Official negligence turns a dry spell into a famine
Human life has never been valued very high by politicians. They don't act till a crisis becomes a catastrophe. Tharparkar, the desert area of Sindh province in Pakistan has entered the fourth year of continuous drought. During this dry spell 1.3 million population and five million livestock have been affected. Drought has left 127 people dead and claimed 0.03 million heads of cattle. Yet, thanks to the apathy of the state the dry season is turning into a virtual famine for almost one million Tharis and forty million livestock in Tharparkar. Demand for water has been negated.
For the inhabitants every day is a battle for survival. Drought and desert seem to be two sides of the same coin. It was expected that this year's monsoon might quench the thirst of the land and livestock but like every other year the monsoons belied the hopes of the people. One shower was recorded in July and thereafter there was nominal rain in August but this was unable to offer any respite due to the magnitude of the dryness. The seeds sown in the hope of a second rain failed to germinate. Only the loans taken for ploughing and sowing remained to be paid to the moneylenders. The interplay of climate and profitmaking moneylenders landed the beleaguered peasantry into the trap of indebtedness. The state unfortunately had been a silent spectator to the peoples's agony. It had undertaken no noticeable initiative to cope with the flagging calamity.
Letters sent for seeking immediate action were unable to provoke a positive response. One such letter was written on August 18, 1999 to the government explaining the possible severity of drought if timely relief was not provided. At that time the government was well aware of the possible damages due to the prolonged drought but no action was taken. It was only when the media started highlighting the drought-related miseries that the government was shaken from its slumber and compelled to show that it existed. However, these late gestures did not make a concrete difference to the people's agony.
Today when the drought has turned into a famine the government is once again expected to fail in delivering any relief to the people of this drought-ravaged region. A question that arises is that, despite knowing the ground realities of Tharparkar why has the government failed to invest in this chronically under-developed area? One handy explanation can be sought from the cost-benefit analysis of official economists who insist on their inability to invest in an area that is home to only one million people. It would not be economically feasible! If human life is also measured in terms of profits then the government fails as an institution.
Drought is not the only enemy here. One estimate reveals that 2,000 deaths occur because of snake bites in this area. Even in an adverse situation profit remains the dominant ideology. Government used to provide anti-venom vaccinations but officials used to sell this in the market. Now Thardeep an ngo sells this for Rs 500.
Inhuman conditions have led to deserted villages. Since Thar's agriculture is based on rain fed irrigation. In the absence of rainfall life comes to a stand still. The failure of rains leads to migration towards the barrage areas of the province. Until now 100,000 desert dwellers along with their livestock have migrated to the green part of Sindh. "Thar is in the grip of drought, leaving no food for human souls, no fodder for animals and no sources of income" noted a Thari student at Janshoro Campus.
In the case of drought it is usually assumed that, humans can do little to mould natural climatic fluctuations. The fact often overlooked, is that despite this sincere planning can reduce the risk and damage to life and land. Relief is not the answer to such calamities. Climatic risks should be resolved as part of mainstream development planning. It is not the climate, that breeds calamity but governmental negligence and social vulnerability that come into a happy alliance to claim its victims. If the government continues to nelect this grave human issue in Tharparkar, this beautiful desert will turn into a graveyard of destitutes.
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