By: Senator A. Rehman Malik
Population of Tharparkar district is around 1.65 million and Thar is spread over both sides of India and Pakistan where the life always remained hard because of the non-availability of sweet water.
The region derives its names from Thar and Parkar. The name Thar is from Thul, the general term for sand region or sand ridges and Parkar literary means “to cross over”. The region was earlier known as Thar and Parkar, later theses became one word, Thar and Parkar coined together and formed a beautiful name Tharparkar.
The people of Thar have been underfed because the area being desert has no reliable irrigation system. The lands, whatsoever, are irrigated on rainwater. Historically, Thar receives low pour but when it receives rains it makes the desert lush green where peacocks dance and sing making the scene most fascinating.
The water is drawn out from deep water wells but that water also contains highest volume of TDH.
The people of Thar used to face various health hazard problems such as waterborne diseases, inadequate health facilities, famine and lack of basic infrastructure. Apart from it, poverty, population growth, lack of clean drinking water, unemployment and high illiteracy had trapped Tharparkar in a state of catastrophe. Therefore, people used to migrate from Thar to revering area to save them and their cattle and those who fail to migrate used to lose their dear ones and cattle, the only source of their livelihood.
Crop failure due to low rainfall, coupled with loss of small animals has greatly reduced the impoverished communities’ purchasing power. Poverty is endemic in the sparsely populated district with acute malnutrition rates in children as high as 20 per cent, well above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
The biggest reason perhaps of disease and death in Tharparkar is malnourishment of its mother. It is no secret that Thar people do not have access to clean water, health facilities or food because of which mothers in Tharparkar give births while their hemoglobin level is as low as four.
Death is a regular visitor at the doors of Tharparkar’s mothers. More than 190 children have died and 22,000 have been hospitalized in Tharparkar district in 2016 because of drought-related waterborne and viral diseases. Tharparkar is facing severe drought for the fourth consecutive year, and access to health services is reported to be very difficult, with families travelling an average distance of 17 km to reach the nearest health facility.
Whereas sweet water condition in Tharparkar is worst and access to water is a key problem for the district of Tharparkar, which comprises an area of 22,000 sq km. More than 1.4 million people and about five million heads of livestock live in the area, where annual rainfall averages can be as low as 9mm, and drought is common.
Barely 5 percent of the population has access to a sweet water supply. Even the district capital, Mithi, [only] gets sweet water twice in a month. Laying down water supply lines at high cost is also open to question. Most of the population relies on dug wells. The worst conditions are basically the byproduct of non-availability of basic needs of life. There are deserts in the world, which are now productive and life is more than normal. Just take the example of UAE with total area is 83,600 km and part of UAE is producing oil and gas and rest of the UAE is desert but the good planning and attention has converted the area into a most developed area.
Thar coalfield is located in Thar Desert. The deposits—16th-largest coal reserves in the world, were discovered in 1991 by Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) and the United States Agency for International Development.
Pakistan has emerged as one of the leading countries—seventh in the list of top 20 countries of the world after the discovery of huge lignite coal resources in Sindh. The economic coal deposits of Pakistan are restricted to Paleocene and Eocene rock sequences. It is one of the world’s largest lignite deposits discovered by GSP in 1990s, spread over more than 9,000 km, comprised of around 175 billion tons sufficient to meet the country’s fuel requirements for centuries, which means Thar had the capacity to general enough money to turn into a developed area but unfortunately it remained ignored and we did not think to use it to turn barren Thar into a green Thar. It has got more potential than UAE.
The Sindh government during its two tenures has given special focus to ameliorate lot of the people. It has developed one of the best hospitals at Mithi. The hospital is well equipped and has necessary staff. Apart from it, the provincial government has improved its tehsil hospitals and dispensaries.
The government has spent around $1 billion on the development of infrastructure of Tharparkar which has made access to health facilities much easier.
The road network has also made access to Thar Coal field which guarantees the solution of energy crisis of Pakistan but rather to say it would make Pakistan self-sufficient in energy sector.
The Sindh government in Public Private Partnership with Engro has started coal mining in Thar Coal field. The mining work has been completed by 75 percent. Simultaneously, under CPEC Coal- fired power plant of 650 MW phase-I and another of 650 MW are being installed there. By the beginning of 2019 Power generation would be started. This project has created over 3000 jobs and 75 percent locals, including women have been hired. The coal exploration undertaken by the Sindh Government with coal run power plant would provide further employment opportunities to the local population and some other allied benefits. The land will fetch more value with number of initiatives undertaken by the provincial government.
The development schemes completed in the district are related to health, water, education, electrification, roads and building infrastructure. Seven hundred and fifty big and small RO water plants have been installed with the capacity of seven thousand gallons each for providing drinking water to the people of Thar. Some of the RO plants are not operating at full capacity but even then they are catering the local need to some extent.
Hospitals at Mithi, Islamkot and Chachro have been upgraded where hundred and fifty doctors have been recruited for providing quality health services to the people. 150 buildings are being constructed for medical dispensaries and 10 medical dispensaries have been upgraded as RHC and electricity has been provided to 200 villages at a cost of Rs 50 million.
287,000 families have been facilitated by giving each family 50 kg wheat free of cost twelve times. 500 houses have been handed over to the people of Thar free of cost, through Benazir Housing scheme. Tharparkar District has 2 MNA’s and 4 MPA’s from 2013 elections and PPP government has got a lady senator who has sent good signals for the local public there.
Poverty itself is a big disease which is mother of multiple problems for those who are suffering out of it. PPP has launched a poverty alleviation programme, which is being run in rural area with different small and bigger programmes.
It was nice to notice from the briefing of CM Sindh as to how the roads have been constructed including construction of an airport. Roads connect the cities and villages and mobility through the roads increase economic activities thus bring prosperity among the local population. I hope the local population will get benefit of local roads connecting to the main highway.
The other initiative of the government of Sindh has been the distribution of free of cost wheat among 275,000 families of Thar. Now the eighth round of wheat distribution has been started. This has reduced poverty, improved nutrition and has brought down mother- child mortality rate.
I have been to this desert and I feel that we should not treat it as a bad patch of land in Sindh but should be treated as a gift of God and utilize it more effectively and positive by developing it into a desert safari and make natural wild life park for desert animal and birds.
We should grow all those plants, which are grown on those environments. Let the land be given on long lease to the middle level business community with banking support to turn the desert into green land. There are certain seeds, which can only grow in desert.
The provincial government is also constructing Cadet College and has started English Medium School in the area to provide better education to the locals contributing towards employment opportunities.
To sum up I would say that the provincial government is working in energy, health and education sector and very soon Thar would turn into a hub of trade and industry. I would like to appreciate the Sindh government’s efforts in taking such big initiatives for the development of Tharparkar district.
The article initially appeared in ‘The News’