Neutralise droughts in Thar
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.