between December 2013 and early March 2014, at least 124 lives were lost in Tharparkar, 67 of them at the Civil Hospital Mithi alone. These are just some registered deaths in the most (relatively) developed area of the 20,000 sq km desert comprising the district. And once again, Sindh’s Chief Minister (CM) says these deaths are being exaggerated.

This feels like Déjà vu.

Part of the statement of saeen, as CM Qaim Ali Shah is popularly known as, is probably true – the part that says that the drought is not causing these deaths.

That, Mr CM, should be cause for more concern.

It’s not that the CM and his team are doing nothing about Tharparkar. They form inquiry commissions, send trucks full of wheat, food supplies and medicines, and I am sure they sack a few officials here and there. While all of this can and does help, that help is very temporary. Saeen continues to apply band aid on the wounds of Tharparkar. The wounds inside continue to fester. None of the measures being taken for Tharparkar seem satisfactory and sustainable.

For those who know even a little about the beautiful but desolate Tharparkar know that if at all, the district were in a state of drought, that would be just a miniscule part of its issues.

Consider this.

In March 2014, many reasons for the deaths of the ill-fated children were stated by medical officials at Civil Hospital Mithi. Reasons like sepsis, blood infections, pneumonia, premature births and asphyxia. Why did these children not have even basic medical assistance is the question. Where were the first aid and the tetanus shots that could have helped the kids who died of sepsis? Why were the children not clad warmly enough, and pneumonia killed them? If according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) director general, the newborns carried infections due to deliveries in unhygienic conditions at their home, why are mothers in Tharparkar still giving births at home? Why are there so many premature births in the first place?

Quoting people working on ground level in Tharparkar, open defecation is one of the major problems that causes up to 80 per cent of diseases reported in the rural areas of Tharparkar. This was shared by social activist Mohammed Siddique Rahimon in December 2015, at an event in Umerkot district where local experts discussed how poor infrastructure, a thin network of basic facilities and open defecation are among the major causes of endemic diseases. Umerkot faces the same predicaments as Tharparkar.

Purchasing substandard and expired medicines and supplying these to patients is another cause of death, according to information shared by Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) that works at grass root level in Tharparkar.

It is no secret that a large proportion of the population in Tharparkar does not have access to clean, uncontaminated and enough water. Water with high levels of arsenic among other contaminants in the merciless desert of Thar, when used for drinking, preparing food and irrigation of crops, cripples and kills those who consume it over long periods of time.

Is that too not the government’s responsibility?

But perhaps the biggest reason of disease and death in Tharparkar is malnourishment of its mothers. CM sahib says that if there was drought and lack of healthcare facilities, then men and women would also have suffered equally. Sir, your team is aware that mothers in Tharparkar give births while their haemoglobin level is as low as four. When the mothers are so anaemic and undernourished, what hope do the children they give birth to have to survive?

The CM is right when he says that the death of these children are largely on account of maternity-related complications and not from hunger or lack of food. But who, I respectfully ask those in-charge of governing Tharparkar, will make sure that maternal mortality is controlled in Tharparkar, and the mother is healthy and strong enough to bear a child? The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers.

The first step towards solving a problem is recognising it. The problem lies in bad governance and the government not taking ownership of the painful condition of areas that come in its domain. We request those responsible to take note and step up their game for a holistic solution to the problems of Tharparkar and similar areas in Pakistan before more innocent lives are lost.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    One feels helpless when one reads about the state of affairs in Thar and in much of Sindh. When the ‘ Boss ‘ man of Sindh Mr Asif Zardari and his troop of looters and plunderers take all that they can take with impunity, from Sindh to Dubai and beyond…….incidents like Thar will keep happening and good people will keep complaining and trying to shame the shameless, to no avail.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    83 year old man. With jet black hair, mustache, with about $132 million dollars,
    in off shore accounts. Going senile. With steady income. The Water Mafia, alone,
    generates $11 million A DAY! [It was bringing $ 6 million a day in 2007]. Water
    situation is worse now. Money has to be divided among the cabal. Zardari, Sharjeel Memon, etc. etc. Baby Bhutto Retirement Fund. Baby Bhutto’s educational loans
    need to be paid back. Then there are 8 more Mafias. Land Encroachment payoffs.
    Electricity theft, Gas, etc. etc. ALL OF THESE MAFIAS ARE IN KARACHI ONLY.
    Different Mafias operate in interior of Sindh. The Heartland of the Dead People Party.
    Now do you wonder why Qaim does not want the Rangers in Karachi?
    Anyone remembers 10 month old aby girl Bismah? Who died last month. She was 20 feet from the Emergency Room. But Baby Bhutto’s entourage would not allow her in the hospital…….No, no one remembers her. in the Land of the Sheep.
    She died to give Baby Bhutto and Qaim 20 minutes of TV face time.Recommend

  • http://yasminelahi.wordpress.com Yasmin Elahi

    The facts are figures are undeniable, but who can pull out the Saaen’s head from the sand it is deeply buried in? He, and those responsible for the Thar sufferings, prefer to turn a blind eye to a situation which should be dealt on war footing! We can cry ourselves hoarse but these heartless people will do nothing because they are minting money even from deaths. Let the NGO’s increase their efforts and show our cruel rulers ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’!Recommend