The making of a drought

Tharparkar had hardly recovered from a six-year drought when unseasonal heavy rainfall destroyed crops and livestock

Unexpected heavy rainfall in Tharparkar in November last year destroyed crops and livestock. Thousands of sheep and camels, died in the desert. People in Thar are facing the prospect of a severe famine as they have lost agriculture and livestock.

Livelihood of a majority of Thari people depends on livestock and agriculture. The rainfall and the locust attack on crops have pushed Tharis into yet another difficult time.

Bharumal Armani, a resident of Chelhar village says the seasonal monsoon rains in Thar start in July and continue till October. “In this period, Tharis need four spells of rains. If there is no rain till August this is an indication of the beginning of a drought.”

Thar had hardly recovered from a six-year drought in the recent past, Armani tells TNS that “unseasonal heavy rainfall destroyed clusters of beans crops and livestock”.

Thar is otherwise known as a green desert. Now it has enough water but the people are facing hardship as crops have been destroyed by heavy rains, Armani adds.

“After an average monsoon rainfall people obtain loans and invest the money in agriculture but the sudden rainfall has destroyed all their assets,” Khatau Jani, a journalist based in Mithi, tells TNS. The crops and livestock in Chhachhro, Dalhi and Mithi have been badly affected.

“When the Thari people went to the market to sell what remained of their crops they were offered low rates,” he adds.

Over 150 incidents of lightning were reported in Thar in which 30 people were killed. Siddiq Rahimoon, a resident in Mithi, tells TNS that the dry grass which farmers save for their cattle got wet in the rain. “Due to eating the wet grass, cattle are suffering from various diseases. A large number of goats and sheep died due to different diseases in Tharparkar,” he says.

As people have lost all their savings and assets, they are now worried about their future and survival. “They have little to feed their children,” says Siddiq.

Manooj Kumar, 38, a farmer in Umerkot, tells TNS that locusts attacked Chhachhro and 30 other villages in Tharparkar. “Grains, moong, leafs and indigenous fruits were destroyed by locusts,” he says.

Locusts entered Dadu, Khairpur, and Sukkur districts in Sindh in early June, 2019. “The insects spread to other parts of the province, including Sanghar, Achhro Thar, and Tharparkar desert,” adds Manooj.

“Locusts are present in Tharparkar for the last four months. They are breeding in, Umerkot and Sanghar districts,” says Kumar, a farmer. He says the locusts came from the Indian desert of Rajasthan. “About 80 percent of the agricultural land has been affected by the locust attack in Tharparkar,” he claims.

Ali Akbar Rahimoon, a social worker associated with Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in Chhachhro tells TNS that water is available in Tharparkar now but Tharis have to face the locust attack this time.

People who took loans to produce food crops for their survival now face difficulties in paying back. “The loss of 6,000 to 7,000 cattle in Tharparkar during recent downpours is indeed a big financial loss for the poor Tharis,” says Dr Sono Khangharani.

“As huge loss of livestock and agriculture has been reported in Thar due to heavy rainfall people would be faced with shortage of food and milk in the coming days,” says Rahimoon, adding that 50 percent of the population of Thar has been affected. “People would migrate from one place to another in search of food for their survival in the coming days as the drought will affect people in desert areas,” he says.

The population of Thrparkar has also increased. “Now people focus and invest more in agriculture rather than spending their money on livestock to combat drought,” Rahimoon adds.

Quoting a local Sindhi newspaper’s report, Rahimoon says that many children died in 2019 in Tharparkar due to malnutrition. “The Sindh government has not come up with a plan to combat drought in Thar,” he adds.

Dr Sono Khangharani, an environmental consultant in Thar tells TNS that the region has faced 70 droughts in the last 100 years. “Most of these droughts were faced by the people of Sindh and Balochistan.”

In October 1999 when Pervez Musharraf took over, there were drought conditions in Thar, says Dr. Khangharani. “The drought continued from 1999 to 2001. The drought situation usually appears after every 10 years in the desert areas,” he adds.

Sono Khangharani says the people of Thar faced the worst drought in 2017-18 when thousands of people were affected. “The indications of that drought had started appearing in 2014. In 2017-18, it peaked and several people died and hundreds of animals were killed in Thar.”

Khangharani says though heavy rains have destroyed crops but millet has been saved in many parts of Thar. The locust attack on crops is a major cause of financial loss to farmers in Sindh. “I have never seen this type of rainfall in my life.”

People who took loans to produce food crops for their survival now face difficulties in paying back. “The loss of 6,000 to 7,000 cattle in Tharparkar during recent downpours is indeed a big financial loss for the poor Tharis,” adds Khangharani.

Tharis have also been hit by the apathy of the ruling elite. The Sindh government has taken no major steps to destroy locusts, which are travelling from one district to another.

The writer is a Journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

The making of a drought: Thar faces prospects of famine after heavy 2019 rainfall