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Tharis fear the worst if rains fail this year

August 28, 2012


Women of Thar — File Photo
Women of Thar — File Photo

HYDERABAD: Population of Thar desert would wait for another fortnight or so in anticipation of monsoon rains. Then pace of migration would accelerate as people living in Thar fear that it might be a repeat of the drought witnessed in 1999-2000 when people died, many cattle head perished and arid region was hit by cases of tuberculosis.

Met record shows that 10mm rain was recorded in Mithi and 23mm in Chore from July 11 till now.

“Technically and normally monsoon season starts retreating in the first week of September from Pakistan and even from India. Then we can only expect post monsoon activity. Record shows floods coming in October but you know this is only rare and post monsoon rains are only a chance,” said a Pakistan Meteorological Department official from Lahore.

The met office earlier predicted 15 per cent above than average rainfall in this monsoon.

It was in 1999-2000 when inhabitants of Thar were hit by severe drought because of dry spells in the preceding years of the new millennium and that increased the severity of drought. But then people were ready for drought because there were no rains on the other side of border in Rajasthan state of India too.

This year residents have been expecting heavy rains in Sindh in view of super floods of 2010 and last year’s monsoon heavy rains and because of repeated forewarnings by the meteorological department that Sindh would receive more rains than average downpour. So they opted for staying in their abodes. They either exhausted or sold reserved stocks of food. Until now reports indicate that that only 50 to 100 out of around 2,500 villages have received rains, leading to internal migration as well.

Migration, though on lesser scale, takes place in Thar that is considered seasonal migration. Thar’s residents (daily-wage earners) usually leave for irrigated areas to work in fields in Rabi season and especially after Diwali celebrations. In wet year a family head or adult leave for barrage areas to work in fields or get associated in other chores like hotels, tailoring, etc. But when drought sets in entire families travel to barrage areas with livestock because they run out of fodder for cattle and grain for them.

“People along with their cows have shifted to these villages that received rains in search of fodder. But those having goat and sheep are in a state of wait-and-see and they will leave in September in case there is no rains,” said an elderly NGO activist who is also working in a government hospital.

This time government declared Thar calamity-hit on time, otherwise it was not witnessed previously and according to a local journalist, Khatau Jani, those migrating from Thar will even travel up to areas as far as Kambar-Shahdadkot braving difficulties of journey.

“The population is under severe stress and it is just the beginning of drought. I am foreseeing a severe drought like that of 1999-2000 and only rains can only lessen their psychological pressure,” he said and added that seasonal migration took place but not more than 10 per cent.

Drought would affect population socio-economically. Livestock sector would be hit badly. Cattle become prone to diseases for malnutrition. Their prices would drop which would be serious blow to village population ahead of Eidul Azha. Sheep and goat – being major source of livelihood - become vulnerable to these diseases due to severe malnutrition.

The road infrastructure, which was non existent in 1999-2000, has been laid in some areas, although three-fourth of the villages are yet to be connected with road infrastructure in arid region. Roads like Chachhro-Umerkot, Diplo-Badin and Mithi-Naukot built over the years may lessen time of journey of migrating population.

“In last year’s rains people had shifted their cattle to Thar because of availability of fodder in Thar,” said Dr.Sono Khangrani of the Sindh Rural Support Programme (SRSP). He said that peacocks’ death was a strong indicator of impending drought but people did not take note of it.

“Peacocks died in 1999-2000 before the drought set in due to prolonged dry spell and this happens this year again, which is a major indicator of drought,” he recalled.

Main crops of Thar is guar and millet.

“They usually grow millet and guar which is cultivated on around one million acres in Thar as these are their main crops. Even if they don’t get the required yield, but it will still give them seed and fodder for their livestock,” said Abdul Majeed Nizamani, president of the Sindh Abadgar Board.

The very population which mostly belong to Kohli and Bheel communities usually migrates to barrage areas only after Dewali celebrations and for labour purposes ahead of sugarcane crop in winter and then wheat harvesting.

“I spoke to a number of Kohli women who came to hospitals and they told me that they are migrating right now, otherwise they usually leave the area after Diwali,” said the activist