THARPARKAR is spread over 22,000 square kilometres with a population of about 1.6 million living in 2,300 villages and urban settlements. The region relies heavily on underground water sources as it has no rivers.
Hardly five per cent of the population has access to a fresh water supply. Even the district headquarter Mithi gets fresh water only twice a month.
Most people rely on far-flung wells for supply. On an average, a villager spends around six hours daily to fetch four to five pots (50 to 60 litres) from wells. During the dry season, almost their entire day and nights are spent in collecting water.
The entire burden is upon women as it is they who fetch water. In various areas of Thar, the continuous use of groundwater has caused fluorosis among people. This is a malady caused by the high intake of fluoride, and becoming endemic in Tharparkar.
Fluoride causes dental and skeletal fluorosis, osteosclerosis, thyroid and kidney problems when its concentration exceeds 1.5 mg/l in drinking water, and the intake of excessive fluoride leads to chronic bone and joint deformations.
Severe drought conditions, the decreasing water level and the increase in salt concentration are endangering the Thari people’s lives. In the absence of public water supply, people are forced to use groundwater, which is high in fluoride.
Healthcare is a major issue in Thar and requires the government to initiate immediate remedial measures including better development of groundwater and the installation of defluoridation and desalination plants.
The quality, quantity and access to water should be addressed with an integrated approach instead of installing hi-fi technology based systems having high recurring costs. Experience has proved that without technology transfer, appropriate technology and a user-friendly approach, no project can yield sustained results.
Ali Nawaz Rahimoo
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020