The Lancet Student

Latest blog post:Drought in Thar took Innocent Lives

This blog was submitted by Sehrish Khan on 23rd March 2015.
Tagged with Drought, famine, thar, Pakistan, diseases

<img src="/sites/default/files/styles/thumbnail/public/thar_landscape.png" width="100" height="73" alt="" class="image-thumbnail" />DROUGHT IN THAR TOOK INNOCENT LIVES

By: Sehrish Khan, Dr. Fahad Khan

Famine is a great adversity and for a place already striving against the various evils of health, it is even more alarming. Such is what happened in the Thar desert in Pakistan.

Thar is a vast, barren, drought stricken area covering 77,000 square miles in both Pakistan and India (i) and is world’s eighteenth largest subtropical desert. Vegetation is scarce due to low rainfall ranging from about 4 inches or less in the west to about 20 inches in the east. (ii)

According to the Sindh Relief Department’s official data, there have been five severe droughts, 8 moderate and 11 mild droughts since 1965 in Thar. (iii) This season, there was no rainfall except a little bit of drizzle. (iv) All the water reservoirs dried up (i), because of which the crops and animal fodder could not be grown. This caused deaths of animals and affected human health, causing severe malnutrition and infections, especially in children and older people. This drought, which began at the start of the last year, is estimated by local media to have caused deaths of over 150 children, affecting 175,000 families. There might be acute shortage of milk and meat in other areas of Sindh in future due to this adversity. (iii)

To minimize the damage, the Government of Pakistan along with the Pakistan Army initiated a joint venture to promote health services in Thar district. In order to gain more insight, I interviewed a Post-Graduate trainee from Civil Hospital, Karachi, Dr. Fahad Khan who was involved in this endeavor. He briefed me about the situation and their stay in Thar district. A team comprising of seven post-graduate trainees from Civil Hospital Karachi (including him) and eight nurses from Institute of Nursing, Dow University of Health Sciences, was sent to the district from March 15th to March 22nd, 2014. They were divided in seven groups and appointed in the health care centres of Mithi, Chachro, Diplo, Nagarparkar, Islamkot and Khansar.

According to Dr. Khan, the condition of the people there was very severe. Most of the patients were children and old people. The diseases mostly prevalent were diarrhea, vomiting and malnutrition. The influx of patients was so high that once they served 130 patients in an hour! (v)

The facilities were meager but the spirits were high. Years of negligence towards health and social facilities could not be overcome in just a week. The medical team tried to cure as much patients as they could in the limited time and resources and also briefed the people there about basic health rules of life.

The blame of such a severe condition rests on several factors. Lack of vegetation and cutting down the crops contribute to it, aided by the changes in weather pattern. (iii) Secondly, no appropriate measures were taken to nip the drought when it was in the bud. Also, the major health care centers located in Mithi, Chachro, Diplo, Nagarparkar, Islamkot and Khansar lacked in emergency department and other interventions like radiology. There was no option of sterilization or surgeries. Basic medicines were short due to famine. Patients were forced to buy expensive drugs which was hard on them. The condition of the hospitals in other districts was even worse. The transportation was poor, and it took hours for people to reach the health centers. The health centers were equipped only with the general and first aid medicines and the only protocol to treat the severely ill patients was to send them to Karachi or Hyderabad, which was a long distance away.

Our team tried to prepare for all such obstacles beforehand and took with them food, extra medicines and other things for children. (v) There were no materialistic awards for them, but a simple smile to see an ill patient recovering, or the hearty gratitude from the families, was better than all the medals and honors.

Droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc are all disastrous conditions which need planning in time. Dr. Khan considers the role of government is imperative for Thar and all such regions. He suggests that effective health policies and holistic approach should be implemented. A disaster management cell with efficient infrastructure and proper code should be set up and health practice should be under supervision of proper and trained staff. The personnel should be trained to deal with emergencies and transportation should be made better. Experts also propose to keep fodder in fodder bank which may be used under such circumstances.

Thar may sound like a place absolutely unfit to live, but with proper planning, administration and implementation of policies, it can be converted to a great spot for tourism. Already many tourists who are interested in seeking adventures in deserts come and spend days here. There are vast lands where many cultural activities and fairs with folk songs, armed matches and delightful performances of various sorts may be organized. With its extensive livestock and vast reserves of coal and minerals, Thar is also a very imperative source of food supply and energy production of Pakistan. With little attention and planning, Thar can become the most delightful spot for tourism and a lucrative way of generating revenue.

1. Encyclopedia Britannica. Thar Desert. 2014, Jan 16th. Cited on 2014, May 2nd. Available from:
2. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Thar Desert. April 11th, 2014. Available from:
3. The News on Sunday. What Happened in Thar. March 16th, 2014.
4. The Dawn. Famine-like Situation in Thar after Severe Draught. March 7th, 2014.
5. Dr. Fahad Khan, Post-Graduate Medical Trainee, Medical Unit IV, Civil Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan.
6. The News Tribe. Pakistan PM Notices Famine Deaths in Thar Desert. March 7th, 2014.
7. The News International. Over 160,000 people hit by famine in Thar. 2014, Mar 19th. Cited on 2014, May 2nd. Available from:
<img src="/sites/default/files/styles/thumbnail/public/medical_store_at_thar.png" width="100" height="73" alt="" class="image-thumbnail" /><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/thumbnail/public/drugs_taken_by_medical_team.png" width="100" height="80" alt="" class="image-thumbnail" />