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UMERKOT, Jan 14: A token hunger strike being observed outside the local press club for five days against the government’s indifferent attitude towards over 5,000 residents of Samoon Rind village ended on Monday.

Residents of the village, some 60 kilometres from Chhachhro town, claimed that at least five people died and dozens of others were suffering from serious illnesses after consuming subsoil water containing a high level of fluoride.

One of the villagers, Akbar Rind, who was among those observing a hunger strike at the camp, told Dawn that more than 49 people had been paralysed and five of them — Hanif, 38, Jado, 32, Arab, 55, Asiat, 55, and Saeed Khan, 42 — lost their lives over the past few years. He claimed that the cause of the deaths and the illnesses appeared to be the water they had been consuming for long.

The village is situated close to the border with India amid sand dunes.

According to the villagers, a number of initiatives had been taken by the Indian government to ensure provision of safe drinking water to the people living in the same region on the other side of the border. However, they said, the Pakistani authorities appeared least concerned about the plight of Samoon Rind village people.

“Water is found after digging a 250-foot-deep well but it is brackish and contaminated,” said an NGO activist, adding that it was causing bone deformation, including dental fluorosis. He recalled that an organization got the water samples tested at the Centre of Excellence, Analytical Chemistry, Jamshoro, and the results indicated that the samples contained a high level of fluoride that could cause dental and skeletal fluorosis and neurological manifestation.

On Monday MNA Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani visited the hunger strike camp and listened to protesters’ grievances. He held out the assurance that safe drinking water would be provided to them on a regular basis.

He was informed that Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and other officials had made similar promises to them and a report submitted to the authorities concerned by the Tharparkar deputy commissioner on May 19, 2011 in this regard was yet to be actively considered.

Mr Malani assured them that immediate action would be taken to address their grievances. On his assurance, the villagers ended their protest.