Life amid death

September 30, 2018

Cloud seeding can save lives and livestock in Tharparkar where 366 people committed suicide in the last seven years due to financial hardships resulting from constant drought since 2012

Life amid death

Drought had devoured all of Jeenu Meghwar’s cattle except for two goats in Mitha Tarr village in Tharparkar district of Thar Desert which has been in a state of drought since 2012. Jeenu was sick for quite some time. His family took him to Hyderabad for treatment which left them in debt. His brother Padmu Meghwar tells The News on Sunday, "The last time he needed medicines I told Jeenu to sell leftover goats so that the children could get milk. We could have bought medicines and paid the doctor’s fee by disposing of the goats but Jeenu couldn’t bear that. He left the place without uttering a word. Later, children of the area informed us that he jumped into a well. His body was recovered from there."

In another village, Rubbasir in Chachhro, a sub-district of Thar Desert, a 30-year-old woman jumped into a well. She gave up on life because she did not have the means to cope with the demands of day-to-day life.

In yet another village Saabu Massan in Nagarparkar sub-district, 22-year-old Resman Kohli also committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling. Her husband Waagu Kohli told TNS he was a daily wager. One day he bought slippers for himself with the wage he had earned that day. Resman too did not have any slippers. He promised her that he would buy her a pair of slippers the next day but she felt so dejected that she hanged herself.

Critical financial condition is common in the drought-hit population across the Thar Desert. The population of Tharparkar district is 6.1 million. "Between 2011 and 2018, 366 people committed suicide in the district out of which 185 were women," according to a report of Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE).

"Every year, 1,500 children lose their lives due to malnutrition, infections and lack of proper medical facilities in remote areas," according to Health Department of the government of Sindh.

The Sindh government has already declared desert districts of Tharparkar, Umerkot, Sanghar along with coastal district Thatta and hilly areas Kohistan, Dadu, Qambar Shahdadkot as drought-hit areas.

22-year-old Resman Kohli also committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling. Her husband told TNS he was a daily wager. One day he bought slippers for himself. Resman too did not have any slippers. He promised her that he would buy her a pair of slippers, but she felt so dejected that she hanged herself.

The notification issued by the Sindh Relief Commissioner for Tharparkar says that the cultivated crops have dried up and abnormal conditions have deteriorated social conditions and the inhabitants of the district have started migration. The district’s 167 out of 172 revenue dehs (villages) have been declared drought-hit.

The situation, in the opinion of the government, warrants action under the provisions of Sindh Natural Calamities (Prevention and Relief) Act, 1958. During the last six years, the government has distributed free wheat among the affected families. Also, it established Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants but most of them were not successful.

A report of the judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court on water quality in Sindh says 38 out of 81 water supply schemes are non-functional because they are facing an acute water shortage. The report is based on a survey of 680 water schemes across the desert. RO plants were taken as a solution to the fresh water scarcity in Thar. The government of Sindh along with a private firm (Pak Oasis) initiated 480 RO plants in Thar on contract. A large number of these RO plants are non-functional due to lack of maintenance and inadequate supply of fuel. The situation became critical last year when the company threatened to shut down the plants if the government failed to clear its dues after which the dues were cleared and the government decided to replace the solar panels of the RO plants.

According to environment expert Nasir Panhwar, "The two tracts of Sindh’s arid zone, that is Kohistan and the eastern desert of Thar, have distinct profiles. The arid zone of Sindh, having 48 per cent of the area and only 1 per cent of water resources of the entire province, is in the grip of a severe drought.

"The main crops sowed immediately after the rain in the arid region are sorghum, Bajra (millet) and guwar. These crops require at least three rains of 100-150 mm at a month’s interval, to reach maturity. The major source of income in these areas is rain-fed agriculture and livestock. Women and children are the most affected groups in drought, especially pregnant and lactating mothers. The lack of food, fodder and water in many areas is resulting in migration of men in search of employment."

"While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab received rainfall in August, most of the districts in Sindh and Balochistan are facing drought because of no rains or very little rain," according to Pakistan Meteorological Department.

There is possibility of artificial rains in modern science. According to World Meteorological Organisation report, as many as 56 countries are using cloud seeding technology -- a method used for artificial rains in desert countries like Kuwait, Dubai, China, India, Indonesia, and Israel.

In 2015, United Arab Emirates initiated a programme on research in artificial rains at an estimated cost of US $5 million. As many as 177 cloud seeding operations were carried out under this project. This programme was preferred over desalination plant which costs much more than cloud seeding.

Pakistan Meteorological Department experimented on cloud seeding during 1950s and from 1999 to 2002. Last year Met Department Director General Ghulam Rasul informed the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Climate Change that cloud seeding experiment was more successful in summer than winter. For that rocket launchers and helicopters are required.

"Cloud seeding experiment was carried out in 1999 when there was severe drought. During the experiment aircrafts of Army Aviation and plant protection were used. There was some success, however, some neighbouring countries objected, alleging Pakistan of pulling Indian share of clouds in the process of cloud seeding," says Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, former DG Met Department.

In desert areas, type of clouds determines the success of the cloud seeding technology.

According to Ghulam Rasul, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department, "Cloud seeding technology costs less during summer. In this experiment table salt is sprayed through helicopters over clouds which have little amount of water. Soon after that spray, rain starts. Success ratio of this technology remains 60 per cent in Pakistan."

In winter, clouds are cold, therefore, silver iodide is sprayed over those clouds. This process is a little more costly than the technology used during summer. The material used in the experiment is available locally.

Chaudhry Qamar Zaman stated that in 1999’s cloud seeding the aircrafts were provided by Army Aviation and Plant Protection without any charges whereas sodium chloride and silver iodides are not so expensive chemicals. He further said, "It’s doable when clouds are present in the months of December and January".

The Balochistan government has also decided to do cloud seeding in Gwadar after severe water scarcity. The Balochistan government also signed an MoU with Russian company Climate Global Control based in Dubai. A committee was also formed in this connection which was supposed to visit Dubai to witness the experiment but so far there is no further progress.

According to Ghulam Rasul, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department, his organisation doesn’t have sufficient budget to conduct such experiments. However, provincial government can conduct this experiment as it has both Agriculture and Irrigation Departments. It is possible to carry out cloud seeding if provincial government allocates money for this in the budget.

Along with Thar Desert, Balochistan’s areas including Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Loralai, Qila Saifullah, Qila Abdullah, Noshki, Kharan, Awaaran, Mastung, Qalat, Khuzdar and Lasbela are facing drought because of no precipitation. Solution lies only in rainfall which is possible through mother nature or by human command.

Water supply in Thar Desert

Thar Desert is being supplied canal water in three ways. One line is through Umerkot to Chachhro. This water is for cantonment area. Every civilian household is supplied two pots. Second line is through New Kot to Mithi town where water is supplied only twice or thrice a month. Third line is being laid from Nabisar to Thar Coal Field. That water will be used for cleansing of coal and for plant. Through this pipeline local population is not supplied water. Locals get water only during rains. Till now there are no rains. --FR

Life amid death