Social activists demand PDS to counter Tharparkar tragedy

AFP

KARACHI: Civil society organisations have demanded the government to reinitiate a Public Distributions System (PDS) through ration cards to ensure food security of the vulnerable population, especially living in far flung areas like Thar and arid zones. 
Addressing a joint press conference at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER); Dr Sono Khangharani, Chief Executive of Hisar Foundation; Saeed Baloch, General Secretary of Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and Taj Mari of Hari Sangat demanded the government to take measures for provision of social protection to all citizens of Pakistan.
“We demand the government to distribute all government land among landless peasants through land reforms,” they said.
Every citizen, including every person living in Pakistan, has a right to life under Article 9, Constitution, 1973, and such a right to life includes a constitutional right to food and the right to be free from deaths due to starvations and severe nutrition.
The relief measures in Tharparkar, he said, supervised by an overactive state and non-governmental machinery may not serve any purpose beyond a band aid dressing as the alarming situation in the region demands a complete overhaul of the development order being pursued by the government.
Expressing shock at the statement of government ministers that implied that the state of crisis in Thar was normal, the speakers said that it is indeed a criminal act on the part of the state to consider deaths, due to malnutrition and shortage of medicines as a usual affair, which explains their deep thinking that this indeed is the fate of the most marginalised district of Sindh.
The speakers opined that this was a disaster in the making for years. Tharparkar presents the worst human development indicators in the province as well as in the country with the state denying the local population every single social service that is the right of the people while it continues to refrain from making any special provisions for people living in the difficult desert region where living and livelihood conditions are naturally hostile.
Giving an overview of the state of the affairs in Thar desert, they said Tharparkar district is located in what is known as “tail-end areas” access to water is majorly compromised in the desert region. 40% population of the region comprises Hindu community. Agriculture and livestock are the main livelihood sources in the area, with a large majority of farmers being small farmers owning an average of 2.5 acres of cultivable land.  Sindh’s larger cities, including Karachi and Hyderabad, get their meat and milk supplies from Tharparkar that alone houses 65% of the 6.925 million cattleheads in the province. The district’s over 1.3mn population is very largely based in the rural areas.
A recent SDPI Report describes 58 percent of the country’s population as poor marks district Tharparkar as the one with the highest incidence of poverty in Sindh (47 per cent households falling below the poverty line). Tharparkar is followed by neighbor Mirpur Khas that is the second poorest district with 44 per cent poor households. Badin, Tando M Khan and Thatta follow suit. All these districts have more than 40 per cent of households falling below the poverty line. At the same time, the caloric poverty levels stand highest in the district. The district also crosses the Sindh Province’s overall average of 40% of children being underweight as half the children below the age of five, in Tharparkar are underweight!
The biggest breakdown of governance and state’s apathy towards its citizens is seen in the areas of healthcare, population planning and education. The figures are worse than the world’s worst.

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