~Written by Sarah Khalid Khan (Contact: email@example.com)
In the far southeastern part of Pakistan lies an arid region with a gruesome past of disease and death. Despite this, it is considered a goldmine for black gold, establishing the Thar Desert as the 6th largest reserve of coal in the world. These reserves are estimated at 175 billion tonnes spanning over an area of 9000 sq. km enough to provide the country with energy for centuries to come. Perception about the treasure that lies beneath the scorching sand of Thar brings into question the existence of labour directed towards harnessing the gauged energy. It is exasperating to witness the indifference of the authorities to improving the conditions using its coal reserves, but the deaths of hundreds to date as a result of malnutrition in an area which has the potential to sustain itself and the rest of the country as well, is alarming.
The current scenario of drought emerged in 2013 and continues to prevail beyond any hope of reprieve, natural or otherwise. But this is not the first time the region of Tharparkar has seen such unforgiving conditions. Thar experienced the worst drought in its history from 1998-2002, which affected 1.2 million people, killed 127 people and 60% of the population migrated to irrigated land. The streak of drought did not end completely, albeit lessened, for Thar experienced a moderate drought in 2004/2005. Yet another drought came along in 2009/2010 followed by one of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history.
Current statistics report worse figures than the drought of 1998-2002. Government officials have confirmed the deaths of 159 men, 168 women and 726 children under 5. Over 3000 cattle have been reported dead. The number of affected individuals is an estimated 1.1 million. 175,000 people are projected to have migrated. The numbers continue to rise as the government attempts to alleviate the situation. Locals however fear that the worst is yet to come. With inadequate rainfall to sustain the flora and fauna, and the ground water level sinking, the steps taken by the government fall short. Massive relief projects focused on purifying the saline water have been planned but despite 375 Reverse Osmosis pumps being installed, only a handful have been reported to be operational due to a lack of trained manpower. As a result, efforts made towards relief for this region have not affected the escalating numbers of lives being lost every day.
Besides the obvious malnutrition cases, another major complication is the rise in water borne diseases. These prove to be the largest contributors to mortality apart from birth asphyxia, pneumonia and sepsis. Thar has been attributed to have the highest under-five mortality rate in Pakistan with 90-100 deaths per 1000 live births. These statistics are distressing, however, doctors maintain that the figures have not changed in three decades, stressing the need for establishing a permanent solution for the region instead of episodic interest in chronic issues.
The need of the hour demands sustainable long-term development rather than multiple short bursts of temporary relief projects for an area that is recognised as prone to drought-like conditions.
Latif A. Ray of light in Pakistan's drought-hit Thar desert (July 2015). BBC News Asia. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31851835
Hashim A. Pakistan's Thar residents living on the edge (March 2014). Aljazeera. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/pakistan-thar-residents-living-edge-2014315121120904102.html