Thar Disaster: A Goldmine for NGOs ?

Tharparkar, with a population of just 1.5 million people, has been hit hard by droughts every two or three years. Since 1967, there have been 14 droughts in the Thar area. The first one was in 1968, then in 1978, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and as recently as 2014.

Thar-remote-villageThis year around, most of the deaths were reported from Diplo, Mithi, Nagarparkar and Chahro tehsils of Tharparkar district. Thar has been hit by a rainfall deficit of roughly 30 percent between March 2013 and February 2014, according to government data. The worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chachro and Islamkot were barely touched by a drop of water for months.

According to the Pakistan National Nutrition Survey, the food insecurity and prevalence of malnutrition in Sindh was higher compared to that in the other provinces. The survey estimated stunting prevalence in children under the age of five in Sindh at 49.8 percent, anemia levels at 72.5 percent, while 40.5 percent children were underweight; anemia in pregnant and lactating women was estimated at 60.7 percent.

Tragedies in Thar – like the one unfolding in the Sindh desert area just now – have gone on to uncover the real face of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

These NGOs, instead of acting as saviors of deprived people truly act as Draculas, sucking the blood of these poor people. These NGOs actually profit from the human disasters, hoarding food items, medicines and other relief goods.

The NGOs ask people in major cities for donating cash, food items and medical supplies, but it is surprising how little of all this material reaches the people for whom they collected it.

The NGOs are not working for development but printing and telecasting advertisements highlighting their business and political interests. Influential leaders of these organizations term themselves “development workers”. How one can be a “development worker” without allowing the local people to participate and how can one even know or define their problems without being on the ground where the tragedy is happening?

These so-called NGO leaders, instead of going to the poor people in the calamity-hit area, prefer to sit luxuriously in air-conditioned offices and roam around in huge cars and SUVs. Leaders of the NGOs can only think about promoting their own businesses and how to best exploit everyone – people and the government and foreign donors – all in the name of development. Many political leaders visit the Thar area to see NGOs actually working but in reality, they just go there to take some photographs along with the poor people to show their party office-bearers and government functionaries. This encourages for those NGO to work whatever they want and those political leaders can support them.

People in Thar are very vulnerable and have no alternative for development but these NGOs should focus on the welfare of the Thari people, instead of just filling their own bellies. It should be remembered that the aims of these NGO call for facilitating rural communities, empowering them to secure their rights, commanding their local resources and engendering capabilities to manage the process of sustainable development. Everyone concerned should keep this objective in mind all the time, instead of focusing on profit-oriented businesses being run by NGOs in Thar.

Thari people linked the crisis to long-term failures to provide a proper healthcare system and infrastructure in the region. They insist that they just need roads, water pipelines and electricity to lead their lives in peace. But the remoteness of this vast area makes it almost impossible to lay pipelines or build roads in this sensitive border area. Other real problems being faced by the people of the area include poverty, shortage of food and basic health units, and above all else, the lack of female doctors. Hence, the worst affected by the recurrent droughts are children and pregnant mothers.

By Fawad Mehmood

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