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Why must women get an ID card?

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply

Why get an ID card?

“Traditionally, in our village, people didn’t feel it was necessary for a woman to have a national identity card (NIC),” she says. Men are the ones who traditionally own property, get preference in education, and have ambitions to be financially independent, not women. But some ten years ago, Kaneez found an incentive to rush to get her NIC made — the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) that gave her the hope of a monthly stipend.

Today, at the age of 41, Kaneez is thankful she got the NIC, as none of the employers in Karachi want to hire her as house help till she shows them her NIC. “Once we moved to Karachi, I realised that to get my daughters admitted in school I needed to get their B Forms made.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply.

If women do not have an identity card, they lose out on everything, says Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and gender activist. “Without it they are not recognised by law; they officially do not exist. It has a massive impact on the personal, the social and the institutional levels.”

Without the NIC, women cannot reach out for any legal protection, their ability do anything on their own is curtailed; they cannot hope for independence. They cannot own or inherit property, and also cannot hope for insurance or be the beneficiary of any welfare initiative, as Lari explains. “Nadra requires a family certificate now for everything, so even the husband not having an ID card poses a problem if and when the wife and children want to get registered. Child marriage cannot be mitigated if a girl without an ID card is married off as she may be a minor for all we know.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply. “One of the issues is fulfilling the legal requirements and documentation required for getting the CNIC. Women in rural areas often don’t have means to readily get to the towns, are illiterate, have restrictions on mobility due to traditional customs and cannot travel alone [due to security reasons or family restrictions], and male members of their families don’t always support them to get to offices of the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra),” says Ali Akbar from the Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in district Tharparkar.

Read also: The cultural blockade

Akbar shares instances where women who did not have NICs were exploited and robbed of their rights. “Brothers and fathers who were not willing to give the rightful share of wealth to a sister or a daughter would, to close the revenue department’s record, get the tehsildar to record the statement of a couple of villagers mentioning that Mr so and so has no sister/daughters or that she has died or she is not claiming her right, and thus this male member of the family has the right to hold this property. But now the Nadra record is computerised and the woman has to be present and her statement recorded before the magistrate or registrar for any change in the legal ownership of property. The NIC, then, is a basic pillar for the empowerment of any woman.”

However, the awareness about the importance of being a registered citizen is growing among Pakistani women. Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, says the projects by AF aim to incentivise it in many ways for women. “For example, we tell Muslim women that you need it to go for Hajj otherwise you cannot get a passport to travel for the pilgrimage. There is increased realisation about this among the lower income and middle income strata as well where the women are working to support their families,” she says.

Currently, AF is working on a project aimed at women from non-Muslim communities, encouraging them to get CNICs and in turn to exercise their right to cast the vote.

The BISP has had a positive impact in encouraging women like Kaneez to apply for NICs. “Our surveys show that numbers of women who have registered for the NIC has increased exponentially,” says Hasrat Prakash, Field Supervisor, BISP, in Mithi and Chachro, district Tharparkar, who adds that women are not just going for the ID card but are actually opting for the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC), Pakistan’s first national electronic identity card. The SNIC contains a data chip and many security features.

“BISP now requires biometric verification, which incentivised making of these SNICs. The incentive, of course, is the money stipend. The best part is that more women are now included in the voters’ list, and that more people are registering daughters at birth for the B Form, especially the eldest daughter of each family,” says Prakash.

As mobility still remains a real issue for women, facilitation efforts are being made by various organisations to help them get registered. “If in any locality we find one hundred or more women who need to get registered, Nadra’s mobile van comes there to help us and register women on the spot. There are holistic efforts by the civil society, aid agencies, Nadra and BISP among others, and the situation is comparatively better,” says Rahman, but also adds that more campaigns and efforts are needed for social mobilisation.

“Registering can be a tiresome process and if the people are not highly motivated why would they give up on a week’s daily wages to get an identity card?” says Lari, adding that “the most important thing that needs to be done is make the registration free as well as easier.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/get-id-card/#.Wi-XQt-WbIU

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The question of Quality Education

It’s not just the number of out-of-school children that is worrisome, but also the quality of education they are provided

The question of quality

One day, when in a meeting he was required to answer some questions put by the district officer, his vocal chords gave up. “I couldn’t produce a single sound from my throat. Teaching from 6am to 6pm, all alone, was not easy.”

Decades later, nothing much has changed. Today, there are 55 children studying in his school in Charnor, with only one teacher, his son who took over his father’s job after he retired. “My son is not paid; he is a volunteer. We hope that the Sindh government will actually hire more teachers as is being promised,” says Mal.

A government school officially, it’s made up of three small huts, with neither toilets nor electricity. Foreign philanthropists helped fund a solar water pump, so the school has water, a luxury in Tharparkar. The curriculum is provided by the government. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are taught on one day, and grades 4 and 5 are taught the next, all clumped together in small rooms in the unrelenting Thar Desert heat. With one teacher teaching 55 students of five grades all subjects, and a lack of resources, the quality of education is low down on the list of priorities.

Read also: When the going gets tough

While the Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16 proudly states that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in grades 1-12 has reduced by 3 per cent a year from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16, 22 million plus are still OOSC in Pakistan.

What’s worrisome is not just the numbers, but also the quality of education the children going to schools are provided.

“Teachers are not motivated enough to excel in such an environment and perform their duties in a perfunctory manner which is a setback to the learning process of the children,” says Varisha Khalid Nabi, Member, Board of trustees, The Justuju School, Karachi. Schools like Justuju are numbered, but are rays of hope, fighting against the odds.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says.

The Justuju School started five years ago in the underprivileged Azam Basti in an attempt to bridge the gap between government and private school education. It began with 30 students; today it is 270 students-strong. The school runs on donations, yet is known for the standard of education and teaching, and the drop-out rate is close to zero. The parents of these children might be poor and uneducated, but have recognised the importance of quality education, which is why they vie for admission here. The key is the emphasis on the teachers’ training. Their academic department is pro-active in equipping teachers with the required skills sets, and has formed alliances with organisations that facilitate trainings and evaluations.

“We started the school to provide education parallel to any good private school. Quality education shouldn’t just be the privilege of the rich but a right of every citizen,” says Varisha.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says, adding that the infrastructure is just one of the factors to quality education. In his view, Pakistan’s dilemma is that “the smart child is being taught by the inept teacher. The teacher is no longer the fount of knowledge. The student has access to sources of knowledge that the teacher doesn’t,” he says, and continues that it is unfortunate that many senior teachers refuse to keep up with the times, ignoring the use of tools like the internet.

At senior levels, if schools don’t provide education that keeps up with the times, students may drop-out, and join specialised institutes instead.

Teaching methodologies are important if the bar of the quality of education is to be raised in Pakistan. “A student-oriented approach is used in privileged schools which is non-existent in public schools,” says Asma Munir Salman, teacher and founder of APNA Shelter Home and Learning Centre in Islamabad.

Her experience has been both as a teacher in upper tier schools and also as the person behind APNA, a school providing quality education to underprivileged children. She cites teaching techniques like collaborative learning, group discussions, and use of analytical and reflective approaches. “But in public schools, they’re still using the ‘chalk and talk’ method even in this technological world,” she says. “They feel intimidated by their students if asked questions. They make them cram information without making them understand. I have come across teachers who solve math problems on the board themselves and make their students copy them down and learn them.”

Husain feels that upper tier schools don’t even have the alibi of a lack of resources. They charge exorbitant amounts as fee, yet still lag behind technologically. He says that teachers today are focusing on “professionalism, which is the status of the profession in society, but not on professionality, which is having the required knowledge and skill sets.”

When asked about the makings of a good classroom, he says that the answer lies in three things: “respecting the child’s individual voice, providing a safe space for the child to grow, and accepting all kinds of diversity in the class”.

The onus to not just give quality education but also to keep the children in school, then, largely lies on the teachers, and on their training and growth. “Teaching is a prophetic profession. People should be tested and chosen to become teachers only if they can be as sincere to the students as they are to their own children,” says Mal.

As Husain sums it up, education in its best sense should allow children to have role models in every domain of excellence.

Drought or not, children are dying in Tharparkar, Qaim Ali Shah

The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers. PHOTO: AFP

Death is a regular visitor at the doors of Tharparkar’s mothers. Within the first 10 days of 2016, 17 children died in just the Mithi area of district Tharparkar in Sindh.

Nothing new.

Between December 2013 and early March 2014, at least 124 lives were lost in Tharparkar, 67 of them at the Civil Hospital Mithi alone. These are just some registered deaths in the most (relatively) developed area of the 20,000 sq km desert comprising the district. And once again, Sindh’s Chief Minister (CM) says these deaths are being exaggerated.

This feels like Déjà vu.

Part of the statement of saeen, as CM Qaim Ali Shah is popularly known as, is probably true – the part that says that the drought is not causing these deaths.

That, Mr CM, should be cause for more concern.

It’s not that the CM and his team are doing nothing about Tharparkar. They form inquiry commissions, send trucks full of wheat, food supplies and medicines, and I am sure they sack a few officials here and there. While all of this can and does help, that help is very temporary.Saeen continues to apply band aid on the wounds of Tharparkar. The wounds inside continue to fester. None of the measures being taken for Tharparkar seem satisfactory and sustainable.

For those who know even a little about the beautiful but desolate Tharparkar know that if at all, the district were in a state of drought, that would be just a miniscule part of its issues.

Consider this.

In March 2014, many reasons for the deaths of the ill-fated children were stated by medical officials at Civil Hospital Mithi. Reasons like sepsis, blood infections, pneumonia, premature births and asphyxia. Why did these children not have even basic medical assistance is the question. Where were the first aid and the tetanus shots that could have helped the kids who died of sepsis? Why were the children not clad warmly enough, and pneumonia killed them? If according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) director general, the newborns carried infections due to deliveries in unhygienic conditions at their home, why are mothers in Tharparkar still giving births at home? Why are there so many premature births in the first place?

Quoting people working on ground level in Tharparkar, open defecation is one of the major problems that causes up to 80 per cent of diseases reported in the rural areas of Tharparkar. This was shared by social activist Mohammed Siddique Rahimon in December 2015, at an event in Umerkot district where local experts discussed how poor infrastructure, a thin network of basic facilities and open defecation are among the major causes of endemic diseases. Umerkot faces the same predicaments as Tharparkar.

Purchasing substandard and expired medicines and supplying these to patients is another cause of death, according to information shared by Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) that works at grass root level in Tharparkar.

It is no secret that a large proportion of the population in Tharparkar does not have access to clean, uncontaminated and enough water. Water with high levels of arsenic among other contaminants in the merciless desert of Thar, when used for drinking, preparing food and irrigation of crops, cripples and kills those who consume it over long periods of time.

Is that too not the government’s responsibility?

But perhaps the biggest reason of disease and death in Tharparkar is malnourishment of its mothers. CM sahib says that if there was drought and lack of healthcare facilities, then men and women would also have suffered equally. Sir, your team is aware that mothers in Tharparkar give births while their haemoglobin level is as low as four. When the mothers are so anaemic and undernourished, what hope do the children they give birth to have to survive?

The CM is right when he says that the death of these children are largely on account of maternity-related complications and not from hunger or lack of food. But who, I respectfully ask those in-charge of governing Tharparkar, will make sure that maternal mortality is controlled in Tharparkar, and the mother is healthy and strong enough to bear a child? The infants may not be dying of hunger, but they have no immunity to fight back any attack of weather and disease, as they are given birth by weak mothers.

The first step towards solving a problem is recognising it. The problem lies in bad governance and the government not taking ownership of the painful condition of areas that come in its domain. We request those responsible to take note and step up their game for a holistic solution to the problems of Tharparkar and similar areas in Pakistan before more innocent lives are lost.

Forsaken?: In Thar, depression claims what drought spares

Published: October 29, 2014

Dozens of children have reportedly died of malnutrition in this drought-stricken desert district of Sindh this year alone. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: “Dhia Bheel was a beautiful young woman but always looked gloomy and frail. She couldn’t put up with hunger and domestic violence. She jumped into a well with her six-month-old child. I’ve witnessed two suicide cases in the last two months in my tiny village,” says Lado Meghwar, resident of village Meghi Jo Tar in Tharparkar.

Dozens of children have reportedly died of malnutrition in this drought-stricken desert district of Sindh this year alone. And psychiatrists believe the persisting famine is creating psychological disorders among the Tharis, leading to suicidal tendencies.

In the past 10 months, 40 people have committed suicide in Tharparkar, including two cases of mothers killing themselves along with their children, according to a report prepared by a local NGO, AWARE.

More worrisome are the two cases of minors committing suicide. Thirteen-year-old shepherd Savaee Ghazi Meghwar of Kasbo village, district Nagarparkar, killed himself when his parents did not give him his pocket money.

The second case narrated by Marro Meghwar, a resident of Chapar Din village, is of a boy called Raimal, son of Chaman, aged 12, who threw himself into a well some 20 days back. “The child was mentally challenged. With such poverty how could they have even considered treatment?”

Psychiatrist Dr Lakesh Kumar Khatri confirms that suicide cases are on the rise in Tharparkar, and he links it mainly to depression. With the drought in Tharparkar prevailing for a third consecutive year, there is much to be depressed about.

This affects women and children the most, according to Khatri. Seventy-five per cent of patients of mental illnesses here are females, he claims.

“Problems overlap. Abject poverty leads to malnutrition, which affects sanity. Even if I do try to counsel a patient, it’s useless because malnutrition will lead to mental challenges. Such cases are more prone to suicide,” says Khatri. “They laugh when doctors suggest they eat fruits. ‘Our standard diet is dried red chilies with roti’, they say.”

Because of poverty, most depression cases go undiagnosed. “They don’t have money to feed themselves. How can they commute to Umerkot where we hold our free clinics?”

Thari women are malnourished. Their average hemoglobin level is eight to 10, which means they are also anemic. And their problems keep multiplying. More and more Thari men are moving to cities to try and earn a living, leaving their women lonelier and sadder.

Conversion Disorder, a mental illness in which psychological illness starts producing physical symptoms, is also common among Thari women. The realisation of their plight is equally painful. “While this awakening is a good thing, it is also painful, because the Thari people are realising how far behind they are,” says one doctor.

The state, however, is in a state of denial. Dr Lekhraj, who works at the state-run hospital in Chachro, denies any of these deaths were due to suicide. MPA Mahesh Kumar endorses Dr Lekhraj: “Maybe the women slipped and fell” into the wells.

That is because many blame the government for the depressing state of affairs in Tharparkar. Defending his government’s report card, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah this week claimed in a speech in the provincial assembly that his administration has recently arranged wheat worth Rs2 billion for the drought-hit areas of Tharparkar.

Ironically, he denied anyone had died of hunger over the past five years, and also contradicted reports of an unusual increase in child deaths in Tharparkar. Unofficially, more than 100 drought-affected children reportedly died in the region this year – 32 in the month of February alone.

MPA Mahesh Kumar concedes the drought situation this year ‘is worse’ than 2013, but he denies poverty could be blamed for the deaths and depression. “Other reasons like illicit affairs and family feuds can also be a reason,” claims Kumar. “Malnourishment is not just a problem of Tharparkar. It exists in other parts of Sindh and in Balochistan too. But now the media magnifies even the smallest incidences.”

Officials say they are giving 50 kg of wheat, free of cost, to every family. But local NGO’s insist very few families ever received the entire 50kg allotted to them. With the government insisting all problems will be solved with a 50kg bag of flour, the future looks bleak for the people of this neglected part of Pakistan.

Suicide in numbers

• 40 is the number of cases of suicide in Tharparkar district in the first ten months of 2014.

• A tehsil-wise ratio of suicides shows that 42% of the cases were in Mithi, 23% were in Nagarparkar, 20% in Chachro and 12% in Islamkot.

• 50% of the cases were men and 50% were women and children.

(Source: AWARE)

The reasons for suicide in order of most cases to least

• Poverty and unemployment

• Family feuds

• Domestic violence

• Mental disorders

• Mismatched marriages

(Source: AWARE.)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2014.

Unable to rest in peace: Peace-loving Swamis of Thar forced out of own graveyard

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: May 11, 2014

protest thar
Members of the Swami community held a protest in Chachro, Tharparkar, on May 5 to reclaim the alleged encroachment on their graveyard and demand better governance in the area.

satram
Ninety-year-old Satram Das has been participating in the protests every day. PHOTO: COURTESY AWARE

KARACHI:
The peace-loving Swamis of Tharparkar’s Chachro district are being forced out of their own graveyard, where they have been burying their dead for the past 250 years.

A group of encroachers are standing on the doors of the graveyard, threatening the locals. “This graveyard is 250 years old,” pointed out 90-year-old Satram Das, a retired school teacher. “It is part of our faith to come here.”

Swamis believe in harming no one, even in death
Unlike most people of the Hindu faith who cremate their dead, the Swamis in Tharparkar follow a unique ritual when a person in the community dies. “We make the body sit in the grave and cover it with salt,” explained a local Utam Gur. “We are a peaceful people and we do not want to harm the environment, the underground water, the soil or even the insects. So we feel it is best to allow the body to decompose in a way that harms no one.”
Some ‘saints’ of the community who attained a higher spiritual status have even opted to be buried alive in salt. “It is a stage when they do not want anything to do with the mortal world anymore,” Gur said. Ever since the encroachment on this cemetery started, the community is facing a tough time visiting the graveyard to pay respects to their deceased. Gur’s wife, Dheli, had been visiting the graveyard frequently to pay respects to their 13-year-old grandson, who died nearly a month ago of a congenital heart defect.

Dheli used to pay regular visits to the shrine of a local religious leader for as long as she can remember – sometimes every week on the days assigned by their religious leaders, and at other times, according to sighting of the moon.

dheli

Their peaceful rituals came, however, to an end around 10 days ago when she was stopped by armed men from entering the graveyard. “There are armed men there now,” complained Gur, adding that the encroachers have placed those men there with pistols and axes. “But I will go as it is a holy place and I am afraid of no one.”

Apart from demands to reclaim the land, the community wants the authorities to address issues such as mismanaged wheat distribution, poor governance and lack of educational facilities in the area. They gather outside Chachro Press Club every day and are supported by a local civil society organisation, the Association for Water Applied Education and Renewable Energy (Aware). The local Muslim residents also stand alongside their Hindu neighbours.

The community members have approached the courts and submitted an application to the district and sessions judge of Tharparkar. “The court issued orders in our favour,” said Utam Gur, a resident. “The encroachers were told to evacuate the graveyard but they are still there.”

The residents named the alleged encroachers as Daim Rahimoo and Hashim Rahimoo, who apparently enjoy the support of a political party. The two men have issued several threats to the community.

A social activist in Chachro, Ali Akbar Rahimoo, claimed the encroachment has to do with urbanisation in Tharparkar that has picked up in the last 15 years. “Chachro now has a road leading to it, electricity and more water supply,” he said, adding that more and more people are moving here now. “The encroachers actually are like a qabza group [land mafia]. They take over plots of land by force and want to build houses on them.”

Another social activist, Gotam Rathi, has also joined the protesters. “The destruction of graves is despicable and we demand the culprits be punished,” he said. Also at the protest, Anwer Ali Bajeer appealed to the Tharparkar SSP to set up a police picket near the graveyard to drive the encroachers away.

‘Not Hindu land’
For the local police, the protests do not pose a major threat. “I don’t think it is such a big deal,” claimed the SHO of the area, Hamid Mari, while talking to The Express Tribune. “The land does not even belong to the Hindu community to begin with. It is government property,” he said.

“The graveyard is so old that it has almost became flat land where the animals graze,” he pointed out, adding later that he was unaware of the court orders. “I don’t think there are any encroachers there anymore,” he added.
When The Express Tribune tried to ask one of the respondents, Daim Rahimoo, for his side of the story, he cut the call as soon as he heard the word ‘graveyard’.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/706911/unable-to-rest-in-peace-peace-loving-swamis-of-thar-forced-out-of-own-/
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

An open letter to the Sindh Chief Minister: Tharparkar needs you, Sir

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: March 12, 2014

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21399/an-open-letter-to-the-sindh-chief-minister-tharparkar-needs-you-sir/

Thar babies

Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes and mothers in Thar will continue to mourn over their dead babies. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Dear Sir,

I wonder how you sleep at night, because I am, honestly, having a tough time sleeping peacefully these days.

I have visited Tharparkar a few times. And every time I came back, it took me a long time to get the images of Tharparkar out of my system. You and your government, Sir, have visited one too many times. These people have voted for you and trusted you. I wonder how you get those images out of your system.

I will not be unfair. So I have to say that visits to interior Sindh have told me enough to say that yes, you and your government did try to make things better for these people at some levels. There is the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), the Lady Health Workers (LHW) program, a more women-friendly legislation and a few scattered silver linings. But were they really enough? And in particular, for Tharparkar which was already a ticking time bomb of impending doom due to food insecurity and lack of water, did you all do enough?

Travelling to Tharparkar, one sight that was amazing was seeing flags of the political party they all love on their small, circular homes. Inside the circular homes, there would mostly be pictures of their local leaders from the same party, bleached out due to the intense Thari heat.

Last year, before the May 11, 2013 elections, in a small village near Islamkot, I asked a few of the women whom they would vote for. They giggled, covering their beautiful but weather-beaten faces with colourful chunnis (dupatta), and replied

“For the same people.”

“But are you satisfied with the work they have done?” I had asked.

“No. Not really. Par Adi, aseen ghareeb marhoon aahiyoon. Hee asaan ja wadda aahin. We cannot vote for anyone else.”

(But sister, we are poor people. They are our elders.)

The loyalty was something I couldn’t fathom with my city-centric sensibilities. But they did vote for their elders. Are their children paying a price for that loyalty? Perhaps the answer is, yes.

Listening to the breaking news about the many lives of little children snuffed out before their time, I have those images in my head again. Because I know that these children did not die in a day… they were dying all along. Even the new born ones.

They were dying because their mothers have a history of weak bones and malnourishment, because they get to drink brackish water laden with fluoride and their average meal is sun-dried red chillies crushed to a paste with roti that is not enough.

These children, who are dying, are born to mothers who have mostly lost more than one baby because they have to travel on camel backs in full term pregnancy if they need a caesarean section delivery. The nearest hospitals, Sir, are too far.

The vaccinators who are unsung heroes carry the vaccines on foot in the unbearable heat, but mostly the ice that keeps the vaccines fresh melts by the time they reach their destination. So the mothers mostly do not get tetanus vaccines on time and die from septicaemia because they have contracted infections by delivering children on the sand which is a Thari tradition. The children do not get vaccinated for deadly but preventable diseases.

The NGOs struggle to make things better in Tharparkar but they do not have enough support from the government.

You, Sir, and your government have known this all along, haven’t you?

This wave of donations is only reaching Mithi which is like a model town at the minute. The real issues are still prevalent in the small villages. Who will solve their problems, Sir? Visiting politicians in Mithi for whom lavish meals are lined up do not know the pain of someone in small villages like Maghoo Bheel where donations may never reach. These politicians also do not know how those standing in queues for hours to be handed a bag of grains are beaten with sticks or ridiculed by those distributing the donations.

You do know that what is being called a ‘drought’ or ‘famine’ is no doubt a natural calamity. But it is not like the floods or an earthquake. This is a natural disaster of which the death toll can be mitigated. But sadly no one takes notice. This disaster is related to lack of clean drinking water, Sir. I wrote a story last year about just one such village where the entire population walks with spines bent or crawls on the floor because the water they consume is too little and unfit for human consumption.

Without a word of exaggeration Sir, I called your office every day for months to get a single 15 minute appointment with you, so that this issue could be brought to your notice; all that village needed was an electricity line that could run a water filtration plant that someone had donated to them. The people of the village kept writing to you. Promises were made. In protests. On Twitter. But it was not taken seriously enough.

You must have seen Thari children, Sir, running barefoot in the desert sand or sitting in a weak looking mother’s lap. They are stunted, mostly, and look much younger than their years. Their Body Mass Index (BMI) is clearly under the required level. Their hair is brittle and their skin is parched. They cry in weak voices for no reason. Their bellies are too large for their body. Their Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) when measured tells health officials they are at a risk of dying.

The NGOs give the extremely malnourished ones high-energy food supplement biscuits. But because the entire family is so poor and food insecure, they all end up sharing it. And so, that malnourished child never regains health because his supplement is shared, morsel by morsel, by the entire famished family.

Some of these malnourished children will grow up to be mothers. They will give birth to weak, sick children. And unless someone steps up, this cycle will go on. The donors who are donating excitedly right now will soon get exhausted after media stories die out. Donor fatigue will set in. Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes. And mothers in Tharparkar will continue to mourn over their dead babies.

Just this once, can we do something lasting, Sir?

Tharparkar – Dying a slow, painful death

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: March 9, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/680641/creeping-disaster-dying-a-slow-painful-death/
680641-thartharparkarINP-1394341869-382-640x480
Malnutrition is common in Thar with many children displaying classic signs of undernourishment. PHOTO: INP/FILE
KARACHI:
One hundred and twenty-two children do not die from drought in a day. They die a slow, painful death when the symptomatic effects of three years of drought in a parched arid area like Tharparkar reach a stage that it becomes a full-blown famine. As the world looks on in amazement how this “breaking news” was hitherto not paid attention to, what must be understood is that this was happening all along, slowly and gradually.
Officially, however, some 122 child deaths were recorded in Thar since December 2013. Local experts are concerned that this could only get worse unless drastic measures are adopted. Tharparkar district, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, is ranked by the World Food Programme as the most food insecure of Pakistan’s 120 districts.
Rukaiyya, a seven-day-old baby from Adam Rind village lost her battle for life. She was one of the casualties of the dire situation in Tharparkar. “My wife Zeenat herself is so weak. We are very poor people. I used to rely on some basic agriculture which is no longer there due to lack of rain. This was my first child,” said Ghulam Hussain, the father of the child. This desperate father took the sick baby to a private doctor in Umerkot. He chose not to go to the nearest public hospital in Umerkot, some 50 km away from their village. “We are too poor. The doctors there would not pay attention to us.” Hussain is convinced that lack of proper food and nutrition is the reason behind this tragedy.
In the Drought Bulletin of Pakistan July-September 2013, released by Pakistan Meteorological Department, a drought is described as a “creeping phenomena”. The bulletin states that “Drought differs from other natural disaster (for instance, flood, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and earthquakes etc) in the sense that the effects of drought often accumulate slowly over a considerable period of time and may linger for years even after the termination of the event.”
There are many overlapping factors that are at play behind the recent acceleration in deaths in Tharparkar. More than 90 per cent of the district’s population relies on underground water they get through dug wells. In the absence of rain when this water is not recharged, the water levels go down. If at all water is available, the concentration of salt in it reaches high levels which makes the water unfit for consumption. The people of Tharparkar rely heavily on cattle for their livelihood. Cattle gives them food and money, both. Absence of fodder forces them to migrate. Partial migration trends show that often the men migrate along with their cattle. The women, children and family members left behind are thus deprived of the little protein they usually get from the dairy products. The impact of the drought is thus exacerbated and malnutrition becomes even more serious.
The cause of the famine in Tharparkar is both a decline in the availability of food as well as a reduction in people’s access to, or their ability to acquire food.
Malnutrition is a common problem in Tharparkar, with many children in particular displaying classic signs of malnourishment at the first glance. Bleached out hair, thin upper arms and disproportionately enlarged bellies are common sights.
According to the National Nutrition Survey, more than 70 per cent of mothers in Sindh are deficient in vitamin D. Nearly half of the children under five years old suffer from stunting and around 40 per cent of children are underweight.
“When there was no rain till the 15th of August, a drought should have been declared. If it is declared a drought, the government can even ask the international community for help. Muhammad Khan Junejo, the then prime minister, had done this in when a similar situation happened in Tharparkar in the 1980s,” says a disgruntled Ali Akbar, executive director, Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE), Tharparkar. “This is nothing new for Tharparkar. The same happened in 2001 under General Musharraf’s dictatorship regime, and people woke up to the disaster back then only after 27 deaths. We all waited for democracy and hoped that it would bring us better days. But nothing has really changed.”
Children born to malnourished mothers and suffering from malnourishment over long periods of time have severely compromised immune systems. Thus even a bout of cough or cold will be enough to kill such a child, which explains why the cause of death in the records of many of these children will be reasons like Pneumonia, diarrhea and infections.
The newly appointed District Health Officer (DHO) Tharparkar, Dr Abdul Jalil Bhurgri, told The Express Tribune that media should base their reporting on facts. “The way it is being reported will spread a wave of panic among the people. It is partially incorrect that these children died due to hunger and malnourishment. There are other reasons too like unskilled birth attendants and child delivery in unhygienic conditions due to which mother and child can both contract infections.” Dr Bhurgri invited expressed willingness to share their official data with anyone interested to set the record straight. While he agreed that there are not enough doctors and health facilities in the district, he denied that all these deaths are famine related.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2014.