Articles

If we save vultures, we can clean up the whole of Pakistan

— Tharparkar village women leader Ms. Kashi. Community activism spearheads vulture conservation strategy project being jointly implemented in Nagarparkar by Baanhn Beli and IUCN

Nagarparkar :  on 22nd-23rd April 2016, a group of journalists of print and electronic media based in Karachi and Hyderabad along with officials of the Government of Sindh visited parts of Nagarparkar Taluka close to the Pakistan-India border in the Tharparkar arid region to be briefed on the National Vulture Conservation strategy-formulation project being implemented by Baanhn Beli and IUCN from 1st July 2015 to 30th June 2016.

Speaking at a meeting attended by village women and men in Goth Malji jo Wandhio, Ms. Kashi w/o Hamtho  President of Heera Female Mohalla Development Committee a community-based organization shared the experience of participating in the project and thereby contributing to the protection of endangered species like vultures and to improving human management of the natural environment.  Whereas vultures are Nature’s own scavengers which ensure cleanliness and hygiene by consuming the flesh of dead animals, Ms. Kashi said that the on-going effort to protect vultures from extinction is also a symbolic expression of the need to clean up the social, economic and political conditions of Pakistan and prevent their continued pollution.

Several village women and men stressed the need for sustaining the effort beyond the expiration of the project on 30th June 2016.  They called for the Federal Government and the Provincial Sindh Government to make the required investment and increase the resources allocated to the departments of wildlife, forestry and environment.

During the past 15 to 20 years, there has been a catastrophic decline in the population of vultures in Pakistan.  The primary reason for this decline was discovered to be the use of a medicine called Declofenac, mainly used as a veterinary medicine given to cattle, goats etc. to boost milk yields and kill pain.  It was belatedly discovered that when vultures ate the flesh of dead animals which had been given Declofenac injections, causes kidney failure  or vultures collapsed leading to their instant deaths and vastly reducing the number of eggs and new births.  Even though the Government has banned the production and sale of Declofenac in large quantities, the drug remains available in smaller units while a couple of alternative drugs have also produced fatal impact on vultures.  Therefore the effort to conserve the dwindled population of vultures needs to be stepped up.  Loss of habitat due to expanding urbanization and other factors have also led to the decline in numbers.  One of the few remaining locations in the country where some species of vultures are still found is villages in Nagarparkar Taluka.

Baanhn Beli (www.baanhbeli.org.pk) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature– www.iucn.org), supported by the small funds programme of the US Ambassador in Pakistan through USAID are presently implementing a project to identify steps required for the formulation and application of a strategy that will help reverse the decline in the number of vultures and promote conservation efforts across Pakistan.

During the first ten months of the project, several phases of work have been successfully completed.  These include : sensitization of the village communities to the importance of protecting vulture populations, increasing awareness about the nesting habits and needs of this bird species; enumerating and mapping exact population numbers; marking trees and locations in the Kharunjar Hills where the birds make their nests; preventing intrusion and disruption into such areas by humans and other species; observing how community groups are able to act cohesively for these purposes etc.

The names and affiliations of the journalists and Government officials who participated in the orientation visit on 22nd-23rd April 2016 are  Naeem Ullah Kazi deputy director wild life dept. Ghansham Das livestock dept. Nazir Hassan Siyal Daily Times,  Anwar Khan Business Recorder,  Hamid-ur-Rehman NEO TV,  Satram Sangi Sobh/Sindh Express,  Waqar Aslam Bhatti The NEWS,  Safdar Ali Dharti TV/KTN

Baanhn Beli was represented during this interaction by : founding President, Senator(r) Javed Jabbar; present President Dr. Shankar Lal; Chairman, Advisory Council, Faiz Mohammad Junejo,  Treasurer Muhammad Saleem,  General Sec. Mushtaq Ahmed dal, member  executive committee Ms. Najoo,Yunus Bandhani, Director, Mohammad Khan Marri, Programme Manager, Shabir Ahmed Khoso, Sawai Lal, Kishore Kumar, Ms. Bakhtawer Buledi,  Ms. Zeb –ul- Nissa and Ms. Zareena bibi

IUCN was represented by Nadeem Mir Bahar, NRM Coordinator, George Sadiq Program Officer Education, Communication and Outreach.

Zahoor Salmi, who has been commissioned to photograph and produce a short video documentary on the project also participated in this orientation journey and meetings.

THARPARKAR: A FAMINE OF FACTS

Executive Summary

REPORTS in the media during the past few days about a virtual famine in Tharparkar, about a sharp increase in deaths, especially of children due to malnutrition or negligence, and about desperate outward migration of residents have caused justified widespread concern and prompted governmental, judicial, civil and military responses.

While conditions certainly deserve alleviation, the doom-like scenario misrepresents a substantial part of reality.
First: severe adversity affects parts of the population and the region, not the entire area and all residents. Tharparkar is spread over 22,000 square kilometres with a population of about 1.5 million residing in 2,300 villages and urban settlements. Divided into six talukas Mithi, Islamkot, Chachro, Dihly, Diplo and Nagarparkar the area often receives varying levels of rainfall or none at all.

TRUE TALES FROM THARPARKAR

On a visit to Mithi and Nagarparkar on 17th and 18th July 2014, during inter-actions with friends, fellow-workers and other aliens from outer space, a small collection of brief true tales.

During the Jam Sadiq Ali Government in 1992, a certain Tehsil level Food Inspector was officially declared and duly-recorded to be “dead”. Shortly thereafter, in a second coming, the same individual, with a new name was appointed to the very same position. About 22 years later, in 2013-14, after having been charged with corruption and being suspended, he has resumed duties in exactly the same position. The identity of the person and this charming case is widely-known. Here is living proof that neither drought nor famine can cause deaths.

The Mukhtiarkar of Mithi, Ghulam Mustafa Khoso confirmed to this writer that the distribution of relief food consignments received from the Provincial Government for two phases is already completed. The third phase is awaited. There is no delay on the part of local officials.

In contrast to the image of the conventional, stereotypical bureaucrat who can be both insensitive and incompetent, the present Deputy Commissioner of Mithi, Mr. Asif Ikram (DMG), whom this writer was unable to meet, is very highly spoken of, both for his integrity and professional competence. He has reportedly formulated the draft of a new policy to effectively deal with droughts and other disasters.

Karachi has exported an honest and efficient cop to Mithi. SHO Tariq Memon has taken strong action to curb the sale of addictive new versions of gutka known as “2100” and “Zafri”. He has also initiated other preventive measures including prior warnings and follow-up counsellings.

A fine contrast to the endemic absence of doctors in Tharparkar and their unwillingness to serve in remote locations. For the first time, at a health centre such as the Nagarparkar Taluka Hospital led by the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Shankar Lal: as many as ten new doctors have begun to dispense long-needed care where, previously, there were only four doctors. The new doctors, for the first time, comprise specialists : a woman gynaecologist (posted as a PPHI appointee, not as a regular Health Department appointee); a paediatrician; a chest diseases specialist and a dental surgeon. Two new generalist Medical Officers have also joined duty. 23 vacancies for doctors remain unfilled. But this is a dramatic improvement. Of the 20 beds in the hospital, on the average 10 to 15 are occupied. About 200 to 250 persons seek care every day at the Out-Patients Department. There has been no death from malnutrition recorded for the past five years.

Dr. Sahib Dino Janji, paediatrician at the Mithi Civil Hospital informed me that, only 6, not 40 children currently admitted at the Hospital are suffering from malnutrition. Causes of their condition do not necessarily have to do with lack of food but with inappropriate feeding practices, failure to take timely steps by parents, etc.

Whether on the Karachi-Hyderabad-Mirpurkhas-Naukot-Mithi-Islamkot-Nagarparkar route or the Nagarparkar-Mithi-Badin-Golarchi-Sujawal-Thatta-Karachi route : the state of the roads is like Pakistan’s democracy, a perpetual work-in-progress, subject to sudden jolts. The standard ranges from stretches of superb quality to patches of terrible pot-holes and ditches, the former a delight to drive upon, the latter a nightmare in day or night, particularly because, without any preparatory, cautionary sign, the well-carpeted surface suddenly springs a dip or a break which can test the best of brakes.

On the night of 17th July, driving out of Mithi to Nagarparkar, strong winds spread fresh hope. Lightning silently streaked dark skies. Then about 15 minutes of heavy rain. So heavy at times that the car had to stop because visibility was reduced to virtually zero. Was that a hint of good news to follow soon Next day, elsewhere as well, families and oxen ploughed fields to prepare for the fulfilment of the promise.

On the tall electric light-poles that line the entrance to Mithi, the flags of the ruling party are reduced to tatters and rags that flap forlornly in the wind. But soon, there will be Independence Day on 14th August. Time to raise new flags of harmony and hope.