*’아시아엔’ 해외 필진 기고문 한글요약본과 원문을 게재합니다.
2011년 이후 인근병원서 1500명 숨져…실제사망자수는 훨씬 늘어날 가능성도
수년간 극심한 가뭄 불구 정부 무대책, 유엔 등 국제기구도 외면
[아시아엔=나시르 아이자즈] 파키스탄 신드(Sindh) 주 남부 타르파카(Tharparkar) 사막에서 계속된 가뭄으로 아이들이 고통받고 있다. 극심한 빈곤, 영양부족, 의료시설 부족은 사태를 악화시키고 있다. 140여명의 어린이들이 사망했고, 지난 두달간 200명이 넘는 사람들이 입원했다. 또한 중환자들과 어린이 50여명은 다른 도시의 병원으로 후송됐다.
타르 사막(Thar Desert) 주민들은 늘 가뭄과 기근을 겪어왔다. 1947년 건국이래 정부가 식수공급 확보 및 위생설비, 의료시설, 사회기반 건설 등의 조치를 취하지 않았기 때문이다. 현재 주민들은 빗물을 연못에 받아 식수를 해결하고 있다. 당나귀와 낙타를 이용해 30m 높이의 우물에서 물을 길어다 쓰기도 하지만 비위생적인 환경에서 수질은 악화되고 있다. 주민들은 수개월 버틸 곡물을 비축해 놓고, 비가 내리지 않는 상황에 대비해 다른 도시로 일거리를 찾아 떠난다. 타르 외곽의 약 17만5천 가구는 생존을 위해 신드 주 내 다른 지역으로 이주했다. 그러나 정부는 사태의 심각성을 깨닫지 못했다.
금년 1~2월엔 24명의 아이들이 세상을 떠났다. 현지언론에 따르면 “지난해부터 500명의 사망자가 발생했다”고 한다. 사막의 가뭄은 흔하지만 사망자수가 급속도로 증가한 경우는 이례적이다. 카타오말(Khataomal) 박사는 이에 대해 “지도부의 무책임과 시설부족으로 일어난 재난”이라 지적했다. 정부는 주민들에 밀을 무상 또는 할인된 가격에 공급했지만 부패한 관료와 지방공무원은 밀을 유용했다. 또한 지방정부는 수송비가 부족하다는 이유로 밀 6만 포대를 배포하지 않기도 했다.
지난 4월, 지역정부의 근무태만을 감시하기 위해 구성된 조사위원회는 기근과 영양실조로 인해 234명이 사망했다고 보고했다. 이에 위원회는 신드 주 보건당국과 주지사, 그리고 지방재난대책본부의 무책임을 비판했다. 위원회는 타르파카를 몇차례 방문해 희생자 유족, 의사 등과 면담을 가졌다. 위원회보고서에 따르면 지도층이 지역을 오랫동안 방치해왔다고 한다. 위원회 소속 저스티스 알라비(Justice Alavi)는 “수백만 루피가 어느 지역 어느 부서로 갔는지, 또 지방정부가 그 많은 돈을 언제 어디서 썼는지 조차 알 수 없다”며 의문을 제기했다. 보건당국은 상황을 직시해야 한다. 이 지역의 촌락은 2천3백여개에 달하지만 지역 병원은 한 곳에 불과하다. 많은 주민들을 돌보기에 역부족한 상황이다. 위원회보고서는 “충분한 의료시설이 주민들에게 제공됐다면, 이렇게 사망자 수가 높지는 않았을 것”이라고 지적한다. 가뭄도 마찬가지다. 정부가 종합적인 전략을 바탕으로 대처했다면 가뭄피해를 줄일 수 있었다.
공식 사망자 통계는 오직 타르파카의 미티 병원에서만 집계되고 있다. 2011년 439명, 2013년 588명, 2014년 234명이 사망했고, 지난 두달새 140명이 사망해 총 사망자 수는 더욱 증가했다. 위원회는 의료인원,?의료장비, 깨끗한 물?확보등을 촉구했다. 정부는 사막 전역에 걸쳐 보건센터를 설치했지만, 지난 몇 년간 부임한 의사들이 없어 인력이 부족하다. 현재 공석은 200여자리에 달한다.
타르 사막을 찾는 국제NGO 단체들은 찾기 힘들다. 파키스탄 군대, 파키스탄 NGO, 정부기관, 자선단체들만이 보호캠프를 짓고 의료시설 등을 제공하고 있다. 이에 주민들은 자선가와 정부기관이 철수할까 노심초사한다. 주민들은 “기관과 자선단체가 돌아가면, 이 같은 상황이 계속 반복되는 것 아닌가”라고 말한다. 가뭄과 기근의 해결책은 지속적인 개발이다. 개발을 통해 물, 위생, 보건, 교육 심지어 취업의 기회까지 보장받을 수 있다. 타르파카는 천연자원이 풍부한 지역이기도 하다. 이를 활용해 지역산업을 발전시키면 굶주린 이들에 일자리도 제공할 수 있다. 번역 최정아 인턴기자
Drought and famine cause death of scores of children every year in Pakistan’s Thar Desert
The persistent drought spell, compounded by poverty, poor nutrition and lack of health facilities and awareness, continues to take its toll on the children of Tharparkar, the desert district of southern Sindh province of Pakistan bordering India. Around 140 children have reportedly expired and over 200 admitted to local hospitals during last two months while serious cases are referred to bigger hospitals in other cities.
“About fifty ailing children are brought daily to the hospitals from remote villages of desert,” Nand Lal, a journalist based at Mithi, the district headquarters town of Tharparkar, told Magazine N on telephone. There are over 2300 small villages across the district.
“The desert womenfolk, faced with abject poverty and malnutrition, give birth to feeble babies prone to various diseases like pneumonia, septicemia, birth asphyxia, diarrhea, hemorrhagic fever and Sepsis that prove fatal for them,” he told quoting the medical teams engaged in emergency relief work.
The drought and famines are nothing new for the people of Thar Desert, as none of the successive governments at federal as well as provincial level has taken measures for sustainable development ensuring provision of potable water, sanitation, healthcare and other basic facilities to 1.5 million population of district since inception of country in 1947. The Thari people (inhabitants of Thar Desert) and their livestock depend on rains. Using the rain-harvesting local techniques, they store water in ponds and the same impure water is consumed both by humans and animals. They also get water from wells using the donkeys and camels to pull the rubber bucket, tied with long ropes, drawing water from 100ft depth. “Due to scanty rains for two consecutive years the water level of the wells has fallen further and the water has now turned brackish,” Nand Lal told.
The rains are also the major source of their livelihood, as they cultivate crops and store the food for next few months. In case of no or scanty rains the Thari people migrate to other areas in search of labor. However, a large number of them does not leave their ancestral abodes and fall prey to famine. Approximately 175,000 families have migrated from the remote areas of Thar to other areas of Sindh for their survival. But according to government leaders the migration is routine annual feature.
After killing the livestock, birds and animals – peacocks, cows, sheep, parrots, deer, camels and goats of these people this ghost has turned its evil eye towards Thari people and has claimed the lives of 140 children within two months. Earlier this year in January and February too over two dozen deaths of children were reported. “As many as 500 deaths have occurred since last year,” Khatao Jani, another journalist based in Mithi and representing a largest circulated Sindhi language newspaper, told.
“Drought in the desert areas is natural but the death of people is not the natural. It is due to lack of facilities and irresponsibility of people sitting at the helms of affairs,” Dr. Khataomal, a notable of the area and a social worker, remarked when asked to comment on the situation.
The local media is full of criticism on government for giving lame excuses and statements in order to escape responsibility of ‘criminal acts.’ The media censured even the Chief Minister of Sindh Province when he dispelled the reports saying deaths are not due to drought or malnutrition. On another occasion he said deaths of children being reported in Tharparkar are largely on account of maternity related complications and not of hunger or food.
The government always begin distribution of wheat free of cost or at discounted rates but according to media reports the Thari people could not benefit from charity, as the wheat stocks are often misappropriated by corrupt bureaucracy and the local leaders of ruling parties. The media is full of such allegations, which obviously are rejected by the government.
Meanwhile a Commissioner of that region was reported as saying that they had not distributed 60,000 bags of wheat among the Thari people living in remote areas because of lack of money for transportation.
The media termed it a shameful statement saying ‘in a country where millions of rupees are spent on mega festivals arranged by the ruling party, and the leaders go on official tours to other countries, the officials publicly admit that they have no money to transport vitally needed food rations.’
The drought did not just happen suddenly. These people have been facing such difficulties every year as evident from a report of the Commission consisting of retired judges to probe the negligence in handling the drought and famine.
The Commission, constituted in April last, had mentioned in its report that 234 deaths were caused due to famine and malnutrition by that time. It blamed Sindh provincial health department and elected representatives of the district.
The Commission also criticized the Provincial Disaster Management Authority’s role in dealing with the drought.
Members of the commission had visited Tharparkar several times and interviewed families of victims, doctors, health experts,?elected representatives and civil servants.
The report says that the Thar region has historically been neglected by those in power.
Justice Alavi, a member of the Commission talking to media had said millions of rupees were given to parliamentarians of the region. “I don’t know where the money goes or when they will spend it on development, especially in health and education sectors.”
The inquiry report says that district health officers are supposed to be aware of the situation. Only one district hospital in Mithi cannot take care of residents of the entire district.
The report says that the death toll would not have been so high if residents were provided sufficient medical facilities in their areas of residence. Similarly, the drought could have been averted if the government had a comprehensive strategy to deal with it.
The report quotes residents of the area as saying many people die each year. The official death toll only takes count of people who died in Mithi Hospital, Tharparkar. As many as 439 people died in 2011, 588 in 2013, and 234 in 2014. This number has increased with 140 deaths occurred in last two months.
In his statement before the commission, Health Secretary Iqbal Durrani had said the plight of Tharparkar came to light in February while the Health Department had begun rehabilitating people. According to Secretary they had appointed 53 doctors at Mithi Hospital, of which only 20 had joined duties. He said most of the mothers gave birth to children on sand as a result of which the newborns developed infections of all sorts.
National Institute of Child and Health Care Hospital Director Jamal Raza, who visited Tharparkar to set up camps, told the Commission that while many among the children he had checked suffered from dysentery and skin infections, and chronic malnutrition was the most common ailment ? even the mothers were malnourished.
The report calls for basic health centers and hospitals with doctors, safe water and adequate equipment.
It is worth mentioning that the government had built the rural health centers across the desert district but no doctor appointed for several years. About 200 posts of doctors are lying vacant at these health centers.
Surprisingly no international NGO has stepped in to help the starved people and the ailing children of Thar Desert.? Currently the Pakistan Army, a number of Pakistani NGOs, government organizations, philanthropists etc have setup relief camps and providing medical healthcare facilities to the people. The government claims distributing wheat bags free of cost while a business tycoon/builder has established centers for provision of free cooked food to Thari people. But the people frequently ask a question: What will happen when all these organizations and philanthropists will go back? Same situation would emerge again. The solution of the drought and famine is sustainable development that would ensure water, sanitation, healthcare, education and above all employment opportunities. The Tharparkar district is rich in natural resources like China clay, granite, some other minerals and above all largest coal reserves of country that would help establish industries and ensure job opportunities to the starving people.