From time to time, it comes out in the news that the Tharparkar district of Sindh is undergoing severe drought-like circumstances. Some measures of relief are taken, the situation forgotten or neglected on purpose and after a period of time, we hear that an a certain number of people have perished and a certain number of families affected. Recently, it was reported that due to a strong wave of drought and resultant famine-like conditions, over a hundred malnourished children have died and thousands of families are being severely affected, which means if not today, then tomorrow most of them may perish. A bit harsh of me to quote such a prediction but I’m simply stating a mere fact; the government may be the one committing the crime.
The pattern of rainfall is extremely sporadic in the arid regions of Sindh and the cycle of drought takes place every four to six years. The population of these desert areas has adopted a migratory lifestyle since time immemorial and not out of choice. Back in the 1980s, Thar remained in the news, experiencing the worst drought in its history (at that point in time) and even though several deaths of both animals and humans were recorded, there were certainly no “famine”-like conditions noted unlike at the present. At that time, with the help of international relief agencies and networks, the government of Sindh did take various initiatives but only to cater to the immediate troubles at hand. Today, the word “famine” is being used and perhaps, “drought” cannot be blamed alone for this. Socioeconomic changes have taken place over a period of time in Thar that have affected the people’s way of living and their means of survival during the long spells of drought. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has “requested” the Sindh authorities to look after the affected families but what is his plan for the future of Sindh?
I can tell you what will happen upon the “request” of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Maybe drinking water will be provided to those affected and a certain amount of food grains will be supplied, initially for free, but eventually at “subsidised rates”. I can even go as far as to say that perhaps, some feed and fodder would be provided for the livestock and a temporary medical camp set up. However, all these efforts would not in any significant way be a sustenance for the rural poor’s lives, who suffer and are suffering the most under drought — remember now, famine.
Though we are all, as Pakistanis, humbled by his request, what Bilawal Bhutto Zardari needs to do is to bring the authorities’ attention to some long-term measures so that these areas prone to drought can be tackled on a more permanent basis. For example, some of them could keep a forecast of monsoons for the coming years, establish a suitable and efficient system of land use, invest in the harvesting of water, conserve the Thar soil which is declining in enrichment, implement proficient methods of irrigation, adopt improved technologies for crops that grow in dry lands and establish ample healthcare facilities according to population size. There are many other such efforts which can be seriously undertaken. Thought of the day is, are a few bags of wheat the solution to this recurring situation?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2014.
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