The restrictions on physical movement to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are impacting both urban and rural areas. The pandemic and measures to control it are affecting the agricultural economy in varying degrees in different parts of the country, with water-deficit areas bearing the main brunt. Residents of the Thar desert region of Sindh are running short of water and fodder for their cattle because of the prolonged lockdown. Spread over an area of 77,000 square miles the annual average rainfall in the region is a mere 10 inches. Due to scanty rains, people chiefly depend on cattle rearing for livelihood. In the most-dry months of April, May and June, residents shift to nearby districts of Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Badin where they get both fodder and water for their livestock and work on agricultural farms. But this year they have been unable to migrate to these places because of the lockdown.
Livestock farmers say the shortage of fodder has forced them to ration it for the cattle. According to these farmers, many residents who, with their livestock, tried to migrate to other districts have been forced to return by those entrusted with the task of enforcing the lockdown; and even some of those who had managed to migrate to other places have been forced to return home. Complaining that they cannot bring fodder and water from other places because of the curbs on plying transport, they have asked the government to relax the lockdown so that they, with their cattle, can move to adjoining districts. At these places they can get work as farmhands and their livestock water and fodder. Residents say the shortage of fodder and water will have manifold effects on livestock farmers. They fear cattle dying in large numbers and reduced breeding thereby leaving farmers in dire economic straits.
The shortage of water is a perennial problem in Thar. The prevailing conditions once again underscore the need for extending the canal network to this region.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2020.
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