A survey reveals over 70 per cent of the population in Sindh is facing food insecurity, with Thar at the highest ratio
UMERKOT: Tharparkar is more than 22,000 square kilometres in area with a population of about 1.5 million living in 2,300 villages and urban settlements. The area is divided into six talukas: Mithi, Islamkot, Chachro, Dihly, Diplo and Nagarparkar. There were harsh droughts in 1968, 1978, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2007 and 2013. On average, every third year is a drought year. The 2013 and 2014 droughts brought famine upon the people. For almost two-thirds of the population, Tharparkar is an economy based on casual labour and credit, which provide 78 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively, of the total income. In comparison, agriculture and livestock provide just eight to 25 per cent of total income. The district also has some of the worst socioeconomic indicators. More than 90 per cent of the people of the district live in around 2,300 villages. More than 80 per cent of people’s livelihood is dependent on precarious rain-fed agriculture and livestock. In fact, livestock, fully or partially, contributes to the economy of every household in the district. The National Nutrition Survey 2011 reveals that more than 70 per cent of the population in Sindh is facing food insecurity, with Thar at the highest ratio because people of this region are poor and constantly migrate to other areas in search of food, water and fodder. The Tharparkar district is rich in minerals, such as coal, China clay, and granite. Yet, scarcely five per cent of the population has access to water supply. The district headquarters of Mithi only gets freshwater supply twice in a month. Most of the population relies on traditional wells for water.
The water people in Thar drink has dangerously high levels of fluorides, as high as 32mg/l. The World Health Organisation guideline value for fluorides in drinking water is 1.5mg/l. The availability of safe water has always been a distant dream for the people of Tharparkar, where over 80 per cent of groundwater is unfit for human consumption.
In addition, only four per cent of the population has electricity in their homes and only 5.3 per cent of the female population is literate. Thar is also the district with the most extreme deficit of cereals and crop-based food items relative to per capita per day utilisation. One grim reality is the lack of access to sanitary facilities. This is especially a problem for women since almost all village households are without toilets. There is only one stabilisation centre in the district hospital. Also, basic health units in the remote rural areas of the district remain dilapidated and without the most basic equipment, staff or ambulance services. No secondary health facilities are available, either. The majority of the people are unable to afford transport and hospital expenses to save the lives of their loved ones who fall ill due to malnutrition and waterborne diseases. The most affected segment is that of children below five years of age, lactating mothers and pregnant women. The shortage of funds, doctors and lack of facilities have worsened the situation.
I request the government of Sindh to immediately take remedial measures to provide education, vocational training, and development of sweet groundwater to the area, along with installation of desalination plants and solar water pumps. Authorities should devise a holistic livestock development plan that includes cross-dairy farming, taking measures to improve livestock health facilities and further develop local pastures to promote grazing areas — all with the aim to provide more for the people of Thar.
Ali Nawaz Rahimoo
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2015.
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