KARACHI - The death toll in the desert district of Tharparkar rose to 72 children in two months yesterday as the area’s shortage of healthcare facilities is exposed by rising rates of pneumonia and malnutrition.

With severe drought now stretching into it fourth year in Tharparkar, it is the children who are bearing the brunt of the winter crisis.

The Tharparkar region is one of the most vulnerable areas of the country. It has not seen proper rain for three years. The government has not declared Tharparkar as drought hit are so far despite urgings from local administration. Neither federal government nor international relief organizations have come forward to alleviate its problems.

The calamity has taken toll on people and livestock.

Doctors at Civil Hospital Mithi said malnutrition of pregnant women and mothers has resulted in the illness, weakness and ultimately death of infants.

The Sindh government formed two-member ministerial committee - named by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – to address the rising deaths. It has not come forward with new proposals.

Indeed PPP officials put blame for the tragedy on lack of awareness about handling of newborns by their mothers and their delay in coming to healthcare facilities for treatment.

Thar district which stretches over 22,000 km area and has population of 1.3 million people and 6.5 million livestock.

The government had announced to increase budget for Mithi Hospital but this announcement has yet to materialize. Posts of three doctors are still lying vacant.

Satram Ram Meheshwari a local journalist quoted health department data in his post in a leading vernacular daily said 69 percent of hospitals including dispensaries are dysfunctional and presenting look of haunted houses. Only Civil Hospital Mithi, two taluka hospitals in Nangarparkar and Diplo, six Rural Health Centres (RHUs) and 31 (BHUs) Basic Health Centres with meagre resources are meant to cater to the healthcares need on Thar people.

Taluka headquarter hospitals of Islamkot and Chachhro have yet to get the status of taluka hospitals.

Former President and Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari during his visit to Mithi last year announced provision of better health and drinking water facilities for Tharparkar and promised a water purification plant for every village. He also instructed the provincial authorities to set up 150 dastarkhwans (free community meals) in Mithi. However, not a single such dastarkhwan was set up in any part of Thar.

A Thar Development Authority has been formed but its draft recommendations have sat with the government for the last one year.

Sohail Sangi, senior journalist and analyst said it was matter of continuous negligence and low priority of the government. “It is not only issue of health but also issue of governance, poverty, and under development,” he was of the view.

”Had the government, which is power for the last eight years, fulfilled its last year’s promises, the situation in the area would have been far better,” he said

Khatau Jani, a local analyst said the area was abandoned by its own representatives. “People of Tharparkar gave heavy mandate to PPP in general elections by electing two MNAs and four MPAs and one senator, but they failed to ameliorate the lot of Tharis.”