MITHI: The head of the committee formed by Supreme Court for monitoring government measures to provide relief to calamity prone Thar residents on Thursday ordered officials of food department to buy wheat as per demand of the area to pre-empt a repeat of current flour crisis in coming months.

The committee chairman Riaz Ahmed Siddiqui, provincial secretary for implementation and coordination services and general administration, said during his meetings with heads of different departments at deputy commissioner’s office that the public health engineering department officials must put all reverse osmosis plants into operation ahead of harsh summer season in the desert district.

He called for a clear policy to run RO plants in a smooth manner so that the area people continued to get water without any hindrance. The officials should write to their high-ups asking them to clear dues of the private firm which was hired by the government to install, run and maintain the costly plants. The firm shut down the plants after its contract expired in October last year.

He urged the government to either renew the contract with the same firm or employ some other company at the earliest so that people were not deprived of clean drinking water.

Mr Siddiqui directed officials of irrigation department to complete work on under-construction small dams for rainwater in Parkar region before the onset of monsoon season. It was the need of the hour to promote bio-saline agriculture in the district and officials concerned should guide farmers in this regard, he said.

He asked officials of forest department to launch tree-plantation drive, especially in the 10 designated areas and take more effective measures to protect existing trees in Thar. No excuse would be accepted for laxity in fight against climate change, he warned.

He directed Tharparkar district health officer Dr Irshad Memon to provide more facilities in Mithi Civil Hospital and other health units at the earliest to avoid deaths of infants and pregnant women.

He asked the official to write a letter to secretary of health for purchasing medicines and vaccines required for the two rehabilitation centres he was running for the malnourished newborns in order that the issue was resolved by the next meeting of the committee.

He said that there was still great need to create awareness among Tharis about birth control and other methods of family planning so that the unhealthy trends like child marriage could be discouraged. “Lady health workers can play a great role in creating awareness among area people about birth control and birth spacing,” he said.

He directed the DHO to have his report that claimed a significant drop in deaths of infants verified by other sources. Dr Memon had claimed that newborns’ mortality rate had gone down over the past few months as compared to figures of the past.

He said that National Institute of Health, Islamabad, must be approached for required vaccines before possible outbreak of viral infections in Thar. The officials of Thar Foundation should hold a meeting with the DC and make an effective mechanism for coping with any emergency in the district, he said.

Mr Siddiqui expressed deep concern over report of education officers that there were still 426 schools lying closed across the district and warned them to reopen all such schools without further delay.

Mirpurkhas Commissioner Abdul Waheed Shaikh, who is also a member of the committee, said that he was in constant touch with Thar DC and other officials to do more to help end multiple crises in the vulnerable district.

He said that they were especially focusing on issues of healthcare, education and provision of safe drinking water to Tharis in the light of the mandate given to them by the apex court last year.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2020