KARACHI: Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN) has expressed serious concern on the reported deaths of over 100 children in a hospital in Methi, Nangarparkar during the last three months due to severe malnutrition among mothers and children in Thar desert in east-southern parts of Sindh because of drought, a statement said here Sunday.
The PDSN steering committee members Dr. Sono Khangharani, Malji Rathor and Zulfiqar Shah urged the government to take immediate measures to provide emergency medical services and relief to the people on war footing as well as taking long-term measures for sustainable development in the desert areas.
A PDSN representative says that they are especially concerned because about 90 per cent of the total Dalit (scheduled castes) population of Sindh province is residing in Thar desert areas that includes the districts of Tharparkar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas. “We have no doubt that a large number of the dead children would be from scheduled castes populations, which are already very marginalized communities in the area,” said Zulfiqar Shah, Secretary of PDSN.
Media reports, quoting Mithi taluka hospital in Tharparkar district indicated that about 121 children died in the government medical facility during the last three months due to severe drought in Thar desert as the areas has received below the average rains during the last year’s monsoon season.
Hospital sources told the media last week that 38 children died of malnutrition in the Mithi taluka hospital in December 2013, there were 42 deaths in January, 36 in February; there have been five deaths in early March.
PDSN statement said due to the government’s apathy, mismanagement and bad governance the situation in the Thar desert has aggravated. The government did not declare the area as drought hit areas despite official confirmation about below average rainfall in 2013 and relief measures were not take in a timely manner.
Over half of the population are the Hindu and lower caste Dalit minority residing in Thar area, where health and other basic facilities are non-existent. People are even deprived of facilities like safe drinking water, education and livelihood opportunities in the desert areas.
PDSN says that majority of the scheduled castes in the area are living in slavery like situation as over 90 percent of them are landless people and with no social protection from the state. Their basic food sources are always under threat. One-third population are already malnourished as indicated in recent reports.
The drought in Thar is not a new phenomenon as it often occurs after every second year, either in a mild or with high intensity. The current situation of the drought was actually an outcome of less amount of rain in many areas of Tharparkar district, which meant there was less agriculture and meagre fodder or grasses for the animals. Local people said if below average rains occur till end of August the government had to announce drought and start taking measures for relief to the population to save human lives from starvation. But this did not happen this time.
First animals started dying in the desert by October last due to emerging drought situation, but the government did not pay any heed, now the humans especially children and women, have started dying because of malnutrition, but the government machinery was sleeping. When media reported deaths of children in a government healthy facility, suddenly everyone has woken up. The number of unreported deaths of children and women is even much more than the reported or recorded in the government hospitals as a large number of people breathe last before reaching a healthcare facilities in the far flung areas.
Now a larger portion of the desert population has started migrating along with their sick cattle to the irrigated areas to save their lives, which has created a human tragedy. An overwhelming number of such internally displaced people (IDPs) belong to Dalit communities.
The PDSN has demanded of the government to allocate adequate funds for establishing medical facilities at the Union Council levels and provide required medicines as well as medical staff at all such health centres.
Mobile medical units be sent in the deserted areas to save human lives. Instead of spending billions of rupees on the publicity of relief measures for the time being after the hue and cry in the media, the government should chalk out a long-term socio-economic development program for Thar desert, focusing on marginalized communities such as scheduled castes so they are less affected due to natural calamities including droughts and heavy rains in the future.