Fri, Oct 28, 2016 | updated 11:51 AM IST

Pakistan's Tharparkar region facing major human catastrophe

Updated: Aug 10, 2016 13:09 IST

Karachi, Aug.10 (ANI): More than 1,500 children under the age of five have died in the Tharparkar district of Pakistan's Sindh province since 2011, and as per reports, incidents of such deaths continue despite the provincial government announcing emergency plans to stop this trend in this vast 20,000 square kilometer district.

According to an Al Jazeera report, poverty, population growth, lack of clean drinking water, unemployment and high illiteracy rates have seemingly trapped the region in a state of catastrophe.

Doctors have blamed malnutrition as the common cause of infant mortality in the Tharparkar district, but have failed to diagnose the underlying issue leading to this dismal state of affairs.

Some have blamed the government for being both blind and deaf to the cries of despair.

Tharparkar district comprises around 2,300 registered villages and an estimated 2,000 unregistered ones. Eighty percent of it is rural and inaccessible by most of the vehicles that the government has sanctioned for medical assistance.

The infant mortality figure is based on children dying in five government hospitals, including Civil Hospital Mithi, the sole district hospital serving 1.5 million people. Here, the wards are overflowing, families are camped in the courtyard and staff are overworked and underpaid.

There is no official record of deaths taking place outside these five locations.

What is even more shocking to know is the fact that there are just six paediatricians and five gynaecologists to deal with half-a-million children and their mothers in this district.

Around 300 to 400 children are admitted to the hospital each month, and around 15 to 20 percent of them die.

The Sindh government recently announced the opening of new dispensaries and the appointment of additional staff. The existing infrastructure lies abandoned, with a staff of 598 health workers unpaid for over 11 months.

The government's immediate response has also been to distribute bags of wheat among the locals. But what happens in the weeks and months after this, no one knows.

A recent UN-funded survey found 90 percent of Thari women to be underweight, with a mean weight of 44.2kg. Almost 93 percent of households do not have any food-buying powers, surviving mostly on seasonal harvests that are monsoon-dependent and the sale of livestock.

The majority of Tharparkar's residents have no access to clean drinking water. There are no water pipelines going deep into the villages. Wells have been dug up by the government, NGOs, social workers and by villagers themselves, but a lack of rainfall and inadequate maintenance mean they have either dried up or their contents are unsafe for human consumption. Still, most residents have no choice but to consume it.

Reverse osmosis water plants, which run on solar power, have been set up in the region. Residents flock to them multiple times a day, braving the heat, exhaustion and long journeys.

Tharpakar received its first batch of monsoon rains in June followed by another set this week. It may temporarily help wash away some of the Tharis' suffering. (ANI)