The second day of the Karachi Literature Festival 2016 on Saturday proved to be quite informative, especially for those who are intrigued by the Thar situation. A seminar aptly titled Tharparkar: Desert Woes was conducted by three panelists and a moderator, all well-aware about the abysmal situation of the desert district of Sindh.
Dr Tanveer Ahmed, Sonu Khanogharani and Masood Lohar formed the panel of the discussion, moderated by Sadiqa Salahuddin who kicked off the session on schedule by giving an informative introduction regarding Tharparkar. “Whenever you hear of Tharparkar, it’s mostly about how many peacocks or children died. Other times, politicians downplay the crisis as undue criticism and to be honest, we have also seen sensationalism with regard to the crisis of Tharparkar district.”
She then said it was due to this fact alone, we must listen to those who have had experience of working in Thar for the past 20 years. “These people are development professionals and have sound working experience in Tharparkar,” she said.
She then went on, with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, how Tharparkar is situated in the southeast province of Sindh and is only at a distance of around 300 kilometers from Karachi. Thar is only 4.4 percent urban while 90% of the population resides in villages.
“Owing to 11 droughts during the past 30 years, 70% of Thar’s population is without clean drinking water,” said Salahuddin. “Livestock is the main source of income for residents of Thar whereas the population of Thar measures to around 1.3 million people. Thar also supplies 45% of Karachi’s livestock needs,” she said, underlying the importance of the situation in Thar.”
Development professional Dr Sono Khangharani said there existed many forms of migration in Thar. Some people migrated for the sake of better jobs or educational prospects whereas others migrated due to famine or drought. “Development has taken place in the district, mainly due to the civil society and the locals who have played a large part in reforming Tharparkar. Roads, communication and transport network have improved beyond doubt in Tharparkar.”
It was Dr. Tanveer Ahmed whose information seemed to baffle all in attendance and painted a grim picture of the situation in Tharparkar.
“We’re referring to all government-provided data here, since our government rejects data provided by private agencies,” he said. In 2015, the infant mortality rate for children under 5 years of age was 326. Our private data is much, much higher than this. In Tharparkar, children die due to common disease, just because they can’t get to a hospital. Us urbanized people can’t even think of dying from a common disease, can we?” he said.
He said there was a dearth of female health workers in Sindh and Tharparkar, owing to which the maternal death rate had jumped to 320 out of 1000. “This is because there is no lady health worker present to educate the woman that she has to take ORS for the betterment of her health,” said Dr. Tanveer. “There are only 642 female health workers in Sindh and their coverage area is only 42 percent.”
He also said that according to the National Nutritional Survey of Pakistan, 43 percent of children in Pakistan and 45 percent of children from Sindh are victims of stunted growth due to lack of nutrition. “Fifty-percent of children in Thar die before becoming a month old,” he said, to a shocked audience. “There is only one district hospital in the whole of Thar district,” he added.
He also said that there was a dearth of clean drinking water in the district and often, the child and its mother often contract Diarrhea. Hence as a result of this, the mortality rate rises. He also said 72 percent of households in Sindh were food insecure, according to data provided by National Nutritional Survey.
Overall, the session was informative and painted a grim yet accurate picture of the dismal situation of Tharparkar. It was an appreciative gesture by the panelists and moderator to urge attendees to come forward and help the destitute of Thar, rather than place blame wholly on the provincial government.