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Tharparkar: the search for solutions


September 5, 2018

Thar was once referred to as ‘Tharr’ and ‘Tharri’ by locals. To date, Dhatki speakers who belong to Umerkot and other urban areas of Sindh refer to the desert region as ‘Tharr’.

Tharparkar and many other regions of Sindh are now facing a drought-like situation. In light of the difficulties faced by the people of this region, the Sindh government has, on the request of the district governments of both Tharparkar and Umerkot, declared Thar a drought-hit region.

The Sindh government has also constituted a committee to monitor the severity of the drought. So far, the committee has carried out its initial meetings and the concerned government officials have also visited the region. Although such steps are encouraging, Thar still requires serious attention from the provincial government to combat the drought-like situation, and develop sustainable and long-term solutions to overcome this menace permanently.

Thar has also been plagued by other critical issues such as the shortage of clean drinking water, healthcare challenges, environmental crises and, most importantly, a series of social issues.

These are permanent problems in Thar. We must, therefore, find permanent solutions to them. For a long time, we have been hearing about the large numbers of children who have died in hospitals across Thar. We often hear about diarrhoea and measles outbreaks in Thar. Issues concerning mother and child health have also been of serious concern in Thar and the problems are often far too complicated to be addressed easily. We have even failed to find exact data related to these issues.

How difficult is the life of a pregnant mother in Thar? What complexities do women face during their pregnancy? These are questions that no one even talks about as there is very little awareness among the people of Thar.

The challenges involved in providing access to drinking water remain another concern in Thar. Government entities, NGOs, welfare organisations, and the relatively well-off locals have contributed a great deal towards addressing the dearth of clean drinking water. But the matter has yet to be resolved.

The people of Thar often use the groundwater that they fetch from wells for domestic purposes. A study has revealed that the groundwater level in most parts of Thar has been reduced to a risky level and the water has turned brackish.

Although wind turbines were initially installed in Thar, the issue has persisted. With time, the Sindh Arid Zone Development Authority (SAZDA) and some other organisations introduced tubewells in Thar. As a result, reverse osmosis was introduced in the region. But no significant changes have been made and the water crisis has continued to affect the lives of Thar’s people.

After some years, efforts were made to supply fresh water from River Indus to Thar via Naukot – a city that is adjacent to Mithi – through pipelines. It seemed as though the water crisis was about to be resolved. But a severe water scarcity developed in the bordering districts of Thar from which fresh water was being provided to Thar. As a result, the desert region stopped receiving fresh water.

Although this was one of the greatest experiments to provide fresh water in the desert region, it didn’t have a long-lasting effect. People have encountered health-related issues because they rely on brackish water. Moreover, the drought has made life in Thar practically unlivable. In a region where the mere availability of water is a concern, who will think about the quality of water?

Tharis mostly depend on rearing livestock. For many people in Thar, their livestock is their only belonging and they spend their entire lives herding cattle. Droughts compel local livestock owners to take their cattle to neighbouring districts where they can at least survive during droughts. This practice has prevailed for a long time.

These people often return to their ancestral villages with their livestock after the first rains of the monsoon season. But the drought in Thar makes it difficult for them to provide water and fodder for their livestock. So, they have no incentive to return. This raises other concerns for Tharis as they have practically become displaced in different districts of Sindh. Living far from their ancestral villages and loved ones exposes them to all kinds of troubles.

Thar’s people also struggle to maintain a balanced diet. Decades ago, the people of this region used to overcome malnutrition by drinking lassi. But many people have forgotten lassi and are opting for other unhealthy items available in the market. Lassi is a natural supplement that fulfils the nutritional needs of our human body. During long periods of drought, the availability of naturally-rich food items, like milk, curd and butter, remains limited, which creates more cases of malnutrition.

These are some serious problems faced by the people of Thar. Government entities, non-governmental agencies and locals should jointly devise solutions to these challenges so as to ensure that the issues that plague Thar can be permanently resolved.

There are a few suggestions in this regard that ought to be conveyed to the concerned authorities in the Sindh government. Instead of treating Thar as a drought-hit region, the government should work towards enhancing the prospects of human development in the region. It should provide locals with employment opportunities so that their lives can be improved and they don’t have to worry about the financial survival of their families during natural calamities.

The most important thing that the government should focus on is the provision of safe drinking water in Tharparkar. This will surely help overcome various diseases in Thar. The government should immediately develop an effective plan to initially transfer fresh water from River Indus to the villages and small towns of the district. With time, water from the river should be provided to Thar’s entire population.

Health is another issue that needs to be addressed on an immediate basis. The local health department should increase its outreach to remote areas of the district. A detailed study and survey needs to be carried out in Tharparkar to obtain the exact data regarding the health of the people. The number of hospitals along with the trained staff at these facilities should also be increased.

A monitoring mechanism should be introduced to keep an eye on issues related to people’s health in the region and gauge the performance of hospital staff. NGOs and social activists of the region can also play a vital role in these development drives to improve the lives of Thar’s people.

The writer is a freelancecontributor and social activist based in Badin, Sindh.

Email: [email protected]

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