Thar: A picture of negligence

Published: November 16, 2014
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What Thar needs are sustained development projects and alternate ways of livestock farming like small industries related to Thar’s environment. PHOTO: INP/FILE

What Thar needs are sustained development projects and alternate ways of livestock farming like small industries related to Thar’s environment. PHOTO: INP/FILE Villagers drawing water from a well outside Mithi. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Almost every year, Thar makes it to the headlines. Whenever metropolitans like Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad or Peshawar face some kind of energy crisis, ministers begin using the idea of Thar coal reserves as a solution for the country’s never-ending energy issues. The government remembers Thar when it comes to coal reserves, but why does it conveniently turn a blind eye when the people of Thar die of hunger and famine?

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been ruling Sindh since the past six year. Six years is enough time for a provincial government to understand, evaluate and solve issues like the drought in Thar – if it is able and competent that is. However, as we see every year, people keep dying and the PPP ministers have nothing to say. They do nothing and they say nothing, so of what use are they?

According to the United Nation World Food Program (UNWFP), the mortality rate of infants in Thar is 87 per 1000 children as compared to the national average of 69 per 1000. According to Chief of Sindh WFP, Aslam Khan, Thar lacks healthcare, education, communication and potable water and it needs government attention to initiate development projects to raise the living standard of the people.

However, the government seems least concerned, and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah’s recent, insensitive statement that “deaths of children being reported in Tharparkar are largely on account of maternity-related complications and not of hunger or food” is proof of that.

What CM Sindh doesn’t understand is that malnutrition is the leading cause of complicated childbirth.

According to former physician of Hill Park General Hospital, Dr Ali Zaidi, the most risky condition that a woman can develop due to malnutrition is IUGR (Intra Uterine Growth Retardation) – where either the children are born still or they develop moderate to severe physical retardation. Lack of vaccinations, proper prenatal care and malnourishment are all causes of preterm babies becoming prone to infections.

Thar hasn’t had any rain since 2012 and this has made matters all the more worse; people have no water, the wells have run dry and there is no grass or green land for the cattle to graze upon. And on top of that, the Pakistan Meteorological Department has predicted that Thar won’t receive any rain in the coming season either. So what, exactly, is PPP planning to do about all this?

This is a socioeconomic problem which PPP could easily have tackled in its six-year-long rule (five of which they had federal power too) had the government done what it was supposed to do – provide a proper and sustainable water supply system.

According to Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP) the people of Thar are living below the poverty line, in extremely inhumane conditions. Livestock farming is the biggest source of income for the people of Thar, which is affected badly due to dry weather. During dry season, livestock migration towards fertile areas is the only way to save the cattle. But since the government has restricted the migration of animals – for unknown reasons – animals are dying from hunger.

Lack of planning and negligence by the government is the biggest cause of deaths in Thar.

Due to the absence of a local government system, the bureaucracy has shown its usual lacklustre response to this problem. The local administration has shown massive failure in delivering food and aid on time, despite our media blaring on and on about the suffering of the people.

Thar doesn’t need ration bags every year – especially not after 50 or so children die of hunger anyway.

The people of Thar don’t need temporary aid that rarely reaches them and caters for only a few.

What Thar needs are sustained development projects and alternate ways of livestock farming like small industries related to Thar’s environment. The reopening of Khokhrapar-Munabao trade route between India and Pakistan through Thar can create trade activities and employment for the people.

As Oxfam Pakistan explains, there is no famine in Thar but only inequality, ill-conceived economic policy, bad governance, and unfair distribution of resources and all this is because of the ad hoc style of democracy being practised in the area.

If the current Sindh government can spend lavishly on the Sindh festival and political jalsas in Karachi, then why can’t they mobilise the resources to counter the grievous situation of Thar? We, as a nation, celebrate Youm-e-Takbir Day, Kashmir Solidarity Day and al Quds Day but completely forget the reality that many of our areas, especially in the rural regions in Sindh, still lack basic facilities like clean water, proper shelter, basic health necessities and schools.

And for this, PPP is accountable.

Farheen.Rizvi

Farheen Rizvi

The author is a supporter of the MQM, has a Bachelors in business management from Iowa and a Masters degree in international management from the University of Maryland. She works for US based charities like IMHO and SUN while based in Virginia. She tweets @farririzvi (twitter.com/FarriRizvi)

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