MITHI: Participants of a seminar on basic issues of Tharparkar have called for proper planning and immediate implementation of plans to rid the desert region of chronic droughts by 2030. Long-term policies and plans for development of the region to protect its people from food insecurity, hunger, poverty, malnutrition and health hazards should also be evolved, they said.

The seminar was jointly organised by the District Development Association of Tharparkar (DDAT) and Sindh Community Foun­dation (SCF) in collaboration with the United Nations Develop­ment Programme (UNDP) in Mithi on Tuesday. The participants included local government representatives and civil society activists belonging to Tharparkar.

The event was aimed at identifying the areas requiring immediate attention and proper development in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at local level and the issues arising out of the absence of basic infrastructure of different sectors in the region.

Prof Ismail Kumbhar of the Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam, drew the attention of the participants to the rapid and widespread desertification and increasing temperatures which, he said, were adversely affecting the livelihoods of Thari people, especially those living in rural areas.

He emphasised the need for a specific anti-drought policy with focus on addressing issues of hunger, poverty and malnutrition. He said top priority must be accorded to a healthy environment while planning and executing development projects, including those relating to extraction of coal.

Prof Kumbhar urged the government to explore new sources of fodder which was the mainstay of the economy of this district.

Javed Soz of the SCF said that policymakers of development sector must take care of local people’s rights, environmental protection and concerns of minorities while doing their job.

He said that elected representatives of federal, provincial and local governments should be fully conversant with the modern concepts of sustainable development.

Mr Soz said that stakeholders of all projects should address genuine concerns of the local population. He was of the view that it was the first right of local people to be preferred in employment in the projects of their areas. Necessary training to develop their skills should also be given to them wherever possible, he added.

Social activist Punhal Sario called for passing the Thar Development Authority bill into law. The Sindh Assembly should also approve the resettlement policy concerning development projects in Thar.

Mr Sario suggested that ‘enemy property’ across the Thar region be distributed among local peasants. He observed that poor Tharis were vulnerable to the rising trend of religious extremism and caste-based discrimination.

“The federal and Sindh governments must keep a check on banned religious outfits which [are actively] working with relief organisations,” he said.

DDAT chief Kirshan Sharma suggested that local people should be included in the development process and given employment. They must have a say in the resettlement process as well, he added.

Mr Sharma called for an overhaul of health, education and other institutions with a view to bring about an improvement in services and to secure their future.

Local Pakistan Peoples Party leader Nand Lal Malhi was of the view that without ensuring participation of local people in development process, the implementation of global commitments like SDGs could not meet success at local level.

Mithi municipal committee members Madan Lal Maheshwari and Kanwar Amar expressed the view that clean drinking water was the foremost issue of this region. Describing the problem as one of the main reasons behind chronic drought, they observed that in most areas water sources happened to be far from the populated rural areas. They called for availability of RO plants close to villages and their proper maintenance. They said the desert region should also have a proper infrastructure for supply of piped water for drinking and irrigation purposes.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2017