Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for immediate steps in consultation with the local population to address the many problems confronting Thar, including those leading to death of children and those brought forth by a drought in the area.
In a statement issued at the conclusion of an HRCP team’s visit to Tharparkar, The Commission said: “HRCP is acutely aware of the limitations of analysing the intricacies of the situation in Thar in a short visit. However, HRCP is grateful to the women and men from various parts of Thar and to civil society activists and development experts who gave us the benefit of their experience.
“HRCP appreciates also the role of the media in attracting attention to infants’ deaths in Thar. This has brought into focus not only the drought but also other, bigger problems in Thar.
“The problems of the people of Thar are very complex and the death of children in hospitals or at homes is only one aspect of that. The high mortality among children is a long standing chronic issue which has not occurred due to starvation but on account of a persistent failure to address a number of factors, including food insecurity and malnourishment, lack of safe water and of hygiene and absence of female education and family planning. These have been aggravated by poverty, child marriages, long distances restricting access to emergency maternity and newborn health services, ineffective primary healthcare structure and an environment of a general resignation to a cruel fate. The Thar residents also have to contend with the dearth of a middle class to argue their case and have largely had to depend on outsiders even to articulate basic demands.
“Drought is a natural and recurring phenomenon which has been really hurting Thar. This can be mitigated by advanced planning. The people think that the government has not helped them sufficiently and in a timely manner and that middle men have been made responsible for providing relief who have prioritised profit over obligation.
“One of the basic issues is that the economy and resources of Thar are no longer able to sustain the increased population. The supply of food has stagnated or dwindled as demand has spiked. Both agriculture farming and livestock breeding have become largely unsustainable. The pastoral economy has turned into a cash economy. But people have no cash. The exploration and exploitation of Thar’s abundant natural resources has not created employment opportunities and whatever opportunities are available are only at long distances of 400 kilometres or more. The large number of unskilled labour needs immediate attention to engage them productively. A nexus between development and labour has not been developed. There is concern that aid dependency is setting in.
“Many of the problems that the Thar people face are no different from what is the experience of the people of Pakistan elsewhere: police is corrupt, administration inefficient and political parties insensitive. Rural indebtedness is at a higher level and it is fuelled by a change in the style of living and demand for cell phones and motorcycles, which are also catalysts of progress.
“We have also noticed certain positive changes: a recent improvement in availability of health services, although more needs to be done. The positives include women being able to leave their homes for work, certain decline in caste distinction in several areas and communal harmony surviving despite provocation from extremists.
“Lastly, there is a need for permanent change-oriented combined development strategy addressing water, roads, health and female education; and social engineering needed in public-private partnership where the need for consultation and inclusive decision-making is clearly understood and adhered to.”