Pakistan Drought Threatens Nomads With Famine

Report
from DisasterRelief
Published on 21 Apr 2000
Cynthia Long, Managing Editor, DisasterRelief.org
Ahtar Abbasi, a nomad in Pakistan's remote, barren drylands, has lost more than half of his small herd of livestock in the past three months. He and his clan live in the mountains of the Kharan district, close to the Iranian border. Like all nomadic herders, they depend on their camels, goats, and sheep for survival. But a severe drought has dried local water supplies and has withered crops and grazing fields, killing nearly 80 percent of livestock in some areas.

Most of the animals that remain in Abbasi's and other nomad's herds are on the verge of starvation. "I cannot sell these animals and if it does not rain soon we will have nothing left," Abbasi said. "People are beginning to die. We are surviving off wheat flour and little else, as the animals do not even produce milk for our children anymore."

The drought is widespread and reaches into areas beyond Abbasi's district. In the Thar and Khudzar districts, about 300 to 400 people have died over the past three months from malnutrition, water borne diseases, and viral infections, according to Tanveer Arif of the Pakistan-based Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE).

Thousands of people have migrated from these drylands in search of food and water. Many families, however, are reluctant to leave their ancestral lands.

After touring affected regions, experts from the international relief organization Oxfam warned that some areas could face a famine similar to the one currently threatening thousands of people in Ethiopia. The team, which is preparing to launch a relief effort, said that a wide band stretching from southern Afghanistan to Pakistan and Gujarat in India had been badly affected by the searing drought. Many of the areas have been parched of rainwater for three consecutive years, with an almost total lack of rain during the past winter.

The economic impact of the drought has been severe. Market prices for livestock have plummeted and, in lower-lying areas where wheat crops are usually grown, fields lay barren from the lack of rainfall. Now there is a shortage of wheat flour in the local markets and the yield is being rationed among the hungry population.

The Baluchistan provincial branch of the Pakistan Red Crescent (PRC) has been monitoring the situation closely, especially in the districts of Khudzar and Kharan. In the coming weeks, PRC, with support of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), will deliver relief to the affected people.

"We cannot afford to wait until these communities have lost all their livestock," said Geoffrey Dennis, head of IFRC's South Asia Regional Delegation. "Malnutrition levels are rising and already we are seeing people going into debt to feed their families."

IFRC has plans to begin a relief program to provide food assistance and animal fodder to about 2,000 families in the Khudzar and Kharan districts. The supplies will be procured locally to help local economies and will be distributed through tribal structures, enabling people to stay within their own communities. IFRC also plans to conduct another assessment of the area's needs so the organization can implement a more extensive relief operation.

Traditionally, people and animals share the same water sources, either drinking from wells or natural springs. As these begin to dry up, the risk of spreading disease through contamination increases dramatically with people and animals sharing the last remaining water sources.

IFRC has recognized the need for water and sanitation programs in the area that will not only prevent contamination of existing sources but will also increase the supply of potable water. Health education, according to IFRC, would be an integral aspect of a water and sanitation program because of low health and hygiene awareness among the nomads.

IFRC has recognized the need for water and sanitation programs in the area that will not only prevent contamination of existing sources but will also increase the supply of potable water. Health education, according to IFRC, would be an integral aspect of a water and sanitation program because of low health and hygiene awareness among the nomads.

Tanveer Arif from SCOPE, which is associated with the U.N. Convention on Combating Desertification (CCD), is urging other relief organizations to become involved and help prevent a wide-scale disaster. "As drought is a preventable disaster, we are trying to raise alarm among government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Pakistan. We believe communities and local governments may be mobilized to develop mitigation efforts to combat drought and desertification," Arif said. Mitigation strategies, he suggested, include water resource development projects such as small check dams, water-harvesting structures, fodder storage banks, separate storage for clean water, and the introduction of drought resistant crops.

Even if the mitigation projects were to begin today, it could be too late for some of the nomads in the most severely affected regions. "We predict a shoot up in drought deaths and massive migrations in the very near future if the drought persists," said Arif. "Water is rapidly diminishing and the very life support system is crumbling in these areas. Therefore immediate relief work in drought hot spots like Khudzar, Thar, Cholistan, Kharan, and Loralai districts is badly needed."

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=A9 Copyright 2000, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief:

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

© Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.