UMERKOT: Heavy dusty winds in Thar have not only affected the quality of the cultivable land but have also threatened the survival of human beings, birds and livestock.
An Environment Expert Dr Menhal Nohri told News Lens Pakistan that dusty winds affect everything from human beings to birds, water reservoirs, water table and livestock. He added that in dusty winds even a bird could not fly to look for food. The dust-laden grass affects the digestive system of the livestock. Allergies, sore eyes, lung disease, asthma and tuberculosis are common in human beings.
Bharumal Amrani, representative of Society for the Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) says that the dusty winds ruin bushes and plants. “In Sindhi we say, Warhia khare wao kare, (strong winds reduce soil’s fertility),” said Amrani while talking to News Lens Pakistan.
Wind erosion occurs when the topsoil, consisting of both soil and rocks, is blown away from the earth’s surface to another place by the high-speed wind. Soil erosion entirely depends on the wind’s velocity. If the velocity of the wind is stronger than the cohesive and gravitational forces that keep the soil particles together, wind erosion occurs. Forestation has been nature’s way to control the velocity of the wind. When men cut down trees and remove other forms of vegetation, winds not only blow hard but also gain a free hand to remove the topsoil. It is topsoil where all the vital nutrients and organic matter lie. In the absence of this soil, land loses its ability to regenerate itself. Erosion also reduces water-holding capacity of the soil. In other words, the land becomes infertile or barren.
Winds in Thar blow at an average speed of 15 knots, while the average erosion rate has been measured at four meter from 1950 to 2004, which is alarmingly high.
The Thar Desert has a total area of 22,000 sq km and a population of about 1800,000 — which is approximately half the population of the district and more than 70 per cent of its land area.
Thar is distinguished by low and erratic rainfall, humidity, high solar radiation, strong-dust rising winds, sparse vegetation and sand dune. Desertification has already made this region unlivable for the Tharis who have migrated in hoards to other areas.
An elderly farmer Hameer from village Bhojrajyo recounts old times when there were enough trees and bushes to prevent the winds from overwhelming the land. Previously he says people considered chopping down trees a sin. They would worship trees because of which we had good amount of forests leaving a positive effect on our region.
Waryam, is finding hard time to ply his jeep from Umerkot to Ratnor. He told News Lens that his jeeps jolts in the dusty and heavy winds blowing in these areas. Now he uses Jeep only when it is really needed otherwise he says it is not possible to ply on these roads without pumping out extra petrol to force the jeep to propel. High-velocity windstorms cause movement of sand dunes, depositing thick layers of sand on roads, railway tracks and croplands.
Geographer Sujomal Meghwar of the University of Sindh, agrees that dust storm cannot be stopped and could increase in velocity and occurrence because of climatic changes. However, he says, “With a few land management techniques, the process of desertification and wind erosion could be at least reduced if not reversed.”
He argues that growing more trees and vegetation, controlling deforestation, watching for overgrazing, keeping an eye on population growth and last but not least, managing drought are a few remedies to bring Thar back to life.
The Sub-Divisional Forest Officer Mirpurkhas Abid Hussain Jatoi assures that the government is not all lost on the issues confronting the Thar Desert. His department, he says, have been growing nurseries, planting trees on roadside and on canal.
The Rangeland Management Department, according to him, is also working hard to combat wind erosion by growing native plants and trees in Thar. On the other hand, another official from the forest department Attaullah Shaikh told the News Lens that the area lacks enough plant or trees to tackle wind erosion.
The Executive Director at Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy, Ali Akbar Rahimoon told News Lens Pakistan that strong winds harmful for the ecology of Thar, can still be used to generate wind energy. Thar can use this alternative source of energy to run water pumps, tube wells and even to lighten its houses, he added. Winds blowing at 9.1 m/s velocity, he says carry the potential to generate enough electricity for Thar.
The government has never been serious in improving the living conditions of the people of Thar. It is an irony that one of the former prime ministers of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz contested from Thar and won the National Assembly seat. Similarly, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, the sitting member of Sindh Assembly and former chief minister Sindh hails from Thar.
Not only the situation in Sindh deteriorated during the tenure of the aforementioned ministers, it also recorded new failures. The Sindh Arid Zone Development Authority had to be shut down in 2002 due to incompetence of the officials. This institution was built in 1985 to undertake development projects in the arid zones that comprise 48 percent Sindh and is mostly struck by consistent drought and famine. Only last year the drought in Thar killed more than 300 children, a question mark on the ability and performance of the subsequent Sindh governments.
In view of three consecutive droughts, the present Sindh government has decided to form Thar Development Authority. Unfortunately, the bill for the development of this new department is yet to be presented in the Sindh Assembly.