( March 11, 2014, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) A total of 193 deaths of children have been reported from the Thar district of Sindh province over the last three months. Though the governmental authorities are trying to attribute these deaths to different ailments, there is strong evidence that hunger, chronic shortage of water, extreme poverty and lack of health facilities are the real reason behind them. The situation is so grim that the Chief Minister of Sindh had to concede that 60 children have in fact died in the area during past two months but blamed the deaths on cold and mother-child health conditions. He also ordered the release of 60,000 bags of wheat (each of 100 kilo grams) from the official store for immediate distribution but asserted that the children did not perish to the famine conditions prevailing in the area. He has also declared a 200,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 1960) compensation for the bereaved families. It must be noted that until now only 2,000 bags of wheat have been distributed as against those totally released.

Even if one takes that claim on face value, the government cannot absolve itself of its criminal dereliction of duty as it has not invested in building health facilities in the area. The situation of health services is so dismal that there is just one specialty 74 bed hospital catering to a population of more than 1.5 million. The famine and consequent hunger have definitely caused serious health issues in children like iron deficiency and other serious deficiencies related with malnutrition. The lack of medical facilities coupled with drought conditions going on for years in the area has resulted in ill health of mothers, thereby making them vulnerable to bear under nourished children. The lack of serious action by the government over the issue can be understood from the fact that half of the posts of doctors are lying vacant for years and barring the hospital in Mithi no hospital has a lady doctor. Most of the victims belong to the Dalit community of minority Hindu religion and it is believed that governmental apathy and inaction emanates from the institutionalized persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

It is not that the government was not aware of the grim situation as it has been building up for years of drought with last year itself receiving less than 100 millimetre of rainfall as against a minimum of 300 to avert drought conditions. Further, the authorities have violated the clear policy of declaring an emergency if the rainfall is acutely short of expected by August end but such declaration was never made this season.

Local and national media have also been raising the issue relentlessly as the area does not has any irrigation system and is completely dependent upon rain water for everything from drinking water to irrigation. Still the government had failed to recognise the severity of the issue and put preventive measures in place taking advantage of the bumper wheat production last year in the rest of Pakistan. The authorities woke up only after foreign media started raising the issue of rising death toll and started taking cosmetic measures like punishing the superintendent of Mithi hospital instead of addressing the real issues causing the crisis.

The inefficient handling of the situation has led to the Army being pressed into service but this is a measure too little and too late. Worse even, most of the relief work is centered around Mithi, district headquarters, while there is no decline in the number of deaths in the countryside. There are no significant attempts of making the relief material reach those in distress in far flung areas of this huge district. Forget relief, no statistical data is being collected by the authorities thus denying those affected from any claim on the relief.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the authorities mentioned below demanding immediate intervention and asking for taking concrete measures to arrest the deaths of children due to hunger. You may also request them to take punitive actions against the officials who derelict in their duty and are therefore responsible for such huge loss of life.

The AHRC is also writing separate letters to the Chairperson of the Committee on Rights of the Child and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief calling for their intervention in the case.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ..........,

PAKISTAN: 193 children died of hunger with wheat rotting in godowns

Name of the victims: Children of Thar district in Sindh, Pakistan
Name of alleged perpetrators: Health and Supply officers of the region
Place of incident: Thar, Sindh Pakistan.
Time of incident: January onwards

A total of 193 deaths of children have been reported from the Thar district of Sindh province over the last three months. Though the governmental authorities are trying to attribute these deaths to different ailments, there is strong evidence that hunger, chronic shortage of water, extreme poverty and lack of health facilities are the real reason behind them. The situation is so grim that the Chief Minister of Sindh had to concede that 60 children have in fact died in the area during past two months but blamed the deaths on cold and mother-child health conditions. He also ordered the release of 60,000 bags of wheat (each of 100 kilo grams) from the official store for immediate distribution but asserted that the children did not perish to the famine conditions prevailing in the area. He has also declared a 200,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 1960) compensation for the bereaved families. It must be noted that until now only 2,000 bags of wheat have been distributed as against those totally released.

Even if one takes that claim on face value, the government cannot absolve itself of its criminal dereliction of duty as it has not invested in building health facilities in the area. The situation of health services is so dismal that there is just one specialty 74 bed hospital catering to a population of more than 1.5 million. The famine and consequent hunger have definitely caused serious health issues in children like iron deficiency and other serious deficiencies related with malnutrition. The lack of medical facilities coupled with drought conditions going on for years in the area has resulted in ill health of mothers, thereby making them vulnerable to bear under nourished children. The lack of serious action by the government over the issue can be understood from the fact that half of the posts of doctors are lying vacant for years and barring the hospital in Mithi no hospital has a lady doctor. Most of the victims belong to the Dalit community of minority Hindu religion and it is believed that governmental apathy and inaction emanates from the institutionalized persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

It is not that the government was not aware of the grim situation as it has been building up for years of drought with last year itself receiving less than 100 millimetre of rainfall as against a minimum of 300 to avert drought conditions. Further, the authorities have violated the clear policy of declaring an emergency if the rainfall is acutely short of expected by August end but such declaration was never made this season.

Local and national media have also been raising the issue relentlessly as the area does not has any irrigation system and is completely dependent upon rain water for everything from drinking water to irrigation. Still the government had failed to recognise the severity of the issue and put preventive measures in place taking advantage of the bumper wheat production last year in the rest of Pakistan. The authorities woke up only after foreign media started raising the issue of rising death toll and started taking cosmetic measures like punishing the superintendent of Mithi hospital instead of addressing the real issues causing the crisis.

The inefficient handling of the situation has led to the Army being pressed into service but this is a measure too little and too late. Worse even, most of the relief work is centered around Mithi, district headquarters, while there is no decline in the number of deaths in the countryside. There are no significant attempts of making the relief material reach those in distress in far flung areas of this huge district. Forget relief, no statistical data is being collected by the authorities thus denying those affected from any claim on the relief.
I, therefore, urge you to

1. Ensure that the concrete steps are taken to stop the deaths,
2. Ensure that the health facilities in the area are beefed up and brought at par with the demands of the situation
3. Ensure that the officials responsible for holding up the wheat in stores instead of distributing it are prosecuted,
4. Ensure that steps are taken to build an irrigation system capable of fighting the recurrent droughts in the area,
5. Ensure that a system for monitoring and addressing such crisis is put in place for not letting such incidents repeat.

Sincerely,
.......

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:


1. Mr. Mian Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister
Prime Minister House
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 922 1596
Tel: +92 51 920 6111
E-mail: secretary@cabinet.gov.pk or pspm@pmsectt.gov.pk

2. Federal Minister of Law and Human Rights
Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights
Old US Aid building
Ata Turk Avenue
G-5, Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 9204108
Email: contact@molaw.gov.pk

3. Dr. Faqir Hussain
Registrar
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Constitution Avenue, Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 51 9213452
Email: mail@supremecourt.gov.pk

4. Syed Qaim Ali Shah
Chief Minister Sindh,
Karachi, Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 920 2000
Email: pressecy@cmsindh.gov.pk

5. Mr. Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan
Federal Minister For National Food Security & Research
Phone : 92-51-9210088
Fax : 92-51-9205912
Address: Ministry of National Food Security & Research,
3rd Floor, B-Block, Pak Secretariat,
Islamabad . PAKISTAN
Email : minister@mnfsr.gov.pk

6. Chief Justice of Sindh High Court
High Court Building
Saddar, Karachi
Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 9213220

Thank you

Hunger Alerts Programme
Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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