Famines do not happen overnight, they are always foretold. Early warning systems are the Cassandra of the modern world, accurate yet unheeded augurs of tragedy. There is a complete process behind such catastrophic hazards. It may well be a natural climate process but the human error in terms of lack of vision, planning and taking premature measures for such situation cannot be neglected.
A major chunk of Thar’s population is feeling the effects of multiple issues such as malnutrition, hygiene and demographic migration. Tharparkar is a district situated in the far south east of Sindh province bordering India. The district is divided into four administrative units namely Mithi, Diplo, Chachro and Nagarparkar. The estimated population of the district is nearly 1.5 million.
The economy is mainly rural and livelihoods are heavily dependent on livestock and rain-dependent agriculture. Communities are faced with regular droughts which disturb livelihood patterns. Lack of food, fodder and water lead to malnutrition, diseases and livestock losses.
Pakistan meteorological department, National Drought Monitoring Centre released some data on 7th March stating that the current disaster may be termed as a “socio-economic disaster” rather than simply drought because seasonal and annual rainfall were just moderately below long-term climatic averages.
The disaster may have occurred by moderately below average rains along with epidemics and the weak socio-economic position of the area. Therefore possible interventions may be made. Having said that, no significant rainfall has been recorded in Tharparkar district from November 2013 till date.
I recently heard the firsthand account of the miserable life experiences of a poor woman from Tharparkar currently at Civil Hospital Hyderabad, where her two year old son Mukesh is hospitalized. Romat Mai (32), living a nomadic life spoke about sufferings in her life and having faced droughts and famine many times. Her husband Halo is a physical labourer.
“We are still living in the Thar of yore, my birthplace is Thar and we work in the fields ploughing and harvesting. What else we can do other than hard labor? I pick cotton in the harvesting season and in return get 3-4 bags of crop. We make just enough for basic survival.
[quote]When there is no water we have to move farther to fetch water from taps provided by NGOs[/quote]
Water is life and it is the real issue in Thar. We have no access to water nearby. I go as far as 3 kilometres to fetch water. The more difficult thing is wells are as deep as 450 feet. Sometimes when there is no water we have to move farther to fetch water from taps provided by NGOs. Men do help us but mostly it is the women who go to fetch the water. Since there is no rain and we are facing an acute water shortage, there is no fodder for our livestock which is dying which in turn affects us all.
There is no hospital in our village. The nearest one is in Mitthi district 48 kilometres from my village. There are neither medical facilities nor food for us though the media’s taking notice has helped. But what about the children who died? My child Mukesh caught a disease from mosquito bites and he is still in a critical condition.
The doctor in Mitthi city is kind hearted, he gives people money from his own pocket. He gave me money to bring my Mukesh here to Hyderabad otherwise his fate might have been the same as the rest of the children in Tharparkar. We have been here since 3 days, my child is recovering and all facilities are being provided by the government.”
There is a dire need for immediate relief for the worst-affected parts of Thar. But the priorities should be efficiency, transparency and quality of relief delivery rather than numbers alone. Corrupt practices in relief delivery can lead to benefits for the few rather than succor for the many. Several non-governmental organizations, with their limited resources, are also contributing to the relief work.
It is not as if this famine-like-situation has come out of the blue, it comes regularly every 2-3 years. A number of factors like ignorance, apathy, deprivation, mismanagement and poor governance are far lager killers than natural catastrophes.