When you think of life in the desert, lifelessness in a dry, arid region is what comes to mind. Sand, all around. No sign of life for miles and miles. Camels, cacti, oases, heat, and the lot. But in Tharparkar, the world’s 18th largest desert and the only fertile desert in Sindh, Pakistan, things are a bit different.
Thar is a region full of beautiful culture, religion, and history. It is home to 1.65 million people and 652 different plant species. Surely, it’s not the type of lifeless desert you typically imagine, but it’s not exactly full of life either.
Thar is a desert that stands at the crossroads of beauty and catastrophe. On one side, you see historical temples, uniquely built houses, and gorgeous handicrafts. And on the other side, you see millions of people stuck in an endless loop of poverty, hunger, population growth, lack of clean drinking water, unemployment, and illiteracy.
In Thar, every day is a new challenge, yet every day is the same. They…
1. Walk for hours daily to get water.
Each day starts the same. The women and children walk 3-7 kilometres to other villages or closeby cities in the scorching desert heat to get water.
1. Water is scarce in Thar, so the people walk to the villages to get water from the wells
2. About 80% of Thar is inaccessible by car or any other vehicle
3. Gender roles are well-defined in this region— women are responsible for arranging water and looking after the household, while men go out to look for work.
Since the women have to carry a lot of water to suffice their family for the day (family planning is yet another issue in Thar), they get their children to help.
Walking to and from a water source takes hours, forcing the children to quit school. At times, men use mules to transport water from wells and water plants, either when women are unable to do so or when their families require a significant amount of water.
Note that their concept of ‘a lot’ represents nearly a quarter of the daily water consumption of city dwellers.
2. Live in an almost complete disconnect from the world.
Their day-to-day lives are never affected by the changes in the outside world.
In 2020, there was a global pandemic— it was all everyone had on their minds, but for the people of Thar, life went on as usual. The majority of them didn’t even know of Covid-19! Can you imagine how much of a disconnect Thar has with the rest of the world?
In Thar, there are 2,300 registered villages and 2,000 unregistered ones. However, none of these have electricity or gas supply. There is no urbanization and no education.
Those who do have some sense of the modern world are the young boys and men who travel to nearby cities and shops for work. There, they sometimes rent and use the internet for as long as they can afford to pay for it.
3. Earn less than $55/month.
The struggle of trying to stay alive is always there, but there is no progress whatsoever.
The average household income in Thar is less than $55 a month. That’s because the literacy rate in Thar is less than 20%, and employment opportunities are almost near zero. They are daily wage workers and mostly rely on livestock animals, such as donkeys, camels, goats, cows, sheep, and mules, as the main source of livelihood.
The women also make beautiful handicrafts, which they sell to local shops, which then sell to tourists or export the carefully crafted items. However, despite the hard work, they earn little to nothing from it.
Ultimately, this means they have no savings and no way to progress, even if they want to.
4. Helplessly watch their loved ones die.
Death visits Thar quite a lot.
With no access to financial resources and limited knowledge about healthcare, Tharis have no money to pay the doctors in case of medical emergencies.
Plus, there’s only one hospital– the Civil Hospital Mithi– in the whole district, whose staff is also from Thar and not as qualified as those in developed cities.
The water they consume is scarce and unclean, which directly translates to extremely poor sanitation & hygiene, malnutrition, water-borne diseases, and low immunity. They live in straw-roofed mud houses, so they are also exposed to other germs and diseases.
So when someone falls sick, their family is left with no option but to watch them suffer.
This issue affects not only humans but their animals too. Tharis rely on livestock for their living and collectively own more than 4.6 million animals. However, there are only 12 vets in the whole of Tharparkar, and of course, no money to get the animals treated.
In Thar, it’s easy to fall sick but almost impossible to get treated.
5. Survive on whatever little food they can obtain.
Every day brings the same question: Will we have enough food today?
87% of the population in Tharparkar live under the poverty line, and 76% of Tharis are food insecure. Proper food and meals are a luxury to them.
As a result, they rely on whatever little food they can obtain. If they have money, they’ll buy wheat and other food supplies. Otherwise, they mainly rely on locally grown berries and desert plants for survival. Food hygiene is of course an issue, but what’s worse is that even these berries are not available all the time.
Sadly, thousands of children in Thar die due to malnutrition each year.
They Need Our Help!
The people of Thar live under the same sky as us, yet their lives are nothing like ours. Can you imagine yourself living life the way Tharis live, and do they deserve any of this?
If your answer is no, then you must understand that there’s no way that they can break out of this cycle of poverty, hunger, and misery without access to clean drinking water and external help.
If they have access to water, they won’t have to travel for hours daily to get it— women will have more strength to look after their households or engage in economic activities, while the children will be able to go to school and build a better future. Water-borne diseases and poor immunity will also no longer remain an issue.
This is why, Ek Plate Biryani has been installing 110 to 150 feet deep hand pumps for the villages in Thar. We take care of annual maintenance for each of the hand pumps, do regular QA checks by teams from another city, and provide villages with our contact details in case there is a major breakdown— all in hopes of securing a better future for them Insha’Allah.
You can learn more about our project here. Or, if you want to help us in our efforts, you can donate here.