KARACHI / MITHI: Most areas of Sindh’s Tharparkar district are facing a famine-like situation and at least 32 malnourished children are reported to have died. About 175,000 families are reported to have been affected and some of them have been forced to leave their homes and move to barrage areas.

According to a report received on Thursday, PPP patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has expressed concern over the situation and ordered the Sindh government to immediately launch a relief operation. He has set up a special committee to monitor the situation.

The PPP leader called his adviser on minority affairs, Surendar Valasai, who is from Thar, and said he would take up the issue with Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to ensure that relief and rehabilitation measures were undertaken across the affected area.

He said elected representatives, leaders and workers of the PPP would fully cooperate with the Sindh government in ameliorating the situation.

Only nine of 166 dehs in Tharparkar district are located in the command area of a barrage. The rest are in the desert where people mostly depend on rain for growing food and fodder crops.

The area received no rain, except a little drizzle in the beginning of the current season. Almost all reservoirs have dried up and Thar is facing a famine-like situation. Tharparkar is hit by drought every two or three years, causing severe shortage of food, resulting in malnutrition, diseases and death. Children and pregnant women are affected the most.

There is no proper healthcare facility in the Mithi Civil Hospital where the 32 children have died because of malnutrition. A large number of sheep, camels, cows and goats have died in the arid, rain-dependent district. Scores of peafowl have perished in various villages, but the wildlife department is yet to take any significant step to improve the situation.

Reports received from Diplo, Chhachhro, Islamkot, Dahli and Nagarparkar suggest that many poor Thari families were moving to barrage areas, along with their livestock.

Relatives of the patients admitted to the hospital in Mithi complained that its administration was not providing medicines and they were forced to buy expensive drugs. “We cannot feed our children, how can we purchase medicines?”

District Health Officer Dr Abdul Jalil Bhurgri told Dawn that 36 children were reported to have died in the Civil Hospital. Twenty-three of them were under five years of age and underweight. The main cause of death was malnutrition.

MPA Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani visited the hospital on Wednesday, along with Tharparkar Deputy Commissioner Makhdoom Aqil-uz-Zaman. Civil Surgeon Dr Jawaharlal told them that shortage of medicines, doctors, paramedics and sanitary workers had added to people’s misery.

Mr Malani assured the hospital administration that the problems would be solved soon.

Although the Sindh government has declared Tharparkar a calamity-hit district, it is yet to take any concrete measure to avert further losses. Its announcement to provide 60,000 wheat bags to the drought-hit people of Thar is yet to materialise.

The district administration is reported to have told the relief commissioner that 60,000 wheat bags would not meet the requirement of about 175,000 drought-hit families.

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