Neu­tralise droughts in Thar

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Maria Syed Email:mari­au­mair@gmail.com.

THE lat­est in the se­ries of natu ral calami­ties to hit Pak­istan is drought in Tharparkar. The images of mal-nour­ished chil­dren and many of them dy­ing of hunger is dis­tress­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment re­port, as many as 240 peo­ple have died due to mal-nu­tri­tion and thirst. The vic­tims are mostly be­low five. Hu­man dis­as­ter in Thar has many facets. The live­stock, pro­vid­ing the much­needed liveli­hood to the lo­cal peo­ple, has died down com­pletely. More­over, mi­gra­tion or dis­place­ment of peo­ple, un­em­ploy­ment and lack of avail­abil­ity of food and fod­der are adding to the hard­ships of lo­cal peo­ple. There is a way of deal­ing with is­sues; if droughts can­not be pre­vented, th­ese can be man­aged ef­fec­tively. Ap­pro­pri­ate steps must be taken to re­duce ad­verse im­pact of drought.

Firstly, drought is no longer as­so­ci­ated with arid and semi-arid ar­eas only, as even the ar­eas that usu­ally re­ceive plenty of rain­falls of­ten face wa­ter scarcity. Even in Thar, out of to­tal six talukas, some ar­eas get suf­fi­cient rain­falls. There­fore wa­ter scarcity can be dealt through wa­ter man­age­ment. Some ar­eas such as Kasbo have enough agri­cul­tural pro­duce to ex­port it to other ar­eas of Pak­istan such as Pun­jab. There­fore, it is per­ti­nent that vul­ner­a­ble or drought-hit ar­eas must be iden­ti­fied. This helps in tak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate steps prior to drought for plan­ning etc. and post-drought for re­lief ef­forts.

Se­condly, re­search stud­ies must be car­ried out on the droughts in Thar. Th­ese should take into ac­count the fre­quency of oc­cur­rence of droughts and the dam­age it causes to hu­man and cap­i­tal re­source. Th­ese stud­ies should break up the dam­age into mi­cro and macro lev­els and also pri­mary im­pact and sec­ondary im­pact. Th­ese should an­a­lyze the poli­cies adopted by the gov­ern­ment to ad­dress droughts like sit­u­a­tion and their ef­fec­tive­ness in deal­ing with cri­sis. The hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­lief ef­forts must also be con­sid­ered in this re­gard. There is a need for look­ing into the ef­forts un­der­taken by other coun­tries in deal­ing with droughts and adopt­ing their best prac­tices. Com­par­a­tive analy­ses with re­gional states can also prove use­ful.

Droughts in Thar is not some­thing un­usual as they are a re­cur­rent phe­nom­e­non there. It is the third year in a row of drought in Thar and thir­teenth year of drought in two decades. Ear­lier this year, there have been sev­eral hun­dred deaths in Thar as a re­sult of famine. Thus, there is an ur­gent need to move beyond short-term re­lief mea­sures and adopt a con­sis­tent and longterm ap­proach.

One way of mit­i­gat­ing the im­pact of drought is through de­vel­op­ing early warn­ing sys­tem in Thar. De­layed re­sponse fur­ther ex­ac­er­bates the sorry state of af­fairs. The Bri­tish fol­lowed a prac­tice in Thar. If the re­gion did not re­ceive ap­prox­i­mately 300 mm of rain­fall by Au­gust, a drought would be de­clared in the re­gion. Peo­ple would then move nearer to the bar­rage area. The ques­tion arises whether Provin­cial gov­ern­ment has de­clared it a cri­sis. If not then what are the rea­sons; has the sit­u­a­tion not yet reached a cri­sis-like sit­u­a­tion?

More es­sen­tially, there is a need to im­prove gov­er­nance. The sit­u­a­tion is more an out­come of poor state of gov­er­nance there. The posts of med­i­cal of­fi­cers in Umerkot have not been filled for a long time. More­over, the dis­trict hos­pi­tal is also un­able to serve peo­ple. The so­cio-eco­nomic, par­tic­u­larly the health fa­cil­i­ties, must be im­proved. Poor lit­er­acy rates, de­spite mush­room­ing of schools in re­cent years, is tragic. Cor­rup­tion must be done away with that could spare large amounts of al­lo­cated funds for the area. Com­mu­nity re­lief ef­forts have been the hall­mark of Pak­istani so­ci­ety in na­tional dis­as­ters such as the 2005 earth­quake and floods ex­pe­ri­enced since 2009 in Pak­istan. How­ever, the much-applauded spirit of hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism in Pak­istan is not vis­i­ble this time. There is a need to re­vive this spirit. Me­dia can pool in by work­ing in con­junc­tion with the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions in spread­ing a word and call­ing in for re­lief. Drought-af­fectees are in dire need of food as­sis­tance and peo­ple must come for­ward. Since the re­sources are limited, gov­ern­ment can ef­fec­tively uti­lize the avail­able re­sources by stream­lin­ing the as­sis­tance pro­vided by hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions and the over­all re­lief op­er­a­tion. Pub­lic re­lief strate­gies must be for­mu­lated well in ad­vance of drought.

Thar that is spread over a large area of 22,000 square kilo­me­tres and has a pop­u­la­tion of 1.5 mil­lion can be trans­formed from a calamity-hit area to a pro­duc­tive part of the coun­try. What is re­quired is right set of poli­cies and their ju­di­cious im­ple­men­ta­tion. —The au­thor works for IPRI.

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