Tharparkar or Thar is a semi-desert arid area that lacks many facilities with people there having to live without basic utilities such like food, health and proper shelter.
The 22,000 square-kilometer stretch of Thar Desert sits in one of Pakistan’s remotest corners, outside the Indus River basin – which is the economic backbone of the country as a whole. With no river water to supplement rainfall, the welfare of the crops and herds that make up the Tharis’ major source of income hangs on just 50 to 300 millimeters of precipitation a year.
More than 1.5 million people live in the 2,300 villages that dot Thar’s four Ta’allukas or administrative units namely Nagarparkar, Mithi, Diplo and Chachro. However, all the areas still need more hospitals, schools and even basic health units.
Baanh Beli is an NGO that has been working in many disciplines in Tharparkar and was established in 1985. Water resources, health care, girls’ education and sustainable livelihoods are a few aspects this NGO is working on.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Baanh Beli both arranged an opportunity for journalists visit to Thar where the media was briefed on the steps that are being taken to help the people of Thar.
Micro retention dams
At the Karoonjhar hills of Nagarparkar, a couple of temporary streams emerge after every rainfall, but the runoff tends to flow instead towards the Rann of Kutch – salty lowlands over the border in India.
Baanh Beli has developed a couple of recharging or micro-retention dams at the hills and other parts of Nagarparkar. The stored water is now making a huge difference in the area and positively affecting the underground water table, thus filling the empty well again. Thari people use the stored water for irrigation and livestock purposes. The water from the dams collectively irrigates three to four thousands acre of agriculture land.
On the other hand, with the help of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) and UNDP, Baanh Beli is offering micro-credits to the Thari people for small businesses related to livestock and agriculture. The recovery of the loans is amazingly 99 per cent.
Thar lacks basic health facilities. Diarrhea, malaria and common cold are seasonal diseases caused by rainfall and winter seasons. ‘Mother and child health’ is another big challenge in Tharparkar as 95 per cent deliveries are managed in homes and 30 per cent of them turn into complications on an average.
Baanh Beli has set three ‘Mother and Child’ hospitals in the Nagarparkar area where lady doctors and trained lady health workers work in the OPD. The NGO also performs routine vaccination and immunization processes.
Steps against desertification
Tharparkar also happens to be a home to wildlife and biodiversity. However, the area is hammered by climate change and desertification.
UNDP, Ministry of Environment and Baanh Beli have initiated a project to restore the Peelu (Salvadora oleoides) and Guggal (Commiphora Wightii) – the two important plants of dry lands.
Peelu tree is on the verge of extinction in Nagarparkar area due to over exploitation for fodder, fuel and commercial chip board industries.
Guggal is another very important plant having high medicinal and commercial value. The resin or gum of Guggal is used in perfumery and medicines. There is a plantation of Guggal via agro forestry practices.
Cheap solar pump
Baanh Beli has also installed a solar power water pump to fetch water from an underground well in the Nagar Parkar area. The solar panels produce 400 watts of electricity which is enough to obtain 7,000 liters of water a day.
The water is being used by hundreds of people and more than 10,000 cattle each day. Every family of the village contributes Rs.50 per month which makes Rs.3,000 collectively. The money is used for the salary of solar well operator and for maintenances of the installation.