Judge to probe govt initiatives in drought-hit Thar

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Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has directed the district judge of Tharparkar to conduct an independent inquiry to ascertain the status of initiatives claimed to be taken by the Sindh government in drought-hit Tharparkar.

The directive was issued by a two-judge bench headed by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan after Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin furnished a report highlighting measures taken by the provincial government to mitigate sufferings of the Thar people.

The report was furnished in a suo motu case initiated by the apex court regarding deaths of 400 newborns and infants in Thar due to diseases and malnutrition.

The report says that the Sindh government has declared Tharparkar district and the affected Dehs in seven other districts — Umerkot, Sanghar, Shahdadkot, Dadu, Jamshoro, Badin and Thatta — “calamity affected” areas under the Sindh National Calamities (Preven­tion and Relief) Act 1958.

But senior counsel Faisal Siddiqui, who represented civil society, said that a number of recommendations by different committees had never been implemented and that the real problem behind the issue was lack of implementation of the proposals about the tragedy in Tharparkar.

The lawyer said that the real reason behind neonatal or infant deaths was the absence of doctors, paramedics and other staff (at government-run health facilities in the desert area).

The Sindh government’s report says that it has also announced a relief package of free distribution of 50kg wheat among all households in the affected areas for three months. The distribution process of free wheat started from September 24 and by the first week of November 172,505 households in Tharparkar have benefited from the relief package.

According to the report, the provincial government has also announced an additional package of ration bags for pregnant and lactating women in compliance with the orders of the apex court, which earlier called for measures to fulfil basic nutritive needs of the affected population.

Besides, the National Institute of Child Health has been tasked with setting up a childcare unit in the Mithi hospital on an urgent basis for attending to emergency and health issues of newborns and infants. The unit is expected to start working soon.

About the availability of water, the report says, 589 reverse osmosis (RO) plants have been installed in Tharparkar, of which 443 are functional. This is sufficient number of RO plants, it insists.

As per the report, the Sindh forest department is in the process of setting up two fodder blocks of 40 acres for livestock in Warwai (Khario Ghulam Shah forest blocks) and Danodhandal (Loonia Samaa forest block) areas of lslamkot and Nagarparkar talukas, respectively. The sub-soil water in these areas is not brackish and small borings having two to three inches delivery capacity and operating on solar system are being installed to grow fodder grasses.

The report says that there is a strong realisation that growth and development in ecologically stressed regions like Thar needs to be handled with care in an inclusive manner by bringing all investments together for creating a pull factor towards a bigger growth node, which will then create a ripple effect in outer regions.

Thar coal and associated power generation holds tremendous promise for the region and for that the local population has to be provided with requisite learning and skills to participate in the opportunities emanating from this resource, it says.

The Sindh government is leading the investments in ensuring participatory development and the Thar Foundation is facilitating action on the ground, the report says also emphasising the need to develop linkages between public and civil society institutions in terms of information sharing, medical services, training, research, innovation and digital transformation.

These linkages can bring in tremendous value for the people given the type of challenges that the terrain and demography of a desert region entail and simultaneously the opportunities that can unfold with cohesive development.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018

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