Thar– a bureaucratic failure

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THAR: The sunflower plantation disappears. It is replaced by thorn bushes and starved camels. Women, children and men dot the roads with their cattle as they walk to safer places in search of food, water and employment. The change in landscape is stark — lack of water has shriveled everything at Tharparkar.

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This is not the first time a drought has occurred. As recent as in 2007 another drought hit the only fertile desert of the world. “There was another in 2005, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1996, 1995, 1987, 1988, 1985, 1979 and 1968. But this time the situation is much worse,” said Pardeep Kalani, a social activist in the area.

 

The Mitti Civil Hospital, the only hospital in the entire district, is restive today. The army is here guarding the run down white building. Politicians arrive in Land Cruisers followed by police mobiles — their sirens blare rudely on the cobbled streets pushing pedestrians to the roadside — they bring with them relief goods and a barrage of reporters — who take pictures as they distribute food to their voters who they had forgotten till the loss of lives made headlines.

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One hundred twenty five people died, seven in March. At the intensive care unit malnourished babies lie in beds. Some are kept inside incubators which locals call ‘sheeshay ka dabba’. Their mothers sit at their sides. They look wasted. “Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished babies and so the cycle continues,” explains a doctor.

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The former head of the hospital was sacked last week. A new one arrived. “We need incubators, medicines and a team of qualified doctors,” he states. There is something wrong with the diagnosis patients are receiving. While Kuldip Bachu, 25, complains of pain in her joints, breathing difficulty and severe headache, the doctors told her it is just a stomach-ache. “We are falling sick because of the water we drink,” she says.

When the drought comes their only source of water dries up. “Water in the wells goes down to a hundred feet. We tie pillows to our buckets and pull out water. But the water we get is salty,” said Kavita, a local.

It is mainly small-scale farmers who are dying of the drought. They live in thatched huts and grow crops for a living. The desert becomes green when it rains. But lack of water has pushed it into its present state.

When the British ruled Tharparkar they had set certain rules. If by August 15 every year there was no rain, emergency was to be declared in the region. Thereby efforts to relocate families and release food stocks were to be made.

The Sindh government was following the 300-year old policy — only with much less efficiency. There was moderate rainfall in September and so the government pushed the announcement to much later.

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The godown at Mithi is stocked with 11,000, sacks of wheat. But it was not until Saturday that food was released. By then scores of lives had been lost. “We work for the food department. Our duty is to stock goods. We cannot release anything till the revenue department tells us to,” says the in-charge as he directs workers to load a truck, which has just arrived.

Top PPP leadership gathered at Thar in the last few days. They included Bilawal Bhutto, Qaim Ali Shah, Sharmila Farooqui and Rubina Qaimkhani. As part of long term strategy to empower the forgotten desert it was decided that every week a tanker will bring water to the drought affected areas.

But what about a permanent solution? “No pipeline for water can be laid in these areas. The population is scattered in small pockets every where,” said a spokesperson for social development minister Rubina Qaimkhani.

The National Disaster Management Authority seems cold. “The media is flaring up the numbers. It is an annual phenomenon. Twenty-one babies died. We have announced a Rs77crore food package,” said a statement released.

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As the car prepares to leave for Karachi, a group of ten-year old boys see the PPP flag on the Land Cruiser leading the caravan. “Jiyay Bhutto,” they roar, oblivious of how their leaders have failed them again.

Tharparkar does not need aid in the form of wheat or water. It needs a socio-economic overhaul — education, employment, empowerment and awareness to choose better leaders. As Amartya Sen, nobel laureate puts it— “no famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.”

 originally published here

 

 

The liberal PPP keeps its largely rural vote bank uneducated

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Karachi

Since its creation in the 70s, the Pakistan People’s Party has claimed being a liberal political force in the country. It hates the Taliban because they bomb schools and oppose critical thinking, and education, they claim, is the only road to development.

In their election manifesto for this term, the PPP promises to achieve universal primary education. For a party which has been in power for decades, educating its largely rural vote bank should have been a priority.

But a recent report on the state of education of the country reveals that Sindh lags far behind other provinces. Even the terrorism-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is doing better.

The News quotes data from the Annual State of Education Report to present to its readers the abysmal learning levels of districts from which prominent leaders of the party hail from.

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Larkana

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a white-domed mausoleum, lie the PPP martyrs, the Oxford-educated Benazir Bhutto and her charming father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The district also happens to be the hometown of Senior Education & Literacy Minister Nisar Khuhro.

Here 15.8 percent children remain out of school. Among the children who do attend school, girls continue to lag behind.

Of the total students at government schools, only 31 percent are girls. In the private sector, representation of girl students is a mere 29 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 20 percent children in grade-five cannot read a single word in their mother tongue.

When it comes to English language skills, only 20 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. Arithmetic skills are such that 44.5 percent children in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

This state of illiteracy is not just prevalent in the present generation. The past generation was affected by it as well: only 21 percent mothers and 48 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Khairpur

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a The three-time Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah still has his ancestral house here. In Khairpur 21.1 percent children are out of school.

Among the children who attend school, girls continue to lag behind. At government schools their representation is only 35 percent and at private schools the number is even lower at 27 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 37 percent cannot read a sentence in their mother tongue.

When it comes to reading a sentence in English, only 42.5 percent children in grade-five are able to do so.

Arithmetic skills are so weak that 41.4 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 20 percent mothers and 45 percent fathers in the district have completed their primary school education.

Dadu

This is the hometown of former education minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq. Here 31.3 percent children are out of school, most of them girls.

Among the children who are getting some sort of schooling there is again a wide gender disparity. Against every 13 boys at a government school, there are seven girls.

Learning levels of Urdu and Sindhi are so low that 19.3 percent children in grade-five cannot read anything in their mother tongue.

English language skills are also poor: only 27 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. When it comes to arithmetic skills, 40 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 22 percent mothers and 59 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Through the efforts of the PPP, last year Sindh became the first province to turn Article 25A into legislation. It declares that free and compulsory education for children aged five to 16 is a right everyone is born with. But for now, it will take more than a legislation to send the children of Sindh back to school.

originally published here

illustration courtesy Faraz Maqbool