ISLAMABAD: In the humanitarian crisis-hit Tharparkar which has the highest under-five mortality rate in Pakistan, women and children eat less than men, finds a fact-finding mission of the United Nations.

“Men are given the first priority at meals and often eat more than women and children whereas the main food eaten was onion, chilli, bread and vegetables (guar and singharian)”, the mission observes.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) undertook a joint fact-finding mission to Tharparkar with the objective of determining the effect of drought on the people of Tharparkar.

The mission came to the conclusion that eating patterns in Tharparkar have changed significantly as a result of the drought.

People now eat one or two meals a day compared with three before the drought.

Cows are revered by the Hindu and Thari communities, and are not consumed while goat and lamb are generally only eaten on special occasions.

Since the people of Thar predominantly consume a vegetarian diet, there is a pronounced lack of protein which affects their nutrition status.

Until March, the government was providing free subsidised wheat of 80kgs every two months to the communities, along with fodder for livestock.

Due to access constraints, some villages have still not received fodder for their livestock.

Singaro village reported that they have not received fodder since the onset of the drought.

The availability of water has become alarming as lack of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities contribute negatively to health outcome, with a large number of children suffering from diarrohea.

Out of the total 450 reverse osmosis plants installed by the government a year ago at a cost of $54.6 million, half of them are out of order due to maintenance problems, poor planning or negligence.

Agricultural activities are dwindling due to prolonged drought and increasingly erratic monsoon.

Pressure on the agriculture sector has pushed people into other less stable jobs including daily wage labour or wood cutting.

Many villagers borrow money on unfavourable terms and get caught in a cycle of debt which they are unable to pay off due to failure of consecutive harvests.

Communities have lost 65 to 70 per cent of their livestock due to the prolonged drought, extreme shortage of fodder and outbreak of livestock diseases in Tharparkar.

Some communities have resorted to negative coping mechanisms such as selling off their livestock at low prices to obtain enough money to purchase daily commodities or to uncontrolled grazing practices leading to further depletion of sparse vegetation.

At the Nutrition Stabilisation Centre of the district hospital in Mithi, the only large health facility within a radius of 300km, several cases of severe malnutrition were reported not due to primary factors resulting from drought, but due to secondary causes associated with home deliveries, lack of birth spacing, inappropriate complementary feeding practices, diarrohea, acute infections, chronic illness, or genetic disorders.

In the education sector, the fact-finding mission report says there are reports of children from a lower caste being denied education at the same facility as children of a higher caste.

Elders from Sonai Bah say that the only school in their vicinity was exclusively educating children of landowners, and all other children were removed by force from the building.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2016