The district of Tharparkar, where 285 children died due to malnutrition last year, has been hit by another drought and, just like last time, the government has yet to officially declare it as a 'drought-hit area'.
The most recent drought has caused mass migration from Mithi, Nangharparkar and Diplo after a large number of animals perished due to the lack of water. "Around 80 per cent of the villages in Thar have yet to receive rain this year," said Tharparkar deputy-commissioner Asif Ikram. "I have written a couple of times to the provincial government and the relief commissioner but we are still waiting for a notification to officially declare this a drought."
Officially declaring it a drought means that the government has to provide incentives to the people, distributing wheat and fodder at either a subsidised price or for free, added Ikram.
The situation is not new for the people of Thar; this is the third consecutive year that the area has suffered from a lack of rain, and according to media reports, more than 1,000 people - including 600 children - have lost their lives due to water scarcity.
Proposing a solution
Following the deaths of the children, and the resulting media outcry, the Sindh government constituted a committee in May to prepare a drought management and mitigation policy. The committee, headed by Pakistan Peoples Party MNA Pir Noor Muhammad Shah Jilani, includes politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and social activists.
Thar journalist, Sohail Sangi, who is one of the 22 members of the committee, said that a final draft for the 'Sindh Drought Management and Mitigation Policy 2014' was approved by the committee last week. "The plan has been approved not only for the Thar desert but also for other arid areas of the province, including the Achhro Thar [the White Desert], Kachho, Nara and Kohistan," he said, adding that the policy aims to address the problems faced by citizens during droughts. "We have done our job with this policy, along with the proposal for the Thar Development Authority. It is now the job of the Sindh government to implement the proposal."
In the draft proposal, ensuring availability of water has been identified as the top priority. "Availability of water will be ensured through the formation of a water board that will initiate water projects such as solar water pumps, irrigation water and water desalination," said the draft.
Provincial minister Dost Mohammad Rahimo told The Express Tribune that the government will table a bill to pass a law regarding the new drought mitigation policy and the Thar Development Board, which will include innovative projects to create drought-resilient communities so that the area becomes less sensitive to water scarcity.
"Official declaration of drought has always been a complicated issue as there are a lot of technicalities that need to be taken into account and it is therefore a lengthy process," said Rahimo.
Therefore, the new policy has suggested a procedure to declare drought in a region. The district commissioner is to issue a series of 'warnings' in this regard to the relief commissioner and the Sindh chief minister. A senior member of the board of revenue, who is also the relief commissioner, then has to declare the area as 'drought-hit'.
"The deputy commissioner is to issue three separate alerts if monsoon rains are delayed," revealed Rahimo. "The first warning will be issued on June 30, advising the relevant departments to prepare for drought and devise a contingency plan. The second warning will be issued on July 30, and the third and final one will be issued on August 15, when the area will officially be declared as drought-hit if it hasn't yet received any rain. Hence, citizens will be provided all the required facilities till the next monsoon season."
If the proposal is implemented, then the area will soon be declared as drought-hit since the final August 15 deadline has now passed.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th,2014.