The rain-dependent desert region of Thar is once again facing the worst drought conditions due to completely insufficient and erratic rains this year.
Thousands of people have started to migrate to barrage areas in search of food and fodder, hoping to avoid further fatalities of livestock and children.
According to details provided by people from across the desert region — who only have a few heads of cattle as a means of financial support — after finding no respite from the calamity, have started migrating to barrage areas of Badin, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Sujawal, Tando Allahyar, Tando Mohammad Khan and other districts.
A number of Tharis travelling to the irrigated parts of Sindh from various villages, termed the current drought as the worst in almost two decades when various parts of Thar did not receive more than 10mm of rainfall during the monsoon season.
Details obtained from various sources in the health department in Mithi revealed that outbreak of water-borne diseases and viral infections, along with malnutrition and other complications have so far claimed the lives of 440 infants this year alone.
Chief of the Rural Development Association (RDA), Mohammad Siddique Rahimoon said that the region spread over 22,000 square kilometres is once more faced with severe drought which was not only taking its toll on infants, but also pregnant mothers, livestock and rare species of wildlife.
He said that areas of Diplo, Mithi, Kaloi, Islamot, Nagarparkar and Chhachhro received very little to moderate spells of rain, that too less than 100mm. These instead of being a blessing, further worsened the situation for farmers as the seeds of their traditional crops either could not germinate or got withered away due to the absence of timely rains.
He was of the opinion that long-term policies are the only viable solution to such chronic issues and urged that the draft of the Thar Development Authority which was envisaged and drafted by experts five years ago, be presented in the Sindh Assembly.
He warned that issues of health and malnutrition would continue to haunt Tharis if sustainable and concerted efforts were not made at the provincial level to address them. Rahimoon also demanded the functionaries of Sindh to completely ban the felling of trees in the wake of this terrible drought by imposing Section 144 in the whole district.
The CEO of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), Dr Allah Nawaz Samoon, claimed that there are indications that the situation might turn out to be more serious and alarming than when Thar had suffered in the 1985-1987 period and then again from 1999-2000 when thousands of Tharis had to migrate to the barrage areas after the outbreak of diseases, both in humans and livestock, with nothing left to eat and drink.
Drought is a recurring phenomenon in the arid region of Thar, which requires long term solutions along with short term measures for affected communities. Dr Samoon said that there was a dire need to involve village volunteers in relief activities.
In addition, activities such as promoting water conservation, setting up of fodder and forage banks for local communities can contribute towards the saving of livestock which is the backbone of such poor people's livelihood.
He said that it was matter of great concern that over 370 cases of suicides had been reported from the desert region during past 6 years mainly due to poverty and other societal issues.
Most of the wells — the main source of obtaining water for consumption by humans and their livestock alike — have already dried up and Tharis have to travel miles in search of water, he added.
Noted writer and poet Professor Noor Ahmed Janjhi said that "the situation in Thar needs extensive planning to address drought conditions with a focus on disaster preparedness, mitigation, and rehabilitation including alternative sources of livelihood provided to the people entrapped by poverty."
The proper looking after of pastures, livestock rearing on scientific basis, discouraging unnecessary cultivation are some of the measures which can help combat the risk of a full-blown disaster.
—All photos provided by author.