Balochistan’s drought dilemma needs immediate attention
Balochistan hardly makes space in mainstream media and for this it has to suffer disastrous incidents to make headlines. Otherwise, half of territory of the country known as “Balochistan” finds no space, despite presence of dozens of news channels.
Undoubtedly, such ignorance, be it on the part of media or centre widens gap between federation and its units, and such behavior further deepens the miseries of people in the province. Presently, Balochistan is experiencing severe drought which seems more lethal than the law and order situation, as it is severely damaging the social fabric of the society. But, who cares?
Drought has severely riveted over twenty districts of Balochistan, pushing masses of impoverished province towards further devastation and chaos. Home Minister Mir Saleem Khosa in a press conference told media persons that over 20 districts of the province were affected due to drought. He said 109,339 families and 1,756,578 livestock had been hit and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has been tasked to provide food items and other relief goods to drought hit people. However, independent sources present a more depressing picture.
A World Bank report titled ‘State of Water Supply, Sanitation and Poverty in Pakistan’, says Balochistan has by far the highest rural poverty rate, with more than 62 per cent of its rural population living below the poverty line. Sana Baloch, member of opposition benches in Balochistan Assembly claimed on the floor of the provincial assembly that 83.4 populace in the province living under worst poverty and hunger.
Drought, low precipitation, floods and other natural disasters taking place in the province in short intervals during last two decades but with the passage of time the impact of disasters particularly drought becoming unmanageable, bringing more miseries to masses of impoverished Balochistan.
According to district administration Nushki, 33000 people migrated from various areas in the district in the month of October. Three districts of Rakshan Division Washuk, Chagai and Nushki are more affected from where news of malnutrition among children, loss of livestock and migration of people, pouring intermittently. However, situation in other drought hit districts like is also not different.
Relocation of people from their villages to cities is increasing urbanization that is multiplying miseries as the hospitals in districts levels are already lacking basic facilities, and are unable to cater the influx of people. Similarly, other basic amenities are also not sufficient to fulfill the needs of those affected.
In 2015, the Balochistan government had declared over 29 districts of the province as calamity hit owing to drought, and cosmetic relief activities were made under the umbrella of PDMA, but the successive governments never took this humanitarian issue seriously due to which the province badly suffering today.
Balochistan lies in a zone that hardly receives 200mm of rain annually while its Western parts receive even less than 50mm. Except two districts, the rest of Balochistan’s agriculture is dependent on tube-wells and rain water.
Because of excessive pumping, ground water table has dropped to an alarming level in various parts of Balochistan. Many districts where there is still room for agriculture through tube-wells, the shortage of electricity has almost paralyzed farming in those areas.
Drought has badly ruined pastures in the province and it has become hard for cattle breeders to feed their cattle. Now they are left with only option to sell out their cattle at throw away prices.
Balochistan is a mineral rich territory where besides presences of plenty of copper and gold deposits, other minerals such as oil, gas, coal and marble are present in abundance. Surprisingly, more than 70 percent people’s economy in Balochistan directly or indirectly is linked with agriculture and livestock. In the past seven decades neither successive governments could revamp agriculture nor could they utilize these minerals for the welfare Balochistan masses.
Last month, Balochistan Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding federal government to declare all drought-hit areas in the province as calamity affected, besides demanding central to announce a relief package for farmers in the province on immediate basis, who were badly affected by the worsening situation. As usual, the resolution from Balochistan Assembly, which is the highest forum of the province, failed to draw the attention of center towards this humanitarian issue.
In 2012 when unprecedented floods had severely hit Jaffarabad, Naseerabad and other adjacent districts neither centre had timely rushed to assist the affected nor international organizations were permitted to take part in relief activities. Thus after lapse of many years still there are a number of families in Jaffarabad and Naseerabad who are still struggling to recover.
Centre government without any further delay needs to come up with immediate measures to assist drought hit people of Balochistan besides sending its teams to get first hand information of the affected and damages so that a comprehensive plan could be evolved for their rehabilitation.
Balochistan government has announced Rs 500 million for early assistant of the victims. However, keeping in view past malpractices, it is essential that utilization of amount should be made through a transparent and proper manner.
Balochistan government ought to expedite its efforts to provide relief to the victims before seeking financial assistance from the federal government as well as from international organizations to meet this serious challenge. Moreover, a long term strategy is inevitable to revamp province agriculture and livestock sectors so as the people could stand back on their feet.
The author is a journalist based in Balochistan.