THARPARKAR, one of the country’s largest arid regions, continues to suffer harsh weather conditions for the last four years.The rain fed area did get scanty rainfall last year but not sufficient enough for cultivation of crops like beans and millet. Child mortality has emerged as a serious issue.
Remedial measures taken by the provincial government were: provision of clean drinking water through reverse osmosis (RO) plants and distribution of free wheat to drought-stricken community and upgradation of health facilities.
And its agenda included the establishment of Thar Development Authority (TDA) and Sindh Drought Mitigation Policy 2014. A 26-member steering committee of the Sindh provincial assembly has drafted the proposed legislation. Both the documents are pending for the government’s approval or vetting by the elected house.
Mithi’s plant, billed as Asia’s largest, has failed to meet required drinking water supplies as envisaged. The problem is yet to be fixed. The Sindh Local Bodies Department had modelled the TDA on conventional wisdom not so specific to the Thar conditions.The bill is to be tabled again.
“Sindh Drought Mitigation and Management Policy will help the government handle the situation arising out of drought in any part of the province like Kachho, Nara, deserts in Sanghar, Umerkot and Tharparkar districts,” says Dr Sono Khangharani, a social activist and one of steering committee members.
As Thar district has its own dynamics, the TDA will have its board to take decisions for addressing issues before or during the drought period, he argues. “We have covered all important sectors that impact life of common man and even that of livestock during the dry spell,” he adds.
The TDA draft lists a number of measures required for sustainable development and environmental management in the wake of looming threat of climate change. Proposed TDA’s functions and intervention include: research; supplementing/complimenting the initiatives of different departments; water sector management; provision of irrigation water; water reservoirs; livestock and wildlife sanctuaries; gauchar (pastures) land and fodder bank and checking soil degradation. All these sectors are directly linked with local population’s source of livelihood.
Varying mortality figures of newborns continue to pour in from Thar notwithstanding the fact that it is winter. Summer season is still a couple of months away that would ultimately increase drinking water consumption and groundwater remains brackish in desert barring some pockets.
The Sindh government, time and again, has pledged to develop infrastructure and health facilities. Some promises are fulfilled like: upgradation of Mithi district headquarter hospital and distribution of free wheat. Primary healthcare facilities, by and large, remain dysfunctional.
Around Rs5bn was released to Special Initiatives Department for RO plants. Yet Mithi’s two million gallons per day plant, billed as Asia’s largest, failed to meet required drinking water supplies as envisaged. The problem is yet to be fixed.
Similarly, Thar has around 6.5-7 million livestock population with acute shortage of fodder. The government had announced to establish chiller plants across Tharparkar to collect milk from the community, but they are yet to be set up. Livestock vaccination drive, whose pace accelerated in 2014 when mortality had increased, has somewhat slowed down.