KARACHI / ISLAMABAD / HYDERABAD: As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took serious notice of the appalling number of child deaths in Tharparkar, Sindh, one more infant died on Friday, taking the toll to 122 in three months.
The five-month-old Farzana, who was brought from Thar to Civil Hospital, Hyderabad, suffered from pneumonia and appeared malnourished, said Dr Akram Shaikh.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Army troops from Hyderabad Garrison left for the drought-affected areas on the directives of the prime minister. The contingents, carrying immediate relief goods and rations, are also taking lady doctors, paramedical staff and medicines with them.
Separately, Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani took suo motu notice over the death of children due to acute malnutrition. He has sought areport from Sindh chief secretary and adjourned the hearing for March 10.
Observing that this is a serious violation of Article 9 of the constitution, the chief justice said he may initiate proceedings to ensure the fundamental rights of the population of district Tharparker under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Sindh High Court Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar also took notice and called for comments from the National Disaster Management Authority chief, the provincial chief secretary and secretary food, agriculture and livestock departments.
He issued these directions while he heard a letter addressed by the Sindh High Court Bar Association, requesting him to take notice of the situation in Tharparkar. The authorities are required to submit those reports by March 14.
The Sindh High Court issued a notice to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to submit its report, informing of what measures they have initiated to mitigate the miseries resulting from the tragedy.
Separately, in a statement issued on Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz directed the NDMA to immediately get in touch with authorities in Sindh and provide all possible aid and assistance.
But little can be said about what the secretaries and NDMA will say in their reports as there is a severe lack of government facilities in Tharparkar. According to health department officials, only District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) at Mithi taluka is equipped to provide health services to underfed children who have caught illness.
“There are 162 health facilities including primary, secondary and tertiary ones [in Thar], but only one hospital that can treat undernourished children,” a health official told The Express Tribune. These deaths are mostly attributed to malnutrition, but the health department is averse to accepting this fact.
Local health officials could not be contacted for their version on the issue. However, civil society activists point out the scarcity of proper health facilities. “Thar, with its estimated population of around 1.5 million people, is a vast desert area spread across 20,000 square kilometres. In view of both the population and its expanse, the health facilities are extremely insufficient,” said Pratab Shevani of Maruara Network, an NGO that works on health and other issues in Thar.
According to him, the health authorities submit a weekly disease early warning report to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Citing local WHO sources, he claimed that only 117 health facilities were actually functioning in Thar.
Although Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah formally inaugurated the much-delayed subsidised wheat distribution for the people of drought-hit Thar on Thursday, the distribution process did not pick up by Friday. “Most of the transporters are still not ready to supply wheat as they have not been paid for their services during 2012 and even for years before that,” an Islamkot resident, who works at a food depot claimed, seeking anonymity.
The district administration accepts that they have to pay around Rs60 million arrears to the transporters. “We have spoken to the transporters. They have been assured that the Sindh Finance Department will release their arrears within a day or two,” the additional deputy commissioner Imran Bhatti told The Express Tribune. He refuted that any warehouse was shut, claiming that the distribution process has begun.
According to him, wheat will be supplied to the suburban and then the rural areas. The process, he added, will take four days. The Sindh government will provide 50kg of wheat bags for each family at 50% of the market rate.
The Sindh chief minister imposed a 15-day ban on the sale of cattle from Thar to other parts of the province during his visit. However, on Friday the district administration clarified that only the sale of sick animals will be barred while the healthy animals can be transported to other districts.