In my visits to Tharparker recently, it has dawned on me that there has been no consistent policy of the Sindh government for this Arid region. This is the 3rd year of drought and Thar is mostly on its own while the government is satisfied going from crisis to crisis. The area has a moving population which centres around dug wells. Livestock is their main source of income. From what I hear nobody steals a goat, so no shepherds are visible.
- Area 19638 sq km (with coal deposits in 9100 sq km).
- Population 1.6 Million.
- Livestock population 6.5 Million.
- There are 2400 villages, mostly around wells.
- All have wells. 20% have no water today.
- 600 Reverse Osmosis plants set up by Sindh Government. Biggest in Mithi 1.9mgd per day.
- Very sparse trees but hardened ones like Kundi and Kambhat.
Drought is a frequent occurrence and it is man's remarkable will that he settled in unusual places like Iceland or Thar, except that water is a scarce commodity here. As it is mostly desert with nomadic use of grazing lands, it needs three rains. Usually the first rain is before June 15th, that allows the seeds in the ground to germinate, the second rain should happen by July 15 which allows the sapling to just peak out and the third by August 15 is enough to replenish it as a grazing ground only. Some agriculture can happen with Bajra and Jao. With no rains the first drought warning should be out by June 15, 2nd by July 15 and a declaration of drought by Aug 15. This year there have been no rains until the time of writing this article (July 16) but no alert given by Govt of Sindh to the people or itself.
There used to be a 'Sindh Arid Zone Development Authority' which was established by PM Junejo in 1985 which did some research, but as usual bought big cars and lived on good salaries. It was wound up by Musharraf in 2002 and since then no more work has been done. On the Indian side a 'Central Arid Zone Research Institute' was established in Jodhpur in 1958. They have done extensive research on survivable plants and have also introduced genetically modified versions that can survive. With an adequate canal water supply the entire situation in Rajasthan has changed bringing prosperity and livelihood to the region.
Last year many deaths took place and wheat supplies were brought in a very unruly manner which led to pilferage and patronisation. Every family was allocated 50kg of wheat every month but only 35kg bags reach the families. The seventh instalment of wheat bags is underway. PTI supporters here are sizeable as Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureishi contested 2013 elections from here. He lost by a small margin. It is a pity that these villages are deprived of government aid. India practices ration card distribution ensuring that every family gets the supplies. I visited some villages to distribute Ramzan Relief Packages to families in dire need.
My suggestions are long term, mid term and immediate:
- Adopt the 'Sindh Drought Management and Mitigation Policy' and shift from band-aid relief efforts to efficient management of available resources. This policy is an outstanding document which was prepared by a committee which included government officials and experts from different NGOs which are doing great work.
- Adopt the 'Thar Development Authority Bill' which is pending in the Sindh Provincial Assembly as there is no single institution which is responsible for Thar. With coal as a major resource coming from Thar we owe it to the people to provide sustainable living.
- Allocate 70 MGD of piped water to Thar for drinking purposes to provide life support relief during drought.
- I am sending this as an adequate warning to the Sindh Government that the situation in Thar is increasingly serious and to alert them now rather than condemn inaction later when there is starvation and loss of life again this year.
- Distribute wheat in a transparent manner so that there is less pilferage and definitely without patronisation or victimisation.
In the end I am grateful to the NGO 'AWARE' which briefed me in Chachro, Mr Sono Khangrani of HISAAR and Sami Foundation among others who are doing good work in Tharparker.
Dr Arif Alvi MNA