Living and Dying for Water in Tharparkar

A canal would ease the water crisis for people in this impoverished region, but political infighting and government apathy have prevented any progress.

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Living and dying for water in Thar

Four locals were crushed to death while digging a well for drinking water in a village called Radkawa near Nagarparkar in the Thar Desert in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. Muhammad Qasim Soomro, a Sindh Assembly member elected from PS 55 Tharparkar II, confirmed the incident to Independent Urdu. “The incident took place near Nagarparkar on Saturday afternoon, where four well diggers were killed in a landslide,” he said.

According to Qasim Soomro: “Some time ago, a similar incident took place in Nagarparkar, after which the district government banned the digging of wells in the area, but despite this, people often dug wells due to lack of water.

Replying to a question, Muhammad Qasim Soomro said that the total population of Thar is 1.8 million out of which seven to eight lakh people of Mithi and areas adjoining Islamkot are being supplied fresh water of Indus River through pipeline. But the residents of several colonies of Mithi, the district headquarters of Tharparkar, have also been protesting against the non-supply of water for the last several days. In this regard, Muhammad Qasim Soomro says: “I have made a comprehensive plan for the distribution of water and soon the rest of the people of Thar will be provided water.”

Khalil Kambhar, a writer and poet living in Thar, told The Independent Urdu that Nagarparkar is the area in the Thar Desert where water scarcity is most severe, especially in the months of June and July. That is why people dig wells with and such incidents happen during digging in which many people have lost their lives so far.

But the government has not been able to provide drinking water to the people of the region, which is rich in natural minerals and livestock. The people of Thar have been using the hashtags #TharNeedsWater and #TharNeedsWaterCanal on Twitter for the past two years. Sindh government officials are calling it an ‘anti-Pakistan People’s Party’ and a ‘false propaganda campaign’.

In this campaign, the people of Thar are demanding that the only and long-standing solution to the water problem of Thar is to give Thar a canal of water, as in the case of the desert in Rajasthan, India, where the government built the Indira Gandhi Canal that has solved the problem. In answer to the question why a canal can’t built for Thar? Muhammad Qasim Soomro said from where to dig a canal for Thar? He further said that the distance from Guddu Barrage in Sindh to Nagarparkar is 450 kilometers, where fund would be arranged for such a gigantic canal project?

It is pertinent to mention here that when the Pakistan Army cantonment, near Umerkot, needed water, a canal called Thar Canal was dug from Nara Canal. Similarly, when coal mining in Thar Coal Project needed water, it was provided through pipes within few months. Replying to a question in this regard, Mohammad Qasim said, “They will soon come up with a plan and submit it to the Sindh government so that a permanent solution can be found for the water of Thar soon.”

Whenever children die due to water scarcity and famine in Thar, people criticize the PPP government. After this criticism, the Sindh government made a number of projects for Thar which the provincial government is proud of and often these plans are also mentioned in the advertising campaign, but later these plans failed to work.

The largest of these projects, which Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also mentioned with pride, was the project of Asia’s largest RO plant, under which 750 RO plants were to be set up in Thar at a cost of Rs 8 billion but at present most of these in Thar are completely closed. Qasim Soomro admitted that installing RO plants was a wrong plan, which could not end the water shortage in Thar. In addition, several small dams were built in Nagarparkar at a cost of over Rs 10 billion and it was claimed that after the construction of these dams, the water shortage in the area will be resolved, but in spite of rains, the dams couldn’t store its water.

Thar: Mineral Paradise

The Thar Desert, which covers 20,000 sq km along the Indian border in southeastern Sindh, has been plagued by severe famine, water shortages, infant mortality, suicides and drought-affected people for many years. The Thar Desert is rich in minerals. It is estimated that there are more than 100 salt mines from where 80 tons of salt is sent daily to Karachi alone.

Near Nagarparkar, there are large deposits of a special type of clay called ‘Kaulin’ which is called “Chinese clay” in the local language. In Pakistan, such clay is found only in the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Thar Desert in Sindh, at a price of Rs 3,000 per kilogram. Apart from this, colorful granite stones are found in the extensive Karunjhar mountain range in Nagarparkar. According to a recent study, Karunjhar has reserves of 11,000 tonnes of gray granite, 4,000 tonnes of pink granite and 240 tonnes of admiralite granite.

In addition to several other companies, the Frontier Works Organization (FWO), a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, has also been contracted to extract these granite deposits. The Thar Desert also has 175 billion tons of coal reserves, which have been divided into 14 blocks, with only one block, Block No. 2, producing 3.3 tons of coal annually at a cost of US 1.5 billion dollar.
In addition, more than 60% of the total livestock in Sindh Province is in the Thar Desert alone. According to the Sindh Livestock Department, the Thar Desert has a livestock population of six million, including cows, camels, sheep and goats.

The article first appeared in Independent Urdu on June 19,2020 and authored by Amar Guriro.

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