Drought ravages southeastern Pakistan

THAR, Pakistan - Known as the land of peacocks, pigeons and poverty, Thar district in southern Pakistan has been ravaged by its worst water shortage in 100 years, causing thousands of people to flee the region, villagers said.

Daily temperatures have been hovering around 129 degrees here in Sindh province. Burning winds whip over the parched land.

Located not far from the border with India, Thar relies exclusively on rainfall for its survival. During the rainy season the region is awash with colorful flowers, mushrooms and greenery, and it is famous for pigeon-raising and the peacocks that roam freely through villages.

But when the rains don't come, as they haven't this year, the land becomes barren, leaving people and livestock with nothing to eat or drink.

''If you talk about the severity, this is the worst we have had in over ten decades,'' said villager Ghanish Lal.

Most of his neighbors have fled in search of water. But the journey is a tortuous one.

''Sandstorms and cyclonic whirlwinds scorch every straw in the pastures and leave no option for the people except to migrate,'' he said.

''Those who survive are actually skin and bones,'' said villager Jai Ram, who blamed the drought for his brother's death last month.

The extreme heat has plagued other South Asian countries as well. In western India, a searing drought has affected 50 million villagers, while in the north 30 million struggle with severe shortages. Those desperate for a drink have begun digging small wells with their bare hands, some reaching six feet before finding dirty, saline water.

Water wells in southern Afghanistan are also bone dry, and thousands of nomads and villagers have lost their livelihoods

In Pakistan, the hardest hit areas were in the southern Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, where dead animal carcasses where lay baking in the sizzling heat while vultures swarmed overhead.

Near a Thar village called Sooram, children chased after passing vehicles with their hands cupped together, begging for water.

There has been no official death toll, but local newspapers said up to 500 people have died from diseases caused by the drought.

But ''the real disease is hunger, and people are dying because they don't have money to buy food or medicine,'' said Dr. Allah Nawaz, with a local medical aid group called Thardeep.

Ram said he wanted to leave the area to find water, but his mother, who had a nervous breakdown after her son's death, refused to go. His three small children cry most of the time.

''I don't know where to go and how to take my ailing mother and young children,'' Ram said, looking at his 75-year-old mother huddled beneath a leafless tree.

On Thursday, Ram sold two goats for one tanker of water and a small amount of flour. He is one of the luckier people in the village.

Others have been surviving on leaves, tree bark and red chilies. Most eat once, maybe twice, a day.

Aid organizations have attempted to document the extent of the drought in the area, but it has been difficult because of the constant movement of people and livestock.


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