People of Thar have no food or water, but thanks for the free WiFi, PPP

Published: March 15, 2017
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A child lays on a hospital bed in the desert region of Tharparkar. PHOTO: AFP

AAn aerial view taken from a Pakistan army helicopter shows villagers near their homes in the Thar desert area of Mehrano Taluka Deeplo, some 300 kilometres from Karachi, on March 16, 2014. PHOTO: AFP A child lays on a hospital bed in the desert region of Tharparkar. PHOTO: AFP

Recently, the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) inaugurated the first free WiFi villages in Tharparkar. The project, which will cost $2 billion and is projected to be completed in 2019, involves the production of 660 megawatts of electricity through the process of coal mining.

An investigative article published in The National Geographic in 2014 states:

“Coal provides 40% of the world’s electricity. It produces 39% of global carbon dioxide emissions. It kills thousands a year in mines, many more with polluted air.”

Even though WiFi has become such a necessity in today’s world, the question that arises is: do the people living in the villages of Thar even have enough money to spend on these devices? More importantly: Is their basic necessity Wifi or food and water?

According to a recent report by the United Nation Observation Mission on Tharparkar, the districts of Umerkot and Sanghar fall under humanitarian crisis and the situation in these areas has not changed since the last Sindh Drought Needs Assessment report.

For many years, Thar has been making headlines for different reasons. In May 2016, a report released by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) stated that 1,380 children died of malnutrition related issues in Tharparkar. An estimate of 329 children died in 2016, 670 in 2015 and 381 died of malnutrition, famine and poor nutrition in 2014. The report further stated that the root of the crisis is food scarcity and 76% of the population has no food supplies at home. Due to droughts, hundreds of thousands of livestock perished during the crisis as well.

In Thar, people depend on livestock agriculture of millet for their livelihood, but due to low rainfall in 2016, the livestock and the production of cereal grass are at risk. Since 2012, the lack of rains has become worse; the wells have dried up and there is no grass or green land for the cattle to graze upon.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), if the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate among children and women is more than 15%, it is to be considered as an emergency situation. During the National Nutrition Survey conducted in 2011, the GAM rate of Thar was at 22.7% and chronic malnutrition was 45.9%. The overall Sindh GAM rate was 17.5%. However, the situation went fairly unnoticed until 2016 when Sindh health officials confirmed the deaths of 143 children due to malnutrition in five months in a health department report.

In 2014, then chief minister of Sindh Qaim Ali Shah failed to take the matter seriously and in turn made an insensitive statement about the deaths of children in Tharparkar, which he said were caused largely due to maternity related complications rather than hunger. His failure to address these issues  forced Asif Ali Zardari to replace him. In 2016, Murad Ali Shah stepped in as the chief minister of Sindh – a decision hailed by many in Pakistan; however, we are yet to see any improvement in regards to governance.

The Sehwan blast highlighted the current chief minister’s apathy when the victims of the blasts were unable to receive proper treatment at the local hospital and had to travel more than a 100 kilometres towards urban Sindh for the required procedures. Sehwan falls under Shah’s constituency, which is depriving its people of better health infrastructures.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government dealt with the matter of poor governance politically instead of making decisions that would help solve Sindh’s problems. This is PPP’s second consecutive tenure in Sindh, and reports on Thar suggest that they are suffering from the same problems  since 2011. PPP has been ruling over Sindh since the 1970s and the party has remained in total control of Sindh’s financial and political resources; yet, rural Sindh is still miserably poor and underdeveloped, lacking even basic civic infrastructure.

In my previous blog, I raised the question of whether the government only remembers Thar when it comes to coal reserves, while conveniently turning a blind eye to those starving to death. The $2 billion project could have brought a change to the area if basic necessities were available to the people. They need clean water, alternate methods to grow agriculture and sustain livestock during the drought. They don’t need bags of ration, a few mineral water bottles and free WiFi facilities.

To quote Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from the PPP’s official website ,

“If things do not change, there will be nothing left to change. Either power must pass to the people or everything else will perish.”

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.

  • rumi52

    Agree with author, WiFi is not a priority in Thar. But then I see that the author is a MQM supporter. ” Let he who has not sinned cast the the first stone”.Recommend

  • hoho

    The author is a supporter of MQM; enough said really. Its like someone writing an international relations article and mentioning, “the author is a supporter of Al Qaeda..”

    On the article, understand the author’s point of the need for providing basic necessities and primary infrastrucutre for the people of Thar, but isnt this wifi project a private company’s initiative?Recommend

  • Khurram Mall

    “do the people living in the villages of Thar even have enough money to spend on these devices?” Please come and see it for yourself rather than making generalized statements. Mobile companies have already launched their 3G/4G service here, what does this tell? Not everyone in Tharparkar is malnourished as being portrayed by those who never visited even for once and have written dozens of articles on drought in Tharparkar just on the basis of hearsay knowledge.Recommend

  • vinsin

    They are non-Muslims so why bothered? They can always move to India.Recommend

  • Amir Sultan

    To all those complaining about the author you should view the article on its own merit. I agree that Mqm is violent and exploitative but pointing out the useless and misguided steps of the PPP is long overdue. To me it is probably the most inept party in the country right now.Recommend

  • Shamsuddin Shaikh

    Would invite the writer to visit Thar. I am CEO of the company providing the free wifi and feel good about this. Come and visit and then give judgment.Recommend

  • zhyusuf

    misplaced priorities.Recommend

  • zhyusuf

    Inhuman comment from you.Recommend

  • Farheen

    U couldn’t deny the fact about PPP’s crime against their own voters and supporters. It is documented internationally. Recommend

  • Farheen

    You need to i crease your knowledge by reading the reports of onservation missions who along with ur PPP members went there N check what ur own party’s people accepted.Recommend

  • Farheen

    You need to learn English to understand my articles which have een published all over, otherwise it was PPP’s tenure when Al-Qaida leader was found in Pakistan. Enough to know who were supporting terrorists. And no wi-Fi doesnt come in basic need in a drought affected area which has been neglected by their own representatives. Recommend

  • Farheen

    Shamsiddin shb, i can sure see what makes u come to my blog for reply :). Why dont you reply to all the news published in Dawn and in other papers about the current situation and current UN report and then tell people why civilized countries are moving away from using coal for electricity production.Recommend

  • Binte Ali

    Another try to shmae the shameless PPP, they have ruined the legacy of Zulfiqar Bhutto. i was the staunch supporter of PPP, but now I have withdrawn my support from them seeing their awful governance.Recommend

  • Masud Hussnain

    A serious campign is needed to raise the awareness among the People of Interior Sindh that their own vote is putting them in miserable life. PPP should face trial in International court on the basis of crime against people of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Danish Kazi

    PPP is no more peoples party it’s parasite party in my opinion whose only task is to loot and plunder . Their own are not safe of their venom . Thar is one area which gets noticed for their incompetence. But the whole of Sindh presents a gory picture. Shameless it is that we are ruled by such .Recommend

  • Danish Kazi

    So what is ur interest in Thar? I am sure there is a commercial angle unless u r doing a pilot over thereRecommend

  • Parvez

    Your heart is in the right place…….but your argument is flawed. You have drawn a conclusion from patching together news items and most probably drawing room chatter …… Yes our leaders have failed not only the people of Thar but also of Karachi and more generally all of Pakistan and one does not expect much from them…….. so an answer, if not the only answer, is technology because it has the potential to change lives….and even if it’s a small change….its a welcome change.Recommend

  • Afsheen

    Drought and death is nothing new in Tharparkar. Its the same vicious cycle that has been wrought year upon year on the most vulnerable and defenceless- its children.This is what happens when you have successive governments(PPP/PML-N/Q, MQM ) that have no sense of priority when it comes to the welfare of local citizens.Nawaz Sharif and Co are only concerned with creating business for the state. Nawaz Sharif and Co have no interest in human capital, only financial . Children are dying simply due to thirst in this country and yet the public is strangely silent- no protests , no outcry, no nothing. No conscience amongst the caretakers and well to do influential. This CEO of the company providing free Wifi must be living in a air-conditioned bubble.
    Do you think those malnourished starving dying children and their families particularly care for your free wifi and are thrilled about it as you are?
    People don’t want handouts , they want to be able to live in dignity with their fundamental rights intact like health and education , access to clean drinking water and proper nutrition.They need development and direction , not exploitation and exclusionRecommend

  • FlipFlopcarrot

    It is time for people to stop voting for these people. They spend very little money of the total budget alloted to them, harass people, and at the same time create division among the people of Pakistan through inciting hate, caste, and religious extremism. We ourselves make a mockery of this country and cry foul when external forces hamper with us. The company providing the wifi can only do what they can, however; education, health, infrastructure, etc is the responsibility of the provincial government. If provincial government does not work with the people and for the people then no other government will help the province. People say that Punjab is being developed while other provinces are being neglected is because provincial government of Punjab is spending their budget although their spending is biased but still they are spending at something while Sindh government can’t even control their municipal corporations. This is beyond sad. Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    well u liberals are the ones who have demonised people of Thar for so long and now you are here yelling in our faces that its our fault they have no food and water?

    Its your fault. Please check yourselves before pointing fingers at others.Recommend

  • Saqib Ali Rana

    “You need to i crease your knowledge by reading the reports of
    onservation missions who along with ur PPP members went there N check
    what ur own party’s people accepted.”

    Was thinking about signing up for English tutorials.Recommend

  • Patwari

    How would the author visiting Thar change the facts?
    Baby Bhutto took up residence in Thar? His Family
    came back from the Chateau near Paris? Villas in Dubai?
    Is there new grass sprouting there now? Miraculously
    somehow more wells dug themselves up? River Indus
    changed it’s path? Now flowing to sea through Thar?
    Dead livestock came back to life? Malnourished starving
    children suddenly found new Mother Theresas coming to
    their aid? Hospitals are now fully staffed? [ doctors assigned
    to Thar are on extended leave of absences so they can
    work in Emirates!!. While still drawing a salary in Tha!!!
    Famous former Chief Minister Qaim Shah went to visit famine
    stricken Thar. With his entourage of journalists/reporters.
    The lunch spread for all consisted of :-
    Fried Fish, Malaa Boti, Biryani, Koftas, Tandoori Chicken, Nan.
    While starving children were less than a mile away from the Bungalow.
    80,000 bags of wheat donated by Punjab for victims of the famine
    never reached Thar. Sold on the black market.
    Mr. Shaikh, take a good look at yourself in the mirror…what do you see?Recommend

  • Umair

    MQM might be a jaundice, PPP and PML N are cancer and AIDS level epidemics for the entire country.Recommend

  • Patwari

    No Lubna,…dead wrong. Sindh is the province where there are 4,000
    ‘ghost schools’ fully functional, all salaries paid, fully staffed. With not
    a single student anywhere near them. Nobody knows where the money
    goes. Maybe Punjab has 6,000 ghost schools. Who knows. The ruling
    waderas of Sindh live in Dubai or in chateaus near Paris. Liberals have
    nothing to do with this. The waderas middle name is ‘Corruption.’
    Sindh is looted and plundered by PPP [Party of Expired People]
    Punjab is looted and plundered by PML-N [Party of Panamagate People]
    The landowners and thugs live in London, in very expensive houses which
    they own. Or in a huge palace in Raiwind, Poonjab [deliberately spelled wrong]. The Punjabi thugs middle name is ‘Panamagate’
    Liberals have nothing to do with this.
    Nobody has demonized the people of Thar. For your information, majority
    of people living in Thar are….Hindus! Now, then, do you understand?
    Minorities are simply treated atrociously in the Land of Pure. Ask anyone.
    Liberals have nothing to do with this.Recommend

  • Khurram Mall

    How many times have you visited Tharparkar? I am from Punjab and have been serving as Assistant Commissioner and Additional Deputy Commissioner since 2014 so whatever I am telling you is on the basis of my first-hand experience. Come to Tharparkar, be our guest and see for yourself!Recommend

  • Patwari

    When an average Thari walks approx. 5 miles a day, to get
    potable water, just DRINKING water, a WiFi or having a
    computer in his hut/shack or some other form of technology
    such as a cellphone will help him/her? How? They will be
    able to call Moscow? Perhaps you can give them your number?
    Surf the internet? While their children are dying?
    Ah yes! They can call the United Nations. Human Rights Watch!
    Would you not say a well borer with plenty of diesel, will be
    more appropriate, more welcomed. So wells can be dug as needed,
    where needed. So bare bones sustenance vegetable gardens
    can be planted, next to the hovels. Call it plain survival time?
    Why don’t you face the real issue. Majority of Tharis are Hindus.
    Now then, does that ring a bell? [More like clanging, not ringing]Recommend

  • Parvez

    You’re being over dramatic….I said technology is ONE of the answers.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    well u liberals were the ones who were creaming to wage a war against terrorists for so long and begging Pak army to take action. Guess what, Pak army finally bowed down to your demands and started operation zarb e azb. FYI, when u r rushing for war without proper planning, this is what happens! Poverty and malnourished.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Do you have to visit Thar in person to get a feel for the
    desolation, lack of jobs, a severe enveloping drought,
    no infra structure, lack of basic medical care and all the
    other rmaladies that afflict the region? See, you will barely
    be able to travel because the roads are in no condition to
    allow passage. You might just make it to Umerkot. If at all.
    Last time the map was checked, Thar is still the most
    blighted area of Sindh. It has not migrated or drifted into
    Punjab, …or better still, towards the outskirts of Paris.
    Paris, where the owners of Sindh live in this vast, plush
    chateau [Marie Antoinette must be turning in her grave]
    We all know the Govt. of Sindh lives in Dubai. And commutes
    to work in Pakland. Or run it over Skype.
    Companies launching 3G/4G will allow the 15/20 Tharis who
    own cell phones to call their lords and masters in Paris or
    Garhi Khuda Buksh, maybe even in Dubai. Hyderabad?
    In Thar more than 1000 children died of malnutrition or from
    lack of simple medical care, just last year.
    Even one lost child, is one too many.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Signing up for English tutorials wont help you.
    Try learning Sindhi, the language of Baby Bhutto,
    and his abba,….. Mr.10% and his beloved sainted
    mother,..’The Mohtarma’ . Same Mohtarma who
    removed $1.79 billion dollars from the Pakland
    exchequer, during her two tenures on the throne.Recommend

  • Khurram Mall

    When I was posted in Tharparkar, I was thinking the same way you have mentioned but things appeared to be different once I landed here. That is why I say one have to visit Tharparkar before commenting on drought and all other “issues”. You are talking about infrastructure/roads just on the basis of “Map”?? Come and see how many tharis own cell phones you will be amazed to see how many do not own cell phones! There are lots of misconceptions about Tharparkar just because it is remote and many people rely on different reports of NGOs etc or “Maps” rather than going there themselves.Recommend

  • Despicable Dude

    There no Army operation in Thar. or interior sind, the drought in interior sind has nothing to do with terrorism or operation against it. I dont know how you link the two together.

    Secondly, you are blaming liberals for asking to wage war against terrorists. So does that mean you dont want any actions against the terrorist ? Recommend

  • Despicable Dude

    How can technology be an answer for somebody who hasnt seen an electric bulb in his life ?

    Its like sending a 3 year old child to University, because university education is important!Recommend

  • Despicable Dude

    First try to save the minority in your own country.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    i want action against the terrorists only when its properly planned, not when it leaves thousands of children and families at risk of poverty and undernourishment.Recommend