Mem­o­ries of Thar

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ab­dul Qadir Junejo

THE story of famine in the Thar desert is a long and mis­er­able one, filled with grief, des­per­a­tion and death, af­fect­ing people, young and old, as well as live­stock. If some­one could gaze into the past, one could dis­cover the oc­cur­rence of drought known as chh­pnu - many people omi­nously termed it the 'black drought'.

It had hit in 1899 and went on for about 10 years. But at that time there were var­i­ous nat­u­ral in­di­ca­tors that warned lo­cal people of the ap­proach of drought. One of these was the south-western howl­ing wind, which would blow dur­ing all four sea­sons dur­ing the drought years. Other­wise in nor­mal con­di­tions the wind would only blow in the months of April and May - spring­time in Thar. The move­ments of an­i­mals, birds and in­sects also warned the people in ad­vance about the ad­vent of the drought.

At the start of the drought the first vic­tims would be the doves fall­ing from the dried branches of trees out of thirst and hunger. They would die on the spot. In the sec­ond phase cows would drop from the dunes from hunger while goats would eat sand or bushes as a sub­sti­tute for grass be­cause of the non-ex­is­tence of fod­der in the shape of plants.

Out of all of Thar's live­stock, the camel was the hardi­est, stay­ing alive in those tough con­di­tions.

The 'ship of the desert' fa­cil­i­tated people's mi­gra­tion to­wards the 'green belt' of Sindh. More­over, all the routes were buried un­der the sand be­cause of harsh winds, leav­ing people lost. But it was the camel's cred­i­ble in­stincts which led the Tharis to the near­est green belt. The humped an­i­mal was noth­ing less than a saviour.

At that time only some Ra­jput fam­i­lies owned big chunks of cul­tivable land. They used to pile up grain and dry grass for tougher times. Be­cause of that they them­selves and their cat­tle were able to sur­vive in harsh con­di­tions, and dur­ing the drought they did not have to mi­grate any­where.

Their usual in­take was camel milk and bread made from ba­jra (pearl mil­let), a mod­est diet that was ca­pa­ble of pro­tect­ing them from var­i­ous sorts of dis­eases also. But nearly 80pc of the people of Thar were poor and could not af­ford such 'luxuries', thus they had no op­tion but to leave for the green belt.

At that time the near­est place of shel­ter for them was the Hakro river, a trib­u­tary of the mighty In­dus at the brink of Thar that was filled with wa­ter for the whole year.

Fast-for­ward to the mod­ern age, and it is an un­usual fact that in the pe­riod of re­tired Gen Pervez Mushar­raf, Dr Arbab Ghu­lam Rahim, who be­longed to Thar, served as Sindh chief min­is­ter; though he only got three years to gov­ern, in those three years he built a net­work of roads in the far-flung ar­eas of Thar.

This en­abled people to reach well-todo ar­eas to get re­lief even dur­ing dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. He was well aware of the con­di­tions of Thar.

Yet it is a great tragedy that dur­ing the pe­riod of democ­racy Sindh has been drowned in the ugly wa­ters of cor­rup­tion and neg­li­gence.

Not only the politi­cians but the bu­reau­crats work­ing un­der the politi­cians have turned out to be obliv­i­ous to­wards the prob­lems of the com­mon people of Sindh. The ter­ri­ble be­hav­iour of politi­cians and of­fi­cers to­wards the drought in Thar is an ex­am­ple.

How­ever, there are also some other fac­tors be­hind the tragedies that have struck Thar this year. Rains come to Thar be­tween July and the first half of Septem­ber.

But trag­i­cally last year the rains came late. As a re­sult, seeds did flour­ish, but the plants died be­fore they could grow, be­cause the sec­ond spell of rains did not take place.

The win­ter too was late in its ar­rival this year. Af­ter many years it was for the first time that the tem­per­a­ture reached zero in Thar. As a re­sult of the harsh win­ter, chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble adults were over­taken by khir­tio, a sort of pneu­mo­nia in which first the vic­tim goes through a non-stop bout of cough­ing and in the sec­ond phase the lungs are af­fected.

At the same time asthma-like symp­toms com­bine with the deadly pneu­mo­nia, thus the vic­tim even­tu­ally takes his or her last breath. Al­ready short­age of food and harsh en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions sig­nalled the com­ing of dis­as­ter. There was ev­i­dently no way out for the poor people to es­cape death. To some ex­tent death is bear­able, but the seem­ingly eter­nal wait for death is al­ways un­bear­able.

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