Thar: The beginning of PPP’s end

Published: March 17, 2014
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KARACHI: On being woken up to the famine-like situation developing in Thar over months, the chief minister of Sindh discovered that food was available but, to his dismay, it could not be distributed. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation has long informed policymakers that food scarcity is not necessarily the cause of famines. His work on the Bengal famine showed that food availability was 11 per cent higher in 1943, the year of the famine, than in 1941. The problem was distribution.

In Thar, lack of transport, thin spread of population, corruption and plain incompetence have been cited as reasons for the failure to make available food accessible. Essentially, it is the failure of the PPP government in Sindh to institute entitlement to food in a district declared in ranking after ranking the worst performer in terms of human development.

According to the Thardeep Rural Development Programme, an organisation working in the area, 114 children died between October 2013 to February 2014 in Chachro, Diplo, Mithi and Nagarparkar. Over 40 per cent of these deaths occurred in February alone.

Most worryingly, the heaviest death toll was in the age group of one to seven days. The death of so many children made it obvious that the problem of malnutrition was more dire than the problem of food shortage. Food can be transported on an emergency basis, but nutrition requires sensible planning. The now overstretched health system could have prevented these deaths by intelligent, cost-effective nutrition planning.

Globally, malnutrition claims one-third of child deaths, as the damage done in the months before and after birth is irreparable. There were warning signs all over the place but the PPP government did not act until the rising death toll became breaking news for the media networks. A rapid assessment, which began on March 8 in seven villages of Mohrano and Dabhro union councils, showed that out of 369 children, 44 were severely/chronically malnourished and 46 were moderately malnourished. According to Sukaar Foundation, the number of children admitted to the Civil Hospital in Mithi is likely to increase rapidly as children from remote areas are shifted to it. The number of deaths has already gone past 150.

From the days of Mr Bhutto, PPP governments have been accused of almost everything. Mr Bhutto’s government was seen as anti-state, even unpatriotic and, in terms of the latest pronouncements of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the worst thing that happened to the economy of Pakistan. Benazir I was a security risk and Benazir II was routinely termed incompetent. Zardari’s period had bad governance as its hallmark. None of these governments was blamed to be uncaring. The state is an arena of political allocation by the governing parties.

Just as the PML-N is unashamedly allocating public resources to its business constituency, the PPP governments have been using state resources to maintain feudal stranglehold. An essential feature of feudal allocation is the transfer of just enough resources for the lowest echelons to keep the body and soul together. This had given the party a pro-poor and ‘caring’ image.

But Qaim Ali Shah’s government in Sindh has put an end to this image. Its handling of the crisis, stupid political statements by the Sindh chief minister himself and feuding ministers, foolish handling of the bureaucracy related to food, relief and health distribution, a bewildered Bilawal and a silent Zardari add up to an image of the most uncaring government ever.

Tharparkar was declared a calamity-hit district in 2012, a standard operating procedure in such situations to allocate some extra resources. Effectively, it meant that 60,000 bags of food were required for around 175,000 people. Worse, there was no appreciation of the fact that the present drought is the worst since the 1960s. A few showers in the following months slowed down the delivery of whatever little assistance was promised. The food waited in godowns, as the necessary transport arrangements were not made.

The calamity-hit declaration has now been repeated. There are official complaints about poor roads. Interestingly, President Zardari’s own directives about road-building in Thar still don the official website of the Sindh government. Floods in 2010 and heavy rains in 2011 destroyed the crops as well as the muddy storages the people themselves build for food. Destruction of livestock, the main asset, and distress sales of whatever was left to the profiteering middlemen took its own toll.

PPP leader Khursheed Shah is right in his observation that no child died of starvation. They died of malnutrition — which is worse than starvation. The latter requires programmes and strategies over a longer period of time. A draft nutrition policy has been awaiting approval since December 2012. According to the draft, the province as a whole, not just Thar, faces a substantial nutrition challenge.

High levels of malnutrition reflects high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Information on these vital indicators is hidden from the public as the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey has been refused publication by the government of Sindh.

Bad governance during its tenure wiped out the PPP in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. An uncaring government in Sindh has brought it closer to the beginning of the end in its traditional stronghold.

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

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Qaisrani
    Mar 17, 2014 - 11:40PM

    How about PMLN racist government that has crushed Saraikis since ages??

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  • Cheema
    Mar 18, 2014 - 7:16AM

    @Qaisarani Sir i live in South Punjab as well. Balochs and Khans call Southern Punjabi dialect a Seraiki language to disassociate with the land of Punjab while others like me associate with the original Identity of Punjab where we know that dialects are a part of Punjabi language.. Do you know if you are a Qaisarani then you are a Baloch settler in South Punjab who came here only some centuries ago and interestingly every Khan and Baloch is a Seraiki in Punjab and that is an Enigma for me that how Settlers are Seraikis while others are Punjabis in South Punjab?..Recommend

  • waqas
    Mar 18, 2014 - 11:49AM

    it is over for ppp in punjab and kpk for sure

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  • Ammar
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:11PM

    Yes the good doctor is right; situation in rest of the country is admirable. Children in Rural South Punjab are the healthiest in whole wide world. Same is the case with Khaibar Pakhtoon Khuwa, and courtesy the competence of KPK government, Polio has been eradicated in the province and children are no longer being used as weapons of war against the state. 100% children in KPK and Punjab attend school and are provided two nutritious meals a day by their respective provincial governments. In short these two provinces present the picture of modern day Europe/America. Yes you are right doctor! In Sindh it is beginning of the end, and in Punjab and KPK it is the marvelous end of the spectacular beginning (Election 2013)Recommend

  • Ammar
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:17PM

    @Cheema:

    Your knowledge is very poor about Saraiki and its origin. Pre-Ranjeet Singh history might help you. It would be better if say no more than this :)

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  • Zulfiqar Ali
    Mar 18, 2014 - 12:35PM

    It is not the beginning of PPP’s end rather it is beginning of illegitimate Saudi Injected 1.5 billion to respond Bilawal’s straight forward remarks on pre-islamic Arab culture of extremism.Recommend

  • True Pakistani
    Mar 18, 2014 - 1:27PM

    @Qaisrani:
    Peoples like you spread hates among Pakistani peoples. Do not think about Pakistan. only think about sact and cast. we should unite and start loving each other instead of hating. This will make life easier for us as well as others.

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  • Ammar
    Mar 18, 2014 - 2:55PM

    @True Pakistani:
    Only judicious distribution of resources can make life easier, injustice and sense of deprivation only feeds hate. Do you think fancy words and hollow expressions would help?

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  • Parvez
    Mar 18, 2014 - 3:42PM

    Its always good to read you. Measured, sensible and decidedly worth a serious read by the PPP-Z lot. The fact that the PPP-Z deserves to be thrown out was apparent two years into their 5 year rule. It happened in 3 provinces but not in Sindh because here the so called democratic system delivers only for the 1% but in the name of the 99%……..unless this changes the PPP will come back again.

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  • Cheema
    Mar 18, 2014 - 6:08PM

    @Ammar I am very very good in history. I talk with Facts. British ruled here for more than 100 years but never been able to find Seraiki as no historian or any book in that era ever mentioned that word whenever they talked about Punjab. They always used Landha Punjabi and Multani diaelect. Do you know written Seraiki was developed in the early 1960s??. Also the Word Seraiki is a recently developed word of 1950s. Before the creation of Pakistan none of the historians used the word Seraiki as there was no Seraiki Ethnicity!.

    I am giving you an Open Challenge to give me even a Single reference of the Seraiki Ethnicity or Seraiki Civilization or Seraiki Language before 1947 by any True Historian. It is an Open Challenge from my side.

    Also a question that why Balochs, Niazis, Durranis , Syeds and So called Khans call themselves Seraiki only as we all know that they are recent migrants compared to other Punjabi tribes?Recommend

  • Shahid
    Mar 18, 2014 - 9:33PM

    PPP in sindh is a feudal party who is more interested in protecting the previlidges and status quo than to do any development work for common man. As it is dominated by feudals most of thier ministers ,MNAs or MPAS have poor education and administration skills. Thier only interest is to exploit the resources for thier own good. Sindhi common man has to think what PPP has given to sindh in last 45 years.Recommend

  • Omar Khan
    Mar 19, 2014 - 1:26AM

    Looks like most people giving comments here have not even read the article.

    The writer (Pervez Tahir) did criticize the PMLN government (not related to this issue). PPP is criticized here because after all it is provincial government’s responsibility (off course they can ask for support from federal government). I do agree the political parties are trying to take advantage of the situation to get extra mileage.

    Where did the writer talk about race or cast of the people living in Thar? Why is race of the people living in Thar relevant they are humans & our fellow Pakistanis we should focus on helping them & praying to Allah to make it easy for them.

    We are too much into cast & race that is why we are in such a big mess. I am a KHAN!! whose ancestor is Mahmud Ghazni :)

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