Wajahat Anwar, Senior Programme Coordinator, Islamic Relief
Muhammad Idrees Khan, Programme Coordinator, Oxfam GB
Moin-ud-din, Field Monitor, Islamic Relief
In the backdrop of an ongoing drought situation in Balochistan, reports appeared on the 19th December in the media indicating alarming conditions in Sub-Tehsil Arenji, District Khuzdar. These reports have also been telecasted on news channels. The situation is described as alarming especially citing numerous human casualties attributed to the drought condition. This rapid assessment was undertaken by Islamic Relief (UK) and Oxfam GB to verify the reports coming from Arenji and also to guage the extent of response needed to address the problems of the drought affected.
Arenji is one of the Sub-Tehsils of District Khuzdar and is in the sub-division of Wadh. Wadh is 425 km approx from Quetta, while to reach Arenji one has to travel on a dirt route for another 55-60 km approx.
Sub-tehsil Arenji is 2700 sq km approx with a population of around 30000. The population is extremely scattered across mountainous areas, larger clusters of households are known as Musjid, such as Arenji Musjid, Zambori Musjid, Kishari Musjid etc. Average population density is 10 per sq km. The main source of income of people is derived from livestock and agriculture. Some people are also engaged in waged labor and Government services.
Like many other parts of Balochistan, Arenji has also been affected by the ongoing drought situation which has persisted for over 4 years now, with very few rains to dispel the effects of the past few years. Livestock the mainstay of the livelihoods of the people was the first and the worst to be hit during the drought situation in year 2000, when there was an outcry for drought relief.
In 2000 70-90% of livestock holdings were lost to the severe drought conditions. Immediate relief was provided by many bringing in food aid, urea molasses blocks, water supply etc. However drought being a long and slow onset disaster was soon off the media and the plight of the people was that now they were left to deal with the situation on their own with minimum coping mechanisms and an increased degree of vulnerability.
For the last two years the people have not seen much coming to them in any form of relief or aid. The need continues as their only source of income and livelihood, their livestock has perished leaving them to cope on their own.
A field visit was planned to the area of Arenji Musjid reportedly where the human casualties had occurred. The purpose was to ascertain the extent of drought affectedness especially in comparative terms to the situation in other drought hit areas of Balochistan, such as District Chagai, Kharan, Pishin etc.
Efforts were made to contact Local Administration and gather information at their level, while a visit was undertaken to Arenji Musjid where the team was able to meet the local community and observe their conditions along with their accessibility to water, fodder and food.
On the way the team was met by the Tehsil Nazim Wadh Mr. Shafiq-ur-Rehman, who was at the site of a Medical Camp near Arenji Musjid which he had organized.
He related the account of what had happened in the last couple of years. He stressed on the fact that the casualties were a result of the ongoing drought situation, lack of proper food intake, usage of contaminated water and inaccessibility to any health facility, further aggravated due to non-existent source of income or livelihood, increasing the vulnerability to such an extent that it was leading to human casualties.
His focus was on the fact that basic necessities of life were not being made available to these people and longer term solutions were needed to improve the situation. While he mentioned that it should not be dispelled that there is a need for immediate food and medical need along with access to water, however the solution lies in longer term measures.
He stated that due to inadequate response from the District Administration and at the Provincial level over the past couple of years, he was forced to take the measure of involving the media and calling a press conference on the 19th Dec, 2002 to highlight the issue.
The team was able to ascertain from the remarks of the Tehsil Nazim that this was no sudden deterioration of the situation, that indeed the situation was not of alarm as under the ongoing drought scenario the issues that were being highlighted were those that are common to other parts of Balochistan, especially that of Chagai, Kharan, Pishin, Killa Abdullah and Saifullah and many others. However in the visit the team was able to ascertain and assess the following.
Livestock was to be seen but in few numbers compared to the original sizes of herds that used to be a couple of years ago. Though the livestock was less in number they seemed to be healthy and fairing better, probably the reason for which is the reduced ratio of livestock versus the available fodder and grazing areas. The team was able to observe substantial forage especially compared to other drought affected areas of Balochistan.
Smaller livestock holding has definitely had a damaging effect on the livelihoods of the people, with reduced income and reduced availability of by-products from the livestock, such as milk, butter and meat. Due to inadequate rainfall the livestock has to be taken to greater distance for grazing, to areas such as Wadh.
Due to inaccessibility to sufficient quantity of fodder and lack of vaccination, the livestock is disease prone and susceptible to the harsh environment which leads to their losses in hundreds while no restocking takes place.
The extent of the damage from the drought can be gauged from the fact that while the normal herd size used to be in hundreds it has decreased to 5's and 10's. The extent of the effects on the livelihoods, food accessibility can be well imagined.
Any major displacement that had to happen had taken place in the year of 2000. While a gradual pattern of displacement is evident from the abandoned houses. Moslty displacement is the result of inaccessibility to water, grazing grounds. While once the livestock has perished then the people are forced to migrate towards Wadh, Hub and other areas where they search for waged labour, which due to their unskilled nature in any other field than livestock they are unable to get. From the feedback of the community they believed that if there was enough rain and circumstances improved the displaced would return.
Health & Hygiene:
There are only two dispensaries in Arenji at a distance of 175 kms. One is at Kanjar Mari and the other at Sonaro but the latter is not functional. A Rural Health Center exists in Wadh which is almost 2-3 hours of drive, from Arenji Musjid. Due to the unavailability of public transport the community is unable to get treatment and remains in their villages, which has already proved to be the cause of various human casualties in the village of Kundi and Sonaro, where seemingly an outbreak of a disease consumed 22 lives even before any medical team could reach the place.
Over the past few years there have been reports and incidences of breakout of diseases, which have had a similar effect of consuming whole village populations, however since these villages house small number of people the disease does not spread. The common diseases that surfaced from the community discussion were anti-respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, malaria, and intestinal worms.
The Tehsil Nazim informed that during the OPD in the medical camp 1500 patients were screened and majority cases were related to anemia or malnutrition. The fact cannot be ignored that inaccessibility to health services and facilities is indeed putting the lives of these marginalized populations at risk. While inaccessibility to adequate water supply and lack of awareness to hygiene issues further exposes these people to diseases.
Rain fed streams used to be the main water source, however due to the persistent drought conditions and inadequate rain in 2000 these streams had dried up. Porali and Arenji are the main streams in the area Porali was still being fed from some streams in the year 2000 but in the current assessment we found all to have dried up. People have dug up small pot holes in the dried up streams and are using water from them.
In several places the team was taken to water schemes installed in year 2000, which are dysfunctional and people have resorted to using open and contaminated water sources, since water collected in this manner is stagnant it is breeding ground for bacteria and insects, while a source from where women were filling up their Mushks (animal skin water containers) for drinking purposes was murky and filled with worms and tadpoles.
Without rain the hope for the local people rests on the usage of groundwater, which is available at a depth of 90-100 ft. The water is brackish in taste and content, and due to ongoing drought condition the water table recedes regularly at the rate of 5 ft approx a year. There is a need for water resource development programs in the area.
Economically the people are highly deprived. Their livestock was their mainstay for their livelihoods, now with bare minimum at their access, they cannot afford to travel to the city, cannot afford treatment for the sick, to the extent that in the village shop items of general consumption are sold at twice the market rate, mainly due to the fact that the village is so remote with no road accessibility and no public transport.
Displacement has taken place mostly attributed to the search for alternate source of income, however this is undertaken by the younger and able bodied persons who have to travel upto Hub or Wadh to find some waged labour, leaving behind the frail and the old. Most of these people do not return as the conditions have not improved, however from the local account these people would return to their land if the conditions improved or drought effects started to dissipate.
Response to the Situation
Provincial Government has allocated food supplies for 500 households, while local Tehsil Nazim helped organize a 3 day health camp, which was attended by over 1500 people. A grading tractor has been provided to level the ground for road accessibility to Arenji Musjid, while a water tanker has been provided for emergency water supply.
Some quick response in terms of food and clothes has come from a local NGO which had setup a camp for relief; however it was reported that it was catering to specific section of the society.
The Relief Commissioner also visited the area and concluded that the situation was not as bad as was being made out to be, and it was self-interest groups that were trying to highlight the issue out of proportion, which would be discouraged. However for the time being some relief has been provided to the area.
There have been deaths, 18 in Sonaro and 4 in Kundi in areas near Arenji Musjid, according to the Tehsil Nazim these are the result of the drought condition. This statement however was not based on well founded data and could not be confirmed as these deaths had already happened even before the medical personnel could visit and establish a definitive cause of death. The pattern of these deaths is indicative of reasons more closely associated to an outbreak of a disease rather than drought as the sole responsible factor.
The situation assessed by the team based on the facts and evidence provided by community, Tehsil Nazim and through general observation does not amount to an emergency situation in its entire context especially by associating human casualties based on unfounded claims. Following are the situational observations and recommendations of the assessment team.
- The current issue at hand does not warrant
undue alarm to the situation. What is common to Arenji, is also common
to other drought affected areas of Balochistan.
- Any response by Organizations or Government
Departments and the Local Administration should be based on a proper and
thorough assessment, which should identify basic causes of the plight of
- The need is to look at the drought as
a slow onset, long term disaster, a situation which cannot be mitigated
through short term reactive measures such as food relief, infrequent health
camps and water trekking. This does not imply that the option of emergency
relief is unavailable however it should be exercised with caution not to
create dependency and not to assist self-interest groups but only in case
where it is dictated by urgent need.
- The conditions of the drought affected
population are a result of persistent decline in their coping mechanisms
which is increasing their vulnerability however the response needed is
a long term integrated effort in the sectors of health, water, livelihood
and other development interventions.
- The recommendation for Organizations and Government departments based on above arguments is to take up the issue as a long term problem to be addressed through well planned and coordinated intensive integrated interventions, while also monitoring the situation for any emergency response if need be.
For Further Information
Islamic Relief (UK)
Regional Office (Balochistan)
9-C Spinny Road -- Quetta
Tel : 081-821500
60/42/C Jinnah Town -- Quetta
Tel : 081-825708