There is no respite to Thar people in their condemned life ridden with thirst, malnutrition, deaths and thinning basic civic amenities. Setting aside natural calamities, man-made ordeals are enough to play havoc with their survivability and existence. Credit goes to Sindh administration, parliamentarians, local bureaucracy and departmental officials for unleashing a spate of plights of unclean water, unemployment and malnourished health.
Torrents of public hardships are now climaxing. Bonanza of clean water is ceasing to bless poor Tharis (local people).Out of more than 650 bigger and smaller water filtration plans called Reverse Osmosis (RO) are at the verge of permanent closure. A big number of local youth employed in RO plants is facing job loss.
Hospitals and health units are likely to be flooded with patients especially kids drinking brackish water after plenty of filtration plans are plugged off.
Catastrophe looming large on Tharparkar region may be escaped if lawmakers and civil bureaucracy decide to resume budgetary allocations for these RO plants believed to be avatar of benevolence. However ominous silence reigns supreme so far.
“Clean water is everything for us. We pray to God only for pure water. Since RO plants are on a roll, we are blossomed into secure and sound life,” says Bindiya (50), a low-caste Hindu in suburb of Mithi district. “My children, one is studying in local Technical college is active and performing well in their lives. Though, four years back they remained out of sorts. Dirt-free water makes a difference truly and RO plants are playing their role to reshape our lives,” she replied on a query.
All of sudden she plunged into sadness while disclosing that two RO plants are soon going to be dysfunctional which means imminent apocalypse.
During a sneak peek on a car when approached another village to have a closer look into brewing crisis, another local Ram Lal teaching in school said that before RO plants people had to cover 10 to 15 kilometers to fetch water from wells and canals. “With low downpours, drought and human interventions, water table plummeted. Some wells were totally dried or half-dried. Canals water was also evaporated. Rest of available water turned heavily salty unfit for human consumption,” he explained.
With the kindness of government in collaboration with private company, he says, hundreds of RO plants came into action to provide clean water to people. However, lately he observed that some RO plants had stopped functioning due to non-availability of funds.
If calculated, one litre of clean water being provided by each RO plant cost less than 50 paisa (half of one rupee). While one litre water bottle is charged from Rs 20 to Rs 50 in the market. Seeing the whopping price difference, for underprivileged local people such inexpensive water is premium gift.
During a test to check water quality, it is noticed that water found in well and other sources contain total dissolved solids (TDS) level up to 2000 to 4000 which is thousands time higher than WHO prescribed limit.
TDS level in water as per WHO standards is proved excellent if less than 300 mg / litre,; good, between 300 and 600 mg / litre; fair, between 600 and 900 mg / litre; poor, between 900 and 1200 mg / litre; and unacceptable, greater than 1200 mg/ litre.
“Fetching water was earlier a herculean task engaging two to four persons of a family. It would take almost a whole day to transport water from well or canal.
Filtration plant water through pipeline network is available at the doorstep,” a Mansoor Ijaz, a shopkeeper in Mithi market said.
With the installation of RO plants, unemployment rate dropped in Tharparkar. Hundreds of young people (both Hindus and Muslims), who were educated but jobless, are now employed in engineering wing, administration department, operation side and other task to run these plants in befitting manner.
Aneel Kumar, working as plant operator in Mithi said that he held master degree but was compelled to work in Medical store in past. His earning was very low to make both ends meet, he said. “Being Plant operator, he is now armed with technical skill and salary is reasonable. My life is quiet better than before,” he said.
Before Sindh bureaucracy and parliamentarians throw the spanner in the work, a judicial activism is on go stirring up a hope to keep RO plants up and running. Some sites of RO plants in Umerkot, Mithi, Kaloi and others installed by Pak Oasis were recently examined by Retired Justice Amir Hani Muslim, who chairs the one-member judicial commission formed by the apex court.
Officials at plants spilled the beans that neither government renewed the contracts nor released money for the maintenance and operation of RO plants so far. Almost 40 to 46 plants are closed. More than 600 will soon be shut down if situation remains standstill. They revealed that approximately Rs. 800 million were outstanding dues that government was officially due to pay but it had been delaying it over the last one year on various pretexts.
“Water is our lifeline and we do not need anything except clean water,” these were last word, a local woman carrying water from RO plants. She had lot of questions to ask but she went away showing her utmost helplessness. It is hoped that the judiciary intervention will make thing happen as it is matter of public interest.
The writer is a senior journalist who writes about economy, international relation and human rights. He is a fellow of ICFJ and is a recipient of China-friendly Netizen 2017 award.