MITHI: The four-member commission constituted by the Sindh government to conduct a survey of the drought-hit parts of the Thar to assess the situation leading to recent deaths of a large number of children has strongly recommended ‘calamity-hit area’ status for the region.

In its report prepared after visits to many areas of Thar, interviews with senior officials of the health and other relevant departments, active NGOs, and many members of the general public, the four-member commission headed by former advocate general Abdul Fatah Malik also recommended an exclusive health policy for Thar.

It warned of continued deaths of children and expecting mothers if immediate corrective measures were not taken to provide relief to patients at various health facilities.

The 100-page report submitted with the chief secreatry on Monday contained 13 recommendations, according to Dr Sono Khangrani, a member of the commission. He said the report urged the provincial government to overhaul infrastructure in the drought-hit Thar. “Thar region, due to no or erratic rainfall and subsequent inept attitude of successive governments, has been facing crises for many years,” the report said, adding that the transfer/posting of six deputy commissioners and as many district health officers and civil surgeons (of the Mithi Civil Hospital) over the last three years reflected the government’s non-serious approach towards the crises.

The report held health department responsible for the sorry state of medical affairs in the desert area. Apart from a shortage of over 300 doctors, scores of health units including dispensaries were still lying closed in the remote areas from where deaths of children were continuously being reported, it noted.

The report referred to the commission members’ interaction with people of various areas in Thar and stressed that all health units should be equipped with modern facilities to control fatalities and prevent outbreaks of various diseases. It observed that malnutrition was mainly the result of the chronic drought hitting the area for four years.

There was an urgent need for posting lady doctors and trained nurses both in small towns and villages to guide expecting mothers on health issues,” the report said and called for ‘special perks’ for such professionals.

The report also observed that RO (reverse osmosis) plants being installed in Thar were mostly of no use. More such plants would cause more devastation in the area, it warned, and strongly recommended a relevant survey to be carried out in this region before going for such adventures in future.

It noted that no attention had been paid to the rain-dependent farmlands in the region. This always results in migration of a large number of people to other areas in search of a livelihood even when Thar gets good rainfall, according to the report, which recommended small dams to be built on an urgent basis so as to store rainwater for people and their livestock.

The reports recommended concerted efforts to ensure supply of food and fodder to the drought-hit areas.

It also recommended establishment of the Thar Development Authority, observing that a bill already drafted for enactment into law was pending before the Sindh Assembly. The bill should be passed as soon as possible so that basic and chronic issues of the neglected area could be addressed, it said.

The commission advised the provincial government to stop political interference in the posting and transfer of the key officials. It made mention of flaws and instances of corruption in the distribution of wheat and other relief operations in the region.

The commission urged the government to put in place a perfect transport system in Thar so as to ensure that its people could have easy access to various towns of the district.

The report advised the government to ensure release of irrigation water in Rann Minor so that over 40,000 aces of fertile land could be irrigated.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2016

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