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ISLAMABAD: Members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights were shocked to learn on Monday that as many as 828 children had died in Thar over the past three years.

The meeting, held at the offices of the National Commission on Human Rights, was presided over by MNA Babar Nawaz Khan.

The committee directed the provincial health minister and the Sindh chief secretary to attend the next meeting of the committee in person and brief the committee on steps taken by the provincial government to address the issue of children’s death in Thar.

Briefing members of the committee, Fazila Aliani, a member of the NCHR from Balochistan, blamed corruption and lack of political will as a major reason for mounting deaths of children in Thar.

“At least 97 per cent area of Thar is desert and there has been no rain in the area for the last three years and because of this the availability of water has become a serious problem. People cannot cultivate their land and, therefore, there is also a serious nutrition problem. Livestock is also suffering because of lack of water,” she said.

“The available water has excessive amount of chlorine in it and it is causing multiple health problems in the people. Besides, provincial and district governments have taken no proper steps to address these issues,” she said.

“The government decided to install 700 plants of reverse osmosis but only 432 were installed and a number of them have become out of order because of lack of maintenance and those that are still functional have been installed in areas where political figures wanted them to be installed, thereby depriving the common people of access to these plants,” she said.

Ms Aliani further said that unemployment rate was also continuously increasing in the area because of decline in the agriculture sector because of drought. She said that the government should provide water in the area through a pipeline.

“There is also severe shortage of equipment and staff in hospitals as appointments have been made in these hospitals on political grounds and thereby those appointed just draw their salary and never bother to attend their duty in hospitals. The nearest hospital having all facilities is in Hyderabad, but people don’t have resources to go there and get treatment,” she said.

NCHR member from Islamabad Chaudhry Muhammad Shafique said that the population of Thar was 1.3 million but only 14 ambulances were available for the people.

“There are 141 sanctioned posts of doctors but a number of them are vacant. During our visit to Thar we demanded details of vacant posts, but officials said that it would take some time to collect data. Almost 700,000 people in the area have no medical facility,” he said.

“As many as 139 dispensaries were set up in the area, but they are not functional and because of this common people continue to suffer,” he said.

MNA Asyia Naz Tanoli wondered as to why the Sindh government has not taken the matter seriously.

“Three years have passed but still a large number of children are dying in Thar. Steps should be taken to provide health facilities to the people of the area,” she said.

The chairman of the committee, Mr Babar Khan, said that the matter was of very serious nature and humanitarian and it should be given top priority and should be addressed immediately.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2016