EMILY GOLDSBOROUGH WRITES – A drought that reportedly killed 238 people in Tharparkar District finally received attention from the Pakistani government, but only after extensive media coverage.
Tharparkar, located in the rural south of Pakistan, experiences drought every few years, but this year’s drought has led to malnutrition, disease, and death. Children and pregnant women have been the most affected, with the death of two more children occurring on April 6, according to reports.
NGOs in Pakistan say these deaths could have been avoided if the government had responded when the drought started in August. The media exposed the negligence and ineptitude of the Pakistan Peoples Party, but experts suspect there are “deeper, structural reasons” for the malnutrition related deaths not highlighted by the press.
While it has been officially acknowledged that there was a delay in relief distribution, with an investigation ordered by the prime minister, the media has done little to show that the problem is not just because of the weather. The situation in Tharparkar is not a unique case. Nearby Cholistan is also experiencing drought-related deaths and according to Arif Jabbar Kahn, country director for the nonprofit company Oxfam, “The situation in the entire Sindh province is alarming.”
The people of Tharparkar face poor infrastructure, inadequate healthcare, and a drought leading on the brink of famine. Hospitals are understaffed and facilities are stretched thin in their attempt to care for those without food or water. To top things off, many of those being treated cannot afford the medicine they need to survive.
Toward the beginning of the crisis, journalists focused on those suffering from the drought. Articles highlighted poverty and despair. The government was pressured by the media to change its course of action, and absolved the country’s relief and revenue minister from his aid efforts in order to install Taj Haider as relief commissioner.
Wheat bag deliveries spiked after the change in authority, but recently government response has slowed, as the recent power crisis makes wheat difficult to cook. Instead, relief funds are being distributed, a method of action that has come with “technical difficulties” of its own.
After initial response of the government under media pressure, it is time for the media to dig deeper and force Pakistani leaders to look at sustainable strategies for Tharparkar and its surrounding areas. Change will not happen without the persistence of the media, and the problem will lose the spotlight. While nothing can change the weather, better irrigation, resolving the power crisis, and addressing the lack of medical personnel in hospitals, might give the people of Tharparkar a fighting chance.