IT is appalling that in the modern age, around 40 children have reportedly died in Sindh’s Tharparkar district due to malnutrition as a famine-like situation prevails in the remote desert region. It speaks volumes about the apathy of the state when it comes to the well-being of this country’s hapless population. Around 175,000 Thari families have left their homes due to the drought, heading towards other districts. Tharparkar’s reservoirs are nearly all dry and the shortage of food is critical. What is more, the health facilities in the region are very far from satisfactory. Large numbers of livestock have also perished due to the severe climatic conditions. If reports are to be believed, it is media coverage that has finally prompted the Sindh government’s machinery to swing into action in response to the unfolding disaster. PPP head Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has ordered the provincial administration to launch relief efforts, while the Sindh chief minister has initiated a probe into the children’s deaths. Yet all this seems to be a case of too little, too late. For example, 60,000 wheat bags promised to Thar’s people by the Sindh administration have not yet arrived, while observers say even this quantity of food is insufficient to meet the people’s needs.
It is not as if the phenomenon of drought in Thar has come out of the blue; the region experiences drought every two to three years. Yet planning ahead for such extreme climatic conditions is obviously not part of the state’s priorities. The PPP remained in power for five years in Sindh and retained the provincial administration in last year’s general election. It is hard to believe the party’s provincial and national lawmakers from Thar were not aware of the situation on the ground. Or is it that death and dislocation caused by predictable natural disasters is accepted as ‘normal’? The displaced Thari families, as well as residents still in the area, need the full support of the state until the situation stabilises. This includes proper access to food, water and shelter. If money is a problem, the federal government or donors need to be approached. Equally important is the need to learn from this debacle and ensure such a catastrophe does not recur.