05/20/2017, 13.44
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Caritas warns of a humanitarian crisis in Sindh where drought has killed 1,340 children

by Kamran Chaudhry

Local authorities admit the death toll before province’s high court with Tharparkar as the most affected district. Rain is the only source of water. The Church’s main charity set up a food security programme in 2014.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Pakistan is facing a humanitarian emergency. Reports released yesterday indicate that, since 2014, 1,340 children – 341 under the age of five – have died from malnourishment in Tharparkar, a district in Sindh province, the local Caritas told AsiaNews.

Out of the province’s 29 districts, Tharparkar is the most afflicted by severe drought. "We are faced with a humanitarian emergency, children are starving,” said Manshad Asghar, executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad. “The government must officially declare a state of crisis."

Local authorities have admitted to the Sindh High Court that many children have died underweight. The province’s health secretary told the court about an acute shortage of expert doctors and paramedical staff.

According to the World Food Programme, 173 children under the age of five died in 2011, 188 in 2012, 234 in 2013, 326 in 2014, and 398 in 2015.

Tharparkar has a population of 1.5 million people, half of them Hindus, living in more than 23,000 villages spread over 22,000 square kilometres of desert land.

For more than a decade, the district has been in the grip of drought with no irrigation infrastructure and an irrigation system entirely dependent on rainfall.

According to the Joint UN Needs Assessment, several Sindh districts have been severely affected by extreme water scarcity (62 per cent in Jamshoro and 100 per cent in Tharparkar). This has reduced harvests by 34-53 per cent and livestock by 48 per cent.

The World Food Programme has reported 173 deaths among children under five in 2011, 188 in 2012, 234 in 2013, 326 in 2014, and 398 in 2015.

In view of the situation, Caritas Pakistan launched a food security project in 2014 to support drought-strict communities in Tharparkar as well as in Cholistan (Punjab province).

The project included the construction of 1,850 rainwater collecting tanks, the installation of 40 hand pumps, and the construction of 20 natural ponds. It also entailed drilling for ten new wells, and repairing 30 existing ones.

About 110,000 heads of livestock were vaccinated and 300 pairs of goats were donated. A course in hygiene and farming practice is also provided.

"Every year the government distributes wheat among the poor but its other efforts are on a small scale. People need a long term livelihood plan and job opportunities, this is where NGOs can also help", said Asghar.

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