How the media made a big deal out of Thar

Published: March 17, 2014
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The writer is a human rights activist and a freelance writer. He can be reached @kdsindhi

The writer is a human rights activist and a freelance writer. He can be reached @kdsindhi

“Crisis-driven media cannot afford to hang about for too long. As a business needs cash turnover, the media needs a crisis turnover and are engaged in crisis production that seeks to find ways of manufacturing them in an easily consumable, spectator-friendly format.”

 –– Arundhati Roy 

The above words of Arundhati Roy represent the exact scenario of the media in Pakistan, particularly in the current situation of drought or famine in Tharparkar. A believer of theology would say that disasters, calamities and catastrophes are divinely ordained, but here in our country, the media seems to be so powerful that it can bring disasters too. Recent reports of death tolls of children in Tharparkar have created panic as if an island of aliens has been discovered.

Suddenly, the media’s lens focused on thatched huts of the ignored people of Tharparkar, sand dunes, their lifestyle, poor health facilities, and the non-availability of drinking water. Social media thundered with morphed images of food-starved nations of Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo sensationalised captions and headlines comparing them with the ‘drought-hit’ people of the desert. The issue would not have created much hype if mainstream Urdu media had not highlighted this in every news bulletin. Several issues of Sindh are not highlighted in mainstream Urdu media.

The hype created over this media-made disaster prompted Prime Minister (PM) Mian Nawaz Sharif and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah to take notice. Chief Justice of Pakistan Syed Tassaduq Hussain Jilani and Sindh High Court Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar also took suo-motu notice of the media reports. An ‘emergency-like’ situation was created overnight. The CM paid an immediate visit to the ‘affected’ area along with a dozen MPs and later termed the ‘situation in control’ after two days.

The drought was officially declared in August. Where was the mainstream media back then? Why is the drought and disaster being highlighted in March? Migration of the local people, particularly of the Bheel, Kolhi and Meghwar communities in February or March, is a regular pattern as they go to riverine areas for a few months for wheat harvesting. Rains in Tharparkar start in June so people move to riverine areas for livelihood, but later return. Tharparkar has always remained ignored, be it for health, education or any form of development. It has lacked health facilities for many decades. The facts and figures of the death toll being reported are inaccurate; also not all children died of malnutrition/food-starvation, but due to several other reasons as well.

It is said that every disaster is an opportunity, but here, a man-made, media-driven and manufactured disaster is a golden opportunity. Tharparkar had not been on the media’s radar till huge coal deposits were explored here, and now, when an overnight drought-cum-disaster emerged. It is because of this ‘drought’ that the prime minister had to pay a visit to Tharparkar –– his second in a month (last time he came here was to inaugurate the Thar Coal Power Project along with former president Asif Ali Zardari). Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto came out of the twitter world and accompanied the PM on his visit.

Anti-PPP elements got a golden opportunity to blame the provincial government for the ‘disaster’. I am really grateful to my journalist friends who called me to inquire if everything was okay at home and for regular updates from the region –– since I belong to the desert region. But I would like to invite them to kindly come out of the cyber and electronic media world and check the ground reality. Don’t get trapped by the sombre background music and headlines depicting dismal, dejected and dull pictures of the desert showing a dramatic ‘disaster’.

A disaster that never was –– was just a media and man-made one with lack of investigative journalism and proper reporting on the part of local journalists. The media should play a responsible role so that real disasters are not overshadowed or ignored by these dramatic and manufactured ones.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • anonymus
    Mar 17, 2014 - 11:41PM

    It is unfortunate that death rate and under 5 mortality is so high in Pakistan, relatively more in Sindh and worst in Tharparkar.there is lot of data avilable about reasons for poor child survival rate.
    But the crux of argument is that was there increase death rate form base line due to this or not? The pictures floated in cyber space can be seen in every Pediatric unit across Pakistan.
    I have not seen a single statement from people who specializes in child health that this is what has happened.
    I agree what you say and ask anyone who is not partisan to go to any Pediatric unit in any corner of Pakistan during diarrhea and Pneumonia season to see the death rate.
    Only solution to such situations is some sort of economical distributive justice which is not permitted even by Islam.
    People who are asking for free health care ( I am for that) should know that budget of NHS in UK is 90 billion pounds.

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  • PPP Lover
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:19AM

    “The drought was officially declared in August. Where was the mainstream media back then?”
    A better question would have been “The drought was officially declared in August. Where was the district administration (read the Deputy Commissioner who is perhaps son of a big gun whom I wont name out of your respect because you will feel that I am also a hater of PPP) since then?”

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  • kl
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:36AM

    Good article. Thar was essentially used to derive political mileage out of it and to bash the party governing Sindh that not many people out of Sindh like.

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  • Zohaib
    Mar 18, 2014 - 1:15AM

    I am confused here…So everything is alright in Thar? if that was the case why are you complaining that the media didn’t take notice in August when drought was declared.
    OH …not all died of malnutrition & starvation? well bravo ! that’s great news, where’s the celebration? by the way the story you linked about it blames the administration (must be anti-PPP).
    But in the end you came to the biggest tragedy/disaster of it all, “Anti-PPP elements got a golden opportunity to blame the provincial government” …even though you repeatedly mentioned other problems in Thar >> “Tharparkar has always remained ignored, be it for health, education or any form of development”….but i am sure its not the provincial government’s job, they shouldn’t be blamed for ignoring Thar, that would be anti-PPP.

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  • Islooboy
    Mar 18, 2014 - 9:33AM

    Noone has paid atttention to this issue, because the affected population is Hindu.

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  • Bilal
    Mar 18, 2014 - 9:34AM

    What a logically flawed article. A disaster is a disaster even if it gets highlighted late. Repeat occurance of the disaster should not make it a norm. Yes, this media of ours does operate like a mercenary, but it does not mean one should hold a grudge against it for making money by highlighting our ills.

    I dont understand the author’s gripe. Is he angry because he is from the region and had the exclusive rights for breaking the story ? Or does he, likely being one of the relatively educated and more affluent youths, want to maintain the status quo on Thar ?

    Dear ET team, the article is on your featured blog. Wrtiing should not just be sake of writing and should have a strong underlying premise and arguments. Especially for pieces that you are featuring. This is really poor form.Recommend

  • Akbar
    Mar 18, 2014 - 10:02AM

    Instead of blaming media for highlighting the miseries of Tharis, please bear in mind that Tharparkar is the most deprived district in Sindh. It is the most food insecure district (source: FAO and SDPI); it has one of the lowest indicators of malnutrition (source: MICS/UNICEF); so on and so forth. Now, whose fault is this?

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  • Usman Mujtaba
    Mar 18, 2014 - 10:45AM

    @kl: Many people even in Sindh do not like the party of Sindh kl sahib; they have miserably failed the people of Sindh by ensuring they are kept in a loop of deprivation and misfortune while they remain in the throes of power through their subjugation.

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  • Zulfiqar Ali
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:55PM

    Whatever the situation may be the role of mainstream media was hijacked by recently saudi injected aid of 1.5 billion!!! Since the inception of Pakistan, what efforts have been made for the development of Baloachistan?? where is Media? Why it does not highlight the pathetic conditions in Southern punjab and now Cholistan!!! But they found it in Thar!

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  • Bilal Zafar
    Mar 18, 2014 - 1:02PM

    It must be noted that drought was not declared in August — or in any other month of 2013 — as it rained in Tharparkar in July, August and September. For details, see Met Department’s explanatory press release dated 7 March 2014.

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  • Anjum Amin Siddiqui
    Mar 18, 2014 - 1:15PM

    Unfortunately the two custodians of Sindh wants people to beg for their rights. Unfortunately for people living in this province we want to remain as helpless as the custodians wants. With no vision for the uplift of province & its people the custodians get everything from money to power. Thar is deprived area but what about Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur or Larkana there is not a single advanced Heart hospital in Interior of Sindh, No Kidney Center or Child care Hospital. People of interior of Sindh either came to Karachi or go to Sadiqabad / Rahim Yar Khan. What an irony that we are in 2014 using best of cars, mobiles & every kind of advanced gadgets but our rulers cannot provide proper roads, healthcare, food & education.

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  • Mar 18, 2014 - 1:18PM

    No doubt the death of children is only because of of food starvation although there are several reasons of diseases too but on the other hand we should not deny that this is clearly the lack of PPP governance; I am not supporter of any political party but would say that the reign of General Retired Pervez Musharraf was a golden time for Tharparkar when their economic condition was given concentration with employment opportunities for Thari people. Such migration to barrage areas from Thar also affects the study of many children at their primary level which needs special focus by government as it is declining the literacy ration of Thar during each year.

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  • Haroon Mustafa Janjua
    Mar 18, 2014 - 1:58PM

    My Dear friend Kapil, good to see your article in ET. You have highlighted some valid points in terms of investigative journalism, but the reports on early days by BBC have shown some pictures where the life seems miserable than normal days. I have written a feature by first person account you will see in coming edition of The Friday Times and I found that it is a Drought turned famine situation due to negligence and mismanagement. Being closely reported the issue I was in contact with friends from Mithi and recorded interviews from Civil hospital Hyderabad. Your few points are valid but you haven’t blamed the core responsible factor of this situation i.e. poor governance and failure of civil administration.Recommend

  • Tahir khan
    Mar 18, 2014 - 2:23PM

    The Devil is not that black as it is being crayoned. Some of my contacts from Tharparker narrate the same story. The irresponsible media who often delude due to various factors and forces spur the attention of high-ups which compel them to make either uniformed decision or they feel forced to be visible in the engineered situation. This results in nothing but in wasting the already scant resources.
    May Allah have mercy on Pakistan in the presence such un-tethered media Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 18, 2014 - 3:34PM

    That came across as a PPP-Z apologists explanation………..and a terrible one at that.

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  • Jonaid Iqbal
    Mar 18, 2014 - 5:55PM

    Good read, Kapil, my old partner in writing dispatches. Now you can say, they have discovered you as a good Pakistani, the lackof that you once moaned in this very newspaper. Good to see you in print again, dear friend. We miss your dispatches. Hope you will continue to write

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  • Mushtaq
    Mar 18, 2014 - 8:47PM

    @Bilal:
    wow!!! simply wow!!!
    making money on other people miseries is now justified. Thank you Mr. Bilal.. thank you so much!Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 18, 2014 - 10:49PM

    @Mushtaq:
    If thats the only thing you deduced from my reply then I dont think I should be getting in an argument here..

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  • Saleem
    Mar 19, 2014 - 12:08AM

    By the way no one has courage to comment the quote writer has associated with Arundhati Roy!!

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  • Mushtaq
    Mar 19, 2014 - 2:35AM

    @Bilal:
    if you can justify an act of selfishness and immorality then my friend there is nothing to argue about.

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  • Mar 19, 2014 - 4:50AM

    Is the writer trying to tell us that people are not starving in Thar and no one is sick and all is well? Arundhati Roy’s or for that matter Mr Kapil Dev’s opinion cannot change the ground reality or the zameeni haqueeqat. As they say ‘hum sab haalaat ke maare hain! is very much true. Big dialogues can’t tackle hunger nor malady! Please let ET decide what is true and what is not! not some writer who is influenced by madam Roy!

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  • Roni
    Mar 19, 2014 - 9:41AM

    It is ironic that people who never ever visited or even did not think much of Mohen Jodaro were in love with the place and now forgot about it. Similarly all of a sudden they had feelings about the kids in Thar who have been poor and drought stricken for generations. Again like Mohen Jodaro their love for Thar would subside without paying a single penny from their pocket or even demanding that there should be some budget allocation for Thar. All the political haters of Sindh and its leadership pretend to love Sindhi but they would rather waste money on large dams and WMD than on these poor people. They may throw some charity fish at them with the pictures in press but would never teach them how to fish.

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