Responding to tragedy: Lives continue to be lost as aid trickles into Thar

Sindh chief minister decides to replace provincial relief minister Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman.

Afp/web Desk March 11, 2014
This photo taken on March 10, 2014 shows villager families tending to their sick children, affected by a famine, at a hospital in Mithi, the capital of the Tharparkar district around 300 kilometres from Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

RAWALPINDI: Two-month-old Mangal succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday in Mithi, even as the government and military machinery creaked in providing relief to the drought, disease and malnutrition hit areas of Tharparkar on Tuesday.

Her father Buru had held a plastic tube supplying oxygen into her tiny nostrils all night, but his silent prayers were not enough.

She died in a government hospital in Mithi, the main town of Tharparkar district, becoming one of at least 67 children to die of poverty-driven disease in the area since December.

"She was in a very serious condition and we had advised her father to get her to a bigger hospital in Hyderabad city," doctor Mohanlal Khatri told AFP at the Mithi hospital.

"Most of the children are brought here with pneumonia, diarrhoea, low birth weight and neonatal sepsis."

Another woman lost her life after she was referred to a hospital in Hyderabad for treatment. She could not survive over the commute from Mithi.

The unfolding tragedy has grabbed the attention of the national media but aid remains scarce, a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, son of the late premier Benazir Bhutto, visited the area.

Thar desert, which begins around 300 kilometres (200 miles) east of Karachi and runs up to the border with India, is dominated by subsistence farmers who depend on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock.

It has been hit by a rainfall deficit of roughly 30 per cent between March 2013 and February this year, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months.

At an army-run camp in Mithi, women dressed in the yellow, red and blue dress typical of the region, waited in a line for relief which many said was hard to come by.

"Please get me a food permit, I have been coming here since yesterday but in vain," one woman pleaded.

On Tuesday, government and non-government agencies, along with the armed forces stepped up efforts to provide relief to famine-hit areas of Thar on Tuesday, Radio Pakistan reported.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said they had stepped up efforts to provide relief.

Meanwhile‚ Director General PDMA Sindh Syed Suleiman Shah said his teams were trying to reaching each and every affected village.

Vaccinating livestock

An outbreak of sheep pox has aggravated the situation, according to residents who depend on livestock as a form of saving, selling an animal when money is needed for a special occasions such as weddings.

"We had 300 sheep, (but) because of 'Mata' (sheep pox) and drought, 150 of them died over the past two months," said Bheer Lal, 30, from one of the affected villages.

"Our life depends on the livestock and now they have gone our life is at stake."

Madan Lal, a senior official with the Sindh livestock department, told AFP that 12 vaccinating teams had been sent out to treat livestock on a "war footing".

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman Major General Muhammad Saeed Haleem said they were providing vaccine to the livestock in Thar and that the situation was improving after relief operations.

Army increases medical camps

In light of the adverse situation, the Army has increased the number of medical camps treating affected people to six.

An ISPR spokesperson in Rawalpindi said that the total number of medical camps have been established in Mithi‚ Islamkot‚ Diplo‚ Nagarparkar‚ Chachro and Khniser.

Army medical teams‚ including lady doctors and child specialists claimed that they have have so far treated 3,500 patients in the last three days.

The official added that over 100 tons of ration have so far been distributed.

At an army-run camp in Mithi, women dressed in the yellow, red and blue dress typical of the region, waited in a line for relief which many said was hard to come by.

"Please get me a food permit, I have been coming here since yesterday but in vain," one woman pleaded.

"Of all the children we treated 75 percent were from the Hindu community," said Khatri, the doctor in Mithi.

PAF deputes helicopter

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Tuesday dispatched an MI-17 transport helicopter to assist the Sindh government in dispensing medicines and relief goods in drought affected Tharparker district on the orders of the Prime Minister.

According to a PAF press release, the helicopter will also be used for evacuating patients who require emergency medical care and for aerial drops of food items in far flung areas.

Earlier, on the special instructions of Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force, a PAF C-130 had transported 35,000 lbs of relief goods to PAF base, Talhar for distribution in Tharparker.

NGOs provide relief goods

Non-government organisations have also started sending relief goods to Tharparkar.

The first such consignment, carrying dry milk and medicines, arrived in Mithi on Tuesday.

Sono Khangrani, the head of Thardeep Rural Development Programme, an NGO working in Thar, warned the situation could deteriorate as spring gives way to the hot summer.

"Thar will see worse conditions in coming days. Hot weather will increase the drought in April, May and June," he told AFP.

"Thar has been facing this problem for years and years but this time the media highlighted the issue and forced the government to respond."

Minister of relief could be removed

Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Tuesday decided to replace Sindh Minister for Relief Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman, Express News reported.

According to Express News correspondent Shah Waliullah, it is expected that senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Taj Haider may be accorded a special advisor to the Chief Minister status to temporarily handle relief operations.


Naeem | 7 years ago | Reply

It's the time for the peoples of hyderabad and karachi to make efforts nd play their role

ashama | 7 years ago | Reply

tribals ; minorities ; non muslims so not a priority

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