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Balochistan drought

February 18, 2019


AT the end of last year, the Balochistan home minister announced the results of a province-wide survey undertaken by deputy commissioners in the province. Twenty out of the 33 districts in Pakistan’s largest province were drought-stricken, he said, affecting around 109,000 families. This was not particularly shocking to hear: reports of severe water shortages in Balochistan and Sindh have been published in these pages regularly. Still, it confirmed the worst fears of many. There are already reports of climate-based migration taking place in the ‘resource-rich’ province and other parts of the country, with settled people adopting the way of nomads by moving to different parts of the province. Balochistan’s predominately agriculture- and livestock-dependent economy has taken a severe hit. Groundwater has seeped to dangerously low levels due to the lack of rainfall and there is widespread, unregulated use of tube wells that draw water. Balochistan’s chief minister has announced the setting up of emergency cells and distribution of relief goods on trucks, which is currently under way, but nowhere close to the size and scale required by the emergency situation, as pointed out by opposition members. Most recently, a mission team comprising members from WHO, WFP, International Children’s Emergency Fund and FAO amongst others has assured the provincial government of assistance during these challenging times.

It is important to remember that the drought did not occur overnight. It was 10 years in the making, with the province receiving scant rainfall over the past decade. Fortunately, there has been some light rainfall this month, but policymakers cannot rely on nature’s small blessings. While donor agencies and relief efforts can ease some of the hardships of the people in the short term, one hopes that policymakers are also implementing long-term solutions, and that their words soon turn into actions. The people of Balochistan are dependent on the fulfilment of the government’s promises.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2019