ISLAMABAD/ HYDERABAD/ CHELHAR: As five more children were reported dead in Mithi, the Sindh government admitted to official negligence in coping with the situation. “Though some things have been exaggerated in some instances, we should not avoid accepting the fact that there has been some negligence by government officials,” said Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, during a visit to Mithi on Sunday.
The revised death toll was announced as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif scheduled a trip to the drought-affected district of Tharparkar for today (Monday). While the PM’s itinerary for the visit has not been disclosed, he will visit the District Headquarters Hospital Tharparkar, the PM’s press secretary told The Express Tribune.
The chief minister said an “impartial inquiry” would be conducted. At a meeting with ministers and elected representatives in Mithi, he also hinted at the removal of Sindh food Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar and rehabilitation minister Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman.
Nearly 100 unconfirmed deaths have been reported from Badin over the last few months and the government has ordered a survey of union councils in Umerkot and Sanghar districts in order to declare them drought-hit.
There are discrepancies between the reported and official death tolls. The number of deaths among Tharparkar’s children due to malnutrition in the area is estimated at 129 since December while in Badin, nearly 100 children in the district’s coastal and desert areas have reportedly lost their lives. But health officials accept that 68 deaths have occurred in Tharparkar and 42 in Badin. They have also rejected claims of undernourishment as the cause of these deaths. Four of the deceased children in Tharparkar belonged to villages in Deeplo taulka while one hailed from Mithi taluka’s Meerani village. The youngest was aged five months and the eldest was three years old.
“Around 80 per cent of the children examined at Civil Hospital Mithi suffered from undernourishment,” said Dr Salma Shaikh, the Dean of the department of paediatrics at Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Jamshoro. Dr Shaikh told The Express Tribune that 60 per cent of the children suffered from ‘moderate malnutrition’ while 20 per cent showed signs of malnutrition.
Shaikh said of the 41 deaths at Civil Hospital Mithi in January and February, 23 were newborns while 18 others suffered from illnesses like pneumonia, sepsis, dysentery and other diseases. “This is not to say that being underfed has nothing to do with these deaths,” she explained. “Food deficiency among mothers and children is a known fact and weak children find it hard to survive critical illnesses.”
Dr Shaikh’s department manages the Mithi hospital’s Malnutrition Rehabilitation Center and its capacity is being doubled to accommodate 40 children; three more paediatricians have joined the team’s staff of six doctors.
An estimated death toll
Additionally, nine children have been reported dead in Chhachhro taluka, with two of the children aged one week. These two children were residents of the Phulyo village. According to figures collected by the Sindh Rural Support Programme (SRSP), they died in Phulyo village last week.
Seven of the newly reported deaths took place in Khurbiyoon and Phulyo of Union Council Chelhar of Chhachhro taluka over the last two months. The youngest was aged two months and the oldest was five years old.
SRSP district coordinator Irfan Bhalai says the death toll is likely to be higher than reported as ‘officials do not visit these areas and the parents don’t visit hospitals’.
One villager Bhugro said locals did not know that the government had taken notice of the childrens’ deaths in Tharparkar, saying government officials had not visited them or provided relief as yet.
Aid has begun to trickle into Tharparkar, with semi-urban areas receiving precedence over some 2,300 villages in the 22,000 square kilometer-wide district. The chief minister announced compensation of Rs200,000 each for the families of deceased children and doubled the wheat distribution to 60,000 bags of 50 kilogrammes each. The number of mobile dispensaries in Tharparkar is being increased from 14 to 20 while 29 closed basic health units (BHUs) at the union council will also be restored. “The government will appoint the best doctors and will pay them higher salaries than their counterparts in other districts to deal with any future situation,” the chief minister promised.
The Pakistan Army also set up three field hospitals in Mithi, Islamkot and Chachro talukas in addition to its relief camps. Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Sajjd Ghani also visited the Civil Hospital Mithi and the army’s medical camps and met with families of children admitted.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Maj Gen (R) Muhammad Saeed Aleem was briefed at the army’s medical camp.
Salman Safdar, an official of the United Nations Organisation for Coordination of Humanitarian Agencies (UN OCHA), also met representatives of local NGOs. He said the UN’s relief agencies will carry out an assessment evaluation before relief operations.
On Sunday, the prime minister’s office issued a statement that the PM has also provided a cargo-carrying helicopter to the provincial government to speed up relief efforts.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.
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