Thar

The recent famine in Thar has left over 100 dead, including children. In a country with plentiful natural resources and an abundance of food, a crisis of this kind is nothing less a case of gross negligence and oversight. It is surprisingly easy to forget the sufferings of others when one does not have to endure life’s vagaries, or so it would seem for our political leaders and government officials.

Amartya Sen, noted economist and Nobel laureate, has asserted time and again that no functional democracy can justify a famine. It is evident, then, that our leaders have failed in fulfilling their basic duties to an entire group of Pakistani citizens. The Thar famine is a crisis on many levels- the first and foremost issue to be dealt with being the famine and the medical emergency faced by the region at this point. Secondly, the current emergency aside, famines are a recurring problem in the Tharparkar area- there is one every two to three years. Despite that, no efforts have been made to deal with what is primarily an infrastructural problem. The region’s wildlife and flora and fauna had started bearing the brunt of this famine before people started suffering, and despite that no notice was taken, nor were any measures implemented.

From a dearth of food to a lack of medical facilities, from ignorance about the problem until it escalated to the point where we currently stand to the lavish selection of food at a meeting held in Mithi to discuss hunger alleviation measures- all these things reek of insensitivity and ignorance.

As easy as it is to feel hopeless in times like these, what is more important is to come together as a community and help out the best way we can. This is a situation that asks for deep introspection into why a crisis of this magnitude arose. It requires us to empathize with the parents who have watched their children starve to death while their own bodies have simultaneously been wracked by pangs of hunger. We should ask ourselves how or when we became so insulated from the sufferings of others that it took the dedicated persistence of journalists to bring this issue to light, while it was more or less ignored by the rest of the country. We’re living in times when, understandably, most people believe in an “every man for himself” philosophy- Pakistan is not the most stable of countries at the point. However, does that mean we forget our sense of humanity?

This crisis calls for widespread education and awareness about the famine and what caused it. We can stress the importance of food and other donations, and no doubt, those are critical at this point; but we also need to think long-term and start a conversation about preventing such a calamity from happening again.  There are two aspects to being a responsible citizen which are supremely important at this point: holding leaders accountable and questioning what they are doing for the people who have elected them, and being knowledgeable about our own duties to fellow citizens. Feeling helpless about the situation and playing blame games is not the answer- there is always time for arguments, but this moment calls for solid action.