Misery mounts in drought-hit southeast Pakistan

Family members and villagers carry the body of two-month-old Mangal, who died of infection, for his burial in a drought-stricken area of Kaposar village of Mithi, in the Sindh province, March 11, 2014. Mangal succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday in
Family members and villagers carry the body of two-month-old Mangal, who died of infection, for his burial in a drought-stricken area of Kaposar village of Mithi, in the Sindh province, March 11, 2014. Mangal succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday in Mithi, southeast Pakistan, the latest victim of a drought that has led to malnutrition and disease in one of the country's poorest regions. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MITHI, Pakistan (AFP) - Two-month-old Mangal succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday in Mithi, southeast Pakistan, the latest victim of a drought that has led to malnutrition and disease in one of the country's poorest regions.

Her father Buru had held a plastic tube supplying oxygen into her tiny nostrils all night, but his silent prayers were not enough.

She died in a government hospital in Mithi, the main town of Tharparkar district, becoming one of at least 67 children to die of poverty-driven disease in the area since December.

"She was in a very serious condition and we had advised her father to get her to a bigger hospital in Hyderabad city," doctor Mohanlal Khatri told AFP at the Mithi hospital.

"Most of the children are brought here with pneumonia, diarrhoea, low birth weight and neonatal sepsis."

The unfolding tragedy has grabbed the attention of the national media but aid remains scarce, a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, son of the late premier Benazir Bhutto, visited the area.

Thar desert, which begins around 300 kilometres east of Karachi and runs up to the border with India, is dominated by subsistence farmers who depend on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock.

It has been hit by a rain fall deficit of roughly 30 per cent between March 2013 and February this year, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months.

At an army-run camp in Mithi, women dressed in the yellow, red and blue dress typical of the region's Hindu community, waited in a line for relief which many said was hard to come by. "Please get me a food permit, I have been coming here since yesterday but in vain," one woman pleaded.

The burden of providing aid has instead fallen to the charity wing of banned Islamist outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whose head Hafiz Saeed is wanted by India for allegedly masterminding the Mumbai attacks.

Hafiz Abdul Rauf, who heads the organisation in the area, said that the primary cause of the deaths was the grinding poverty that has afflicted the area for decades.

An outbreak of sheep pox has aggravated the situation, according to residents who depend on livestock as a form of saving, selling an animal when money is needed for a special occasions such as weddings.

"We had 300 sheep and because of 'Mata' (sheep pox) and drought 150 of them died over the past two months," said Bheer Lal, 30, from one of the affected villages.

"Our life depends on the livestock and they have gone and now our life is at stake."

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