It has been nearly seven years since the residents of Sindh’s Thar desert saw a decent amount of rainfall, but this year has been different.
This year’s rains have transformed the harsh landscape and its inhabitants. Farmers are tilling their land, planting seeds, and for the first time in years, expecting a good harvest. The transformation of the desert landscape has attracted tourists from all over Pakistan to marvel at the grass-lined roadways that were, until recently, just drab sand and stone.
The desert is home to many varieties of indigenous trees, herbs, and grasses. It is the latter that provides feed for more than 6 million livestock.
A month and a half ago, heavy winds accompanied by soaring temperature hit the region. People migrated towards the barrage areas more than 200 kilometres away with their cattle. Now, all that has changed. In the deep desert, dunes have been covered by a greenish coverlet, trees have doubled and tripled their leaves, and the grass is growing with unrestrained enthusiasm.
Khaku, who lives in the village of Dhorio, was weeding out grass from his land. He was thankful for the rain, and said that he had invested Rs20,000 on his land, and intended to work for the next three months until the harvest in the last week of November.
His family – he has seven children – seemed to be as enthusiastic as he was, working from sunrise to sunset. Every family member plays a role in cultivating the desert land.
When drought hits the people and animals face an acute shortage of fodder and cereal crops, as well as water scarcity. These lead to premature births among livestock, and the malnutrition rate increases among children under 5 years of age. Pregnant and lactating women do not get proper amount of food. People are forced to migrate towards the areas where barrages have been built to find fodder and water for their cattle.
This year may be a year of hope, but nothing is certain, warns Bharumal Amrani, a folklorist and environmental expert.
“Nothing can be said finally until the harvest. This time Thar has received enough rains, but there are other climatic challenges that may cause low yield.”
Recent attacks by grasshoppers are an issue and have the potential to cause a huge loss.
Local farmers like Nehal, though, are optimistic. He had been taking on labour work during the lean period to manage household expenses. But, after the rains, his family has returned to the land.
“I invested Rs30,000 last year, but due to rainfall, we got fodder only for two months and couldn’t manage to repay the loan we had taken. This year, we welcomed a good shower, and we hope this would give us a way to fulfill our household needs until the next rains,” he said.
Despite the amount of rains, there is an issue about their timing.
“Due to climate change there has been a delay in the monsoon, the desert received the first spell of rain almost a month late, and that may badly affect the harvest,” says Aakash Hamirani, a youth activist.
Nevertheless, the people are happy, blessing their fortune this year, and hoping it marks a change from the last few years of lean rainfall.
Header photo by Manoj Genani
This article was originally published on The Third Pole and has been reproduced with permission.