Jun 3 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – Some reports suggest that more than 150 infants have died in Sindh`s Tharparkar district since January of this year alone. However, officials of the government of Sindh`s health department have said that 140 is the fatality toll for children under five years since October last year. Either way, does this not come close to the number of children who were martyred in the gruesome attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar?
Most of the reports have been saying that Tharparkar had less than average rainfall last year and the dearth of water, combined with some shortage of food and medicines and other healthcare facilities have been the main cause behind the deaths.
Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, in his work on the Great Bengal Famine, has shown that even at that time, a period of drought and severe grain shortages, it was not the scarcity of grain that had caused the famine and led to the death of thousands of people. It was the intransigence of the colonial government, its lack of care for the locals and the absence of any accountability mechanism that would hold the colonial masters responsible for the welfare of the people of Bengal that had led to the disaster.
There were grain stores in Bengal and in other parts of the country. The colonial administration did not release these stores to ameliorate and address the shortage. The Bengali population did not have the cash or the capital to buy the grain from the open marl(et as the price of grain, given the shortages, had spiked. It was the lack of purchasing power combined with the colonial government`s lack of willingness to address the problem that caused the deaths of thousands and more.
Is the problem any different in Tharparkar? We do not have any water shortages, at least to date, in the rest of the country. We do not have much of a water shortage even in other districts of Sindh. Wedo not have food shortages in other parts of the country. We do not really have a shortage of medicines, doctors and other medical personnel in most other parts of the country. Why should a shortage of these things exist in Thar? Most large cities, be it Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad or Rawalpindi, do not produce enough food for their own consumption. They do not produce enough milk locally either. In some cases, even the underground sources of water under these cities are not enough. In each of these, cases we transport food, milk and water from the rest of the country to these cities. The population of the cities gives money for not only the food, it also pays the transport cost included in the price of these items. Those who buy these goods are those who are able to afford them.
Why is it hard for the government or private businesses to transport goods and services into Tharparkar if they are available in the rest of the country? The answer seems very obvious. The child deaths in Tharparkar are a result ofgovernancefailure.If there is a water shortage, why is the government of Sindh or the government of Pakistan, not making arrangements to have more water being transported to Tharparkar? If there is a food shortage, it seems easy enough to move food to Tharparkar. The same should be the case with medicines and medical personnel.
It might well be the case that the people of Tharparkar are not able to pay for the cost of the transported commodities. But why should this be seen as a problem? The government of Sindh and the federal government can easily offer a special package to Tharparkar for the duration of the drought. If we can spend billions on F-16s, corridors, motorways and underpasses, what is the problem in spending a few billions on the poor children of Tharparkar? Blame games have been played between Sindh government and the federal government as to whoseresponsibility the children of Thar are. Neither can escape blame irrespective of what the 18th Amendment and other legal provisions might say. If a child dies in Tharparkar, all levels of government are culpable.
But the 150 odd deaths show that the governance system in the country is broken. If it is poor children dying in a backward district, no one cares, and no one is held accountable. Is this any different to what happened in the colonial times? The citizens of the country can also not escape blame. We have failed to bring more pressure to bear on the provincial and federal governments to address the issue. And if governance systems are not worl(ing, we should, as citizens, have organised more of an effort to get help to the children and their families in Tharparkar. Each one of us is to be blamed. As part of humanity, as part of the citizenry, the people of Tharparkar have rights over us. They have the right to be treated as equal citizens, and they have equal rights to a life of dignity as well. We, each one of us, have denied them these rights. We have not lived up to our obligations.
Most of the families who have been suffering in Tharparkar are poor. Does poverty mean they have no rights? Does it mean that the state, provincial and federal, can ignore them with impunity? Do the poor have fewer rights? Do they not deserve a life of dignity? Can the citizens of Pakistan ignore the plight of the people of Tharparkar? As human beings, as moral beings and as citizens of the same country, we should be worrying about what is happening in Tharparkar and we should be putting pressure on our government to do more, and organising ourselves better, as citizens, to help those in needin Tharparkar.m The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan