By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
21 May 2014
IN the southeastern part of Pakistan lies the Thar region. It has been hit by one of nature’s woes, a drought that has disrupted the lives of thousands of people who live in the area, many of whom are barely able to eke a sustainable living from the meager conditions.
Some 154 children under the age of five had succumbed to the harsh conditions since the drought began late last year. In March of this year, faced with the rising deaths of children due to malnutrition and the death of livestock, the government finally declared the region as a ‘calamity area’, and relief supplies started pouring in.
There were sharp criticisms of the government’s slow response to the humanitarian crisis. A former district commissioner charged that “the government is fully responsible for this situation. When there was no rain till August 15 last year, the area should have been declared as ‘calamity-hit’ and the government should have started relief work, but the government was nowhere in sight.”
To capture the true range of emotions of the people facing the calamity, a Pakistan writer- Fatima Raza — wrote a short and touching piece with the title I am using for this column. Fatima is a Biosciences graduate and an intern at Church World Service (CWS), and has ambitions to become a renowned writer. She frequently contributes to Pakistani blogs.
In her piece she writes: ‘I am Noreen. Noreen Sathio. I live in Thar. My father tends to cattle in the upper desert region in the grazing fields that are still green. At least he used to, when the fields were still green.
‘Now everywhere we look, brown meets the eye. It never rained here. My mother taught us to pray for rain. That is all the praying that we do. May it rain long and hard, may we see a full harvest, may the cows remain fat and fine. The prayers were not always heard. Sometimes the heat caused blisters on my skin. My mother used to leave all the household chores and washed my wounds, applying soothing poultice. At least she used to when she had the strength.
‘Sometimes my brother and I used to walk to the nearest canal which was miles away. It was tiring but when we reached, we forgot everything else. The sight of plain shimmery water was refreshing. We splashed it, played with it, filled it in our containers and used to carry them home. At least we used to, when it hadn’t dried up. My brother used to whine and complain at the weight. He used to take lots of breaks and when we stopped, we used to draw faces in the sand. He always drew mine. At least he did, when he was alive.
‘Our house was made of baked bricks and we had only one room where we all sat, ate, talked, played and slept. We cooked together, played together and ate together. At least we used to when we were all together. Then the drought struck. It stuck hard. The food became scarce and water even scarcer. My father tried everything that he could. We had heard that help was arriving but when it reached us, it was too late. My brother had already passed away. My mother had turned into a living corpse. Very soon after my brother, she breathed her last too.
‘We abandoned our home. My father put me in the refugee camp with another family. He found work somewhere in the other village. He comes to meet me sometimes. We sit by the camp for hours but we have run out of words to say. So we sit quietly. I don’t know what he keeps thinking. He never tells me. I only keep praying secretly, not for the rain or for the harvest but for him to stay alive.
We do get meals here but they are not fun anymore. I cry at night sometimes. I miss them. My blisters hurt even more now. The camp doctor put some ointment on them last week but he wasn’t my mother so I don’t believe they will heal. I just look forward to the quiet visits from my father. He is getting thinner by the day and I want to tell him to eat more but I don’t know how to. I just pray that he remains alive.
‘We had a good simple life here in Thar. I don’t know who condemned us to death. Everyone here says it was God’s will. My mother used to say that God is kind. I am confused. I will ask Him when I meet Him. I don’t know when that will be. I just pray that my father remains alive.’
Human nature being what it is, we are usually more preoccupied with our little set of problems than to look elsewhere. God bless Fatima Raza for sharing with us the heart-wrenching toll of human suffering that we so often fail to notice around us.