By Aqsa Junejo
Just in the month of Janruary 2016, more than 150 infants lost their lives in Tharparker. Tharparker, the largest desert of Pakistan, is approximately 406 km away from Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, which is the third largest province of Pakistan by size and second largest by population.
Megha, who is a dweller of Chachro, district Tharparker, Sindh, lost her twin infants of diarrhea. “If only I could do anything to bring my kids back”, says Megha.
Megha cried while narrating her story, “It took us three hours to arrange for a vehicle to get us to District Headquarter Hospital Mithi, where we had hoped that our infants would overcome diarrhea.(Chachro is approximately 90 kilometers away from Mithi, district headquarter of Tharparker), my husband found a taxi and driver would charge us 2,500 r.s to 3,000 r.s $25 to $30 which was impossible for us to pay. I cried and begged only to convince them to take us to hospital for $15. I tried, prayed and cried, but alas, they succumbed because we were too late to take them to hospital, lost both of them, they lost their lives even before reaching to the hospital”. Megha continued to cry while speaking about her loss.
It’s not only Megha who went through the pain of losing her kids, the situation in Tharparker is much worse.
Life is challenging for women living in Thar. “I spend all day to bring water for my family, I walk miles in scorching heat, carrying one waterpot on my head and one in the hands and go to fetch water for my family from the well (approximately 300m deep) “, Megha tells her daily routine. The water that Megha carries home is saline and has high concentration of salts and minerals which is dangerous for humans’ and livestock’ health. Megha and her fellow Thari people, in the absence of clean water, have no choice but consume it.
To deal with the water issue, government planned to install 750 RO (Reverse Osmosis) Plants at a total cost of Rs 5 billion. The basic idea was to provide the dwellers of Thar with pure drinking water by using membrane technology as reverse osmosis process purifies the brakish water and remove all its impurities. Due to lack of manpower, energy, and distribution network, Thari people can’t fully benefit from it.
Megha speaks her heart out about the conditions she has to deal with on daily basis. “What is social life? I have no idea, I just have to fetch water daily and that’s it. I skip my meals because I am busy bringing water home, my kids help me too, they don’t go to schools, there are no schools, even if there were, I would prefer them (that they) help me collect water, you tell me what is important? Water, to remain alive or education at the expense of life?..
Regular use of groundwater in Thar leads to various diseases and as a result, thousands of infants have lost their lives to waterborne diseases and malnutrition. Lack of health facilities add to existent misery of Thari people.
Nand Lal, a social activist working in Mithi describes situation as very alarming,”There’s only one government hospital in Mithi (district headquarter of Mithi) and that too with very limited facilities. Villagers from nearby and far flung areas have to come here to get treatments done. When patients from far flung areas come to Mithi hospital, they are usually referred to Hyderabad and Karachi, both the cities more than 500km away, hence patients lose the battle”
“There are dispensaries in remote areas but all are closed with no staff available. Hundreds of posts of doctors are vacant, doctors don’t want to come and serve here. Here human is not considered as a human, government has failed”, explains Nand Lal
Mr. Krishan Kumar, a human rights’ activist based in Mithi says that the situation in Thar is violation of basic human rights; even Pakistan’s constitution doesn’t allow its citizens to be treated this wayAccording to constitution’s article 38 (d), “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing. housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment”. In Thar, the misery of its dwellers is unfathomable.
Transportation facility is also denied to Thari people. American Truck “Kekra” from WW II, is used for mobility, not only humans use it but also animals. Megha has a lot to say on Kekra, “My heart beats faster when I travel on Kekra, my eight months pregnant friend’s condition deteriorated after she traveled on it, the ride is not smooth, but she had no other option, cab would charge a lot and she couldn’t pay that, tumbling out of Kekra cost her, her kid’s life”.
People of Thar are resilient and they love their land. Life will become easier for them if their kids survive to go to schools and are given health facilities to be able enough to do good for the society. “If people of Thar are provided with clean water and basic necessities, imagine how life will change for good”, says Nand Lal.
Aqsa Junejo is a broadcast journalist with Jaag TV. She tweets at @junejoaqsa