KARACHI: In the wake of below average rainfall in Thar in recent years, the Sindh government has planned a series of water, food and livestock projects under a strategy to end water shortfall in the drought-hit desert district, it emerged on Wednesday.

Officials in the Sindh government said the death of 311 children in the drought-hit Thar, spread over 22,000-kilometres, prompted the urgency to build a series of water reservoirs in the desert. In this regard, an ‘efficient water resource management’ project was ordered by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

“The focus would be to provide irrigation water by either constructing new canals or extending the existing ones to reach the targeted area,” said a senior official, hinting at some official correspondence that is in its final stage.

In addition, he said, reservoirs would be constructed to store rainwater to serve need of the people, their livestock and the land. So far, the project was adumbrated to construct reservoirs, small dams and check dams, he added.

According to a recent report about the project new water resources will be tapped, as most areas of Thar have underground sweet water that can be tapped through wells, boring or submersible pumps.

“Where there is no provision of electricity, solar submersible pumps will be installed to provide clean drinking water to the people and the livestock,” says the report.

The Sindh government officials said poverty alleviation was another mandatory measure to improve situation in Thar and arid zones. “Economic uplift of these people is not possible without providing economic opportunities to them. They should be trained in various skills encouraging them to begin with their own small business and become entrepreneurs,” said an official.

He said that self-employment would empower the less privileged for which the government would offer loans to the youth through micro-credit financing. “Agricultural development and industrial base in drought prone areas would enable people to come out of poverty nexus,” said the official.

The official said drought often resulted in a number of casualties because of food shortage which called for measures to ensure availability of food in bulk in such areas in advance.

Food, fodder and seed banks

“Thus, an appropriate policy option is the creation of a food bank,” he said, adding that the food bank would cater to not only the need of the people but also the livestock there.

The officials said the food department had been asked to keep wheat stock available before monsoon season and the same strategy was to be adopted by the livestock department. They added the food, relief and livestock departments in coordination with the provincial disaster management authority would have to contribute towards the success of food bank project. Similarly, sources said, the drought highlighted the need for creating a fodder bank for the livestock. The establishment of fodder bank would support the livestock in the time of crisis by supplying fodder free of cost or at a subsidized rate.

The sources said the government had also felt the need to establish seed banks at a subdivision level to supply seeds and give support to the growers throughout the year, especially before the monsoon. They said sprinkling of grass seeds in monsoon might add to the provision of fodder for livestock. The fodder banks would be established in close proximity of drinking wells and livestock sanctuaries etc, they added.

Similarly, the sources said, another proposal was to set up a livestock company in the public sector that would advise livestock owners on breeding or health issues and offer interest free loans to them for purchasing cattle.

Meanwhile, the officials said the government had so far given Rs100,000 in compensation to each of the bereaved families of 275 children, aged below five years, who had expired between December 2013 and Oct 31, 2014.

Published in Dawn December 18th , 2014