HYDERABAD: The commissioner of Mirpur­khas division has recommended to the Sindh government for declaring Tharparkar a calamity-hit area in view of the reports submitted by the Mirpurkhas deputy commissioner on the basis of a survey conducted by officials of the agriculture research department and Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam.

“Drought-like conditions” are feared this year, too, the recommendation submitted by the divisional commissioner said.

Such recommendation was made in late March and then a summary was floated to the Sindh chief minister. It was requested in the summary that the ninth phase of distribution of wheat should be launched among drought-hit people. It said that over Rs1.023 billion, including Rs993.41 million as cost of 287,946 wheat bags (100-kg each) and Rs30 million for transportation charges, should be sanctioned.

The summary claimed that the eighth phase of wheat distribution was already in full swing and 124,738 bags out of an allocation of 143,973 had been distributed till March 17, 2016. It said that the “ninth phase of free wheat distribution may be allowed and dispatched so that the continuity is ensured in distribution process for the people of affected areas”.

The said summary referred to surveys conducted in three phases by teams of the director general of agriculture research and the SAU in August and December 2015 and February 2016. It said that heavy rainfall of July 2015 in Tharparkar had resulted in damages to houses and livestock.

Thar was faced with the fourth consecutive drought in 2012 due to climate change. Unending deaths of newborns continue to make headlines from the arid region.

Distribution of free wheat has been going on under government’s directives, though it was briefly stopped when the seventh phase was under way for some reasons about irregularities in distribution process. Deaths are primarily due to malnourishment among expecting mothers, lacking access to clean drinking water and poverty. Several hundreds of deaths have been reported from Thar so far.

A number of initiatives were announced by the federal and provincial governments, including reverse osmosis plants, formation of a Thar Development Authority (TDA) and Sindh Drought Mitigation Policy. While RO plants are established and are still a point of debate. Same is the case with drought policy.

Last year’s belated rainfall led to recharge in groundwater, but it did not help cultivation of crops like millet and cluster beans that much. Cluster beans is a commercial commodity for people of Thar while millet is staple food for them. Thar ideally needs the first rain in May as far as sowing of crops is concerned and usually three cycles of rainfall are considered ideal for a healthy crop.

In the absence of such rains, the community often opts for migration to barrage areas to earn livelihood. Rains in July and then in Sept 2015 did not help crop production and fodder for livestock.

The Sindh government had declared Tharparkar as calamity-hit in Feb 2014 in the wake of 2013 drought amidst controversy of belated procedural formalities for 2013 drought which caused deaths of newborns.

Thar was declared calamity-hit area in 2014. This calamity actually pertained to drought conditions experienced by people in 2013.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had also announced Rs1 billion during his visit to Tharparkar in 2014. There are different reports about this financial assistance.

According to Dr Sono Khangarani, some circles claim that out of Rs1bn, Rs500 million were given to the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and the remaining funds were not released.

“But there is no official word available on the utilisation of Rs1bn,” he said. “If there are no rains this year again, it would lead to the fourth consecutive drought,” he added.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2016

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