Tharparkar drought: As toll mounts, ministers deny malnutrition deaths

Published: March 9, 2014
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Army personnel distributing free medicines at a camp in Thar. Photo: APP

Army personnel distributing free medicines at a camp in Thar. Photo: APP

KARACHI / THARPARKAR / HYDERABAD: 

Two more children died in the drought-hit district of Tharparkar on Saturday as provincial ministers, who visited the district, joined a chorus of denial that malnutrition was not the cause of the 124 deaths reported since December.

One of the victims was identified as 3-year-old Amin Rahimo from Islamkot taluka while the other was an 8-year-old girl from Diplo taluka.

Meanwhile, 20 more children were admitted to Islamkot’s rural health centre, while eight others were brought to Civil Hospital, Mithi. According to Dr Aneel Kumar, who is one of the two pediatricians at the hospital’s Malnutrition Stabilisation Centre, between 10 and 15 children are brought to the hospital daily.

According to the reports obtained from the health directorate, some 67 children and infants have died at the civil hospital since December.

Twenty-five of these deaths were caused by sepsis, a blood infection, 14 died of pneumonia, 10 due to premature births and eight by asphyxia. The three-month record does not mention any death due to food deficiency.

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However, Noor Mohammad Bajeer, a healthcare activist, denied these claims. Speaking at a conference organised by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) on Saturday, he explained that all the children who have died had blood deficiencies, which is a result of malnourishment. When the doctors write down the cause of death, they only mention the disease they contracted due to the deficiency, he said.

Nevertheless, ministers and officials insisted otherwise. “It will be wrong to say that all the deaths were caused by food deficiency and a shortage of wheat,” Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon told the media in Mithi. Separately, Sindh Minister for Women Development Rubina Qaimkhani reiterated the same stance. “Most of the children have died because of pneumonia. They were affected by the cold weather.”

Only one death has occurred due to malnutrition in this month, claimed Dr Ashfaq Memon, the director-general of health who was removed from his post on Saturday. According to him, only four underfed children have reported to the Mithi’s hospital in March, while there were no such cases in the past months. Another official of the directorate, who sought anonymity, blamed non-governmental organisations for blowing up the issue to seek funding.

In contrast, local residents and members of civil society argue that the actual mortality rate is much higher. “This figure of 124 deaths is reported only from the semi-urban towns and their surrounding villages. We don’t know what has happened to other thousands of villages that are spread across the 20,000 sq km desert,” said Sparc’s Kashif Bajeer.

Inquiry committee formed

Information Minister Sharjeel Memon announced that an inquiry committee led by DIG Hyderabad Sanaullah Abbassi has been formed to probe the child deaths. “The committee will fix the responsibility. If the officials are found responsible for the situation, the government will take action against them,” he said.

Pakistan Peoples Party’s Senator Aajiz Dhamrah said the chief minister has convened a meeting on Sunday in Mithi to discuss the crisis. The CM has also announced a sum of Rs450 million to be spent on the relief operation.

Meanwhile, the General Officer Commanding of Hyderabad garrison Maj Gen Inamul Haq also visited Civil Hospital, Mithi. “The Pakistan Army will not disappoint the Thari people. Our medical teams will remain here until the situation improves.” The army has also set up relief camps, which provide rations  and other goods to the people.

No ‘relief’?

No relief camps have been set up in villages and towns except in Mithi – the district headquarters of the desert district. The villagers have not seen any officials for immediate help to the needy families affected by the drought.  The situation in Diplo, the worst affected taluka, is deplorable where people refused to take money, insisting on only food and drinking water.

The only relief camp was seen at Thar Rangers Welfare High School, which was established by paramilitary forces. Hundreds of families rushed at the gate where only 200 families were given ration, while others left without even a single bottle of water.

Waiting in the scorching heat along with her 13-month-old son, Chando Kolhi said that they were waiting for a packet of ration since morning. “Neither do they understand our language nor could we describe our misery to these officials. Could you help me to get one packet? My child is crying due to thirst.”

The people of Diplo city informed The Express Tribune that only 10 bags of wheat were provided on Friday by Assistant Commissioner Khursheed Alam. “Do you think only wheat would be sufficient for our children and women?” a man, Arjun, sitting outside a shop questioned.

Pointing fingers

As the Sindh chief minister took measures to punish negligence of officials and ministers regarding Thar’s tragedy, the blame game began in earnest. “No one can blame us. The finance department should be held responsible for this tragedy because it did not release Rs 100 million despite our repeated requests,” said Makhdoom Jamiluz Zaman, the minister for relief.

On the other hand, Sindh’s services general administration and coordination department, on the directives of the chief minister, issued a notification about transfers and postings of officials belonging to Tharparkar district.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Saleem
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:21AM

    And all those stories are true then action must be taken against this minister as well for lying and covering up incompetent Sindh government.

    Recommend

  • saif
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:27AM

    Hopefully they will not blame Imran khan or PTI for this.Recommend

  • Mar 9, 2014 - 10:33AM

    The Army’s competence makes it always the first on the scene. Although, it is not their job but their preparedness speaks volumes of their competence. The Sindh government as usual is sleeping and even when awake they are unaware of where they are. May Allah Almighty bless the media for breaking the ice on the plight of these rural folk.
    What is the job of the NDMA? Should it not be 24-hour vigilance of sensitive areas? Salams

    Recommend

  • Fahad
    Mar 9, 2014 - 11:26AM

    @saif:
    Hahaha….yes exactly. They might not blame IK for this. Where is the Super Man Kid who wasted 75 Karoar rupees on the dead’s of monjudaro?Recommend

  • A amir
    Mar 9, 2014 - 11:46AM

    Twenty-five of these deaths were caused by sepsis, a blood infection, 14 died of pneumonia, 10 due to premature births and eight by asphyxia.

    Mr. Minister….all these causes are due to bad diet, malnourished, resulting in weakness, immunity going down.

    Resign…I believe you were elected from this place. How many times since elected u have visited?

    Recommend

  • Khizer Hayat
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:03PM

    Only Sindh festival Khaphay..

    Recommend

  • hk
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:05PM

    Masha’Allah, army always at the forefront. And demonstrating its competence. Where is BBZ. Sindh, ruling PPP deny Punjab govt aid..Recommend

  • Mar 9, 2014 - 12:07PM

    All the ministers and bureaucrats are saying
    this with one voice. We are not to be blamed
    They say there is nothing to it. Is is very simple.
    ” If there is no bread, then, let them eat cake.”

    Recommend

  • Crazy Canuck
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:26PM

    Sindh gov’t surely has their priorities straight. Launch Billo, pay off lawsuit due to his incompetence, pay for the festival, pay for the security detail of just about anyone who thinks they’re a somebody, protect usurpers, and then maybe just maybe take some partial responsibility for children dying under their jurisdiction due to malnutrition.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:01PM

    The Minister and the PPP government in Sindh should accept their failure. Possibly they would try covering their ineptness by launching a ‘ Sindh Festival II ‘…….disgraceful.

    Recommend

  • Muhammad
    Mar 9, 2014 - 2:49PM

    Looks like PTI celebrating the tragedy to it’s political advantage rather than concentrating on relief work!

    Recommend

  • yousafhaque
    Mar 9, 2014 - 3:12PM

    NGOs,they say,are creating undue hype about the malnutrition-deaths in tharparkar,to generate funds for themselves.The mortality rate is not that high as claimed by some they say,rather it is very low than reported.Though they do not say which is lower of the two,mortality or morality

    Recommend

  • masialu
    Mar 9, 2014 - 4:33PM

    Did i miss the date given by Blawal Zardari for the Thar cultural festival?
    Shame on these so called leaders.I hope supreme court brings them to court to explain and punish them for their blatant disrespect for lives of ordinary people.

    Recommend

  • saif
    Mar 9, 2014 - 7:01PM

    @Muhammad
    PTI is not celebrating but they do hav the right to ask about the expenses made from the tax payer money on sindh fastivalRecommend

  • Faisal
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:18PM

    Bring Musharraf Back!!!!

    Recommend

  • Faisal
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:20PM

    Bring Musharraf Back.

    Recommend

  • Ali S
    Mar 18, 2014 - 4:55PM

    @the Skunk:

    To be fair, they eat 60% of the budget. Simply out of good conscience they’re bound to help out. They shouldn’t be given a pat on the back for it.

    Recommend

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