Text and photos by Amar Guriro
Even though the recent rains caused the capital city of Sindh to float, it was welcomed with open arms in the different areas of Thar.
The recent showers graced the land of the Tharis after a severe drought, which stretched over two years, and brought with it a new ray of hope.
Following the rains, almost all the tobaas or taraais (natural ponds) have filled up with rainwater. These taraais are used as the main water supply for both, human and animal consumption.
The Tharis as an alternate use underground water sources, such as wells and hand pumps, for water that is brackish and highly contaminated with minerals, including fluoride, chloride and other salts. During the drought, almost 50 percent of the total Thari population migrated, with their cattle, to the barrage areas in search of water and livelihood; they are now returning home. After the rains in Umerkot, Mithi, Chhachhro, Nangarparkar and other areas, the Thari farmers have started ploughing their lands so that they can sow traditional crops, such as Bajra (millet), Guwar, Til and pulses.
Thar, Pakistan’s largest and Asia’s third largest desert spread over 200,000 square kilometers, out of which a major portion is in India, usually suffers from an acute water shortage. Although, Thar is rich in culture, traditions, heritage, folk tales, costumes, dances and music, but the continuous water shortage makes thousands of people leave their native land and became internally displaced persons. What is surprising is the government’s ability to turn a blind eye towards this mass migration that occurs every year. When this scribe started travelling from Umerkot to Mithi through Kantio, the scene that welcomed him was priceless. Many a times he saw people of all ages, busy plowing their lands, using animals such as camels and donkeys. He saw women attired in traditional colorful Thari dresses, carrying earthen urns walking between the sand dunes while shepherds happily tended to their sheep while they sang the traditional folk song for rain, the Hamercho.
These scribe also had the chance to meet Hamtho Bheel, a resident of a small desert village, Bharmalio, located in the outskirts of Umerkot. He was busy tending to his fields. “Rain is God’s blessing for mankind and we are really very happy,” he said.
Near Mithi this scribe met Sono Kolhi. “Most of the people say Tharis are crazy about rain, I want them to come to my village and see exactly what the situation is like and then they will realise how much the rains mean to us,” he said. He has ploughed his land for millet and said that he wants another downpour as crops in Thar Desert only grow if there is rainwater. He raised his hands to the sky and prayed for more rain as this scribe looked on in awe.
Momal, a young girl belonging to a small village near Kantio, could not contain her excitement as she declared, “Now we can finally collect sweet water from the taraasi and stop drinking the horrible brackish water that we have been consuming for the last two years.” She sheepishly added, “In our dictionary, rain means happiness.” Sadly, this jubilation is short lived, as after a few months of relief due to the rainwater, the drought will return to Thar to torment the people there and once again, they will be forced to consume water that we may not even use to wash our hands. Even more fascinating is the fact that during the last few years, many welfare institutions including USA Aid, UNDP, UNICEF and some local organisations such as Thar Deep have been working in the area but none of them have been able to think of permanent solutions to the yearly sufferings of the Tharis.
Saturday, July 25, 2009