Coronavirus Lockdown Threatens Animals in Thar Desert

Lockdown stops the annual migration of desert dwellers in search of water and fodder for thousands of livestock.

Coronavirus Lockdown Threatens Animals in Thar Desert
Experts fear a water and fodder crisis could threaten the livestock in the region

A prolonged lockdown imposed by the Pakistani government to see the spread of the novel coronavirus poses a possible threat to the survival of many thousands of livestock within the country's southeastern Thar desert, local residents, and experts say.
The crippling restrictions haven't only stopped the normal annual migration of the desert-dwellers, or Tharis, to adjoining districts in search of water and fodder for the livestock - their main source of livelihood, accounting for 80 percent of the local economy - but have also barred the transportation of fodder within the region.

From April to June, the three driest months within the region, thousands of Tharis migrate to the districts of Mirpurkhas, Badin, and Sanghar, where they find water and fodder for his or her cattle, also as temporary jobs for themselves as harvesters on farmlands.
The Thar desert, which forms a natural boundary with neighboring India, covers a neighborhood of 200,000 square km (77,000 square miles), features a population of 1.5 million, and is ranked by the UN World Food Programme because of the most food-insecure region within the country. Its annual rainfall is 250mm (10 inches).

While the Tharis are ready to wade through previous droughts, annually makes things more desperate as more of their traditional sources of water go dry.
"At present, overall conditions are tough, thanks to the continued lockdown. But things concerning the livestock is harder," Nashad Samoon, a resident of a foreign village within the town of Mithi, told Anadolu press agency.

He said the administration wasn't allowing traditional migrants to maneuver to the irrigated districts, while the unavailability of transport has led to an acute shortage of fodder and water.

Many of these who attempted to visit the nearby districts were forcibly sent back by the safety forces, said Samoon. "We are left with no other choice but the rationing of fodder for our cattle," he said.

"There could be alternative sources of income in other parts of the country. But here for us, there's no alternative source besides livestock," he added.

"If this [source of income] is exhausted, meaning everything is destroyed for us."
Khatau Jani, an area journalist, said a lingering drought including untimely rains and a recent onslaught by locusts within the region has led to a severe shortage of water and fodder for the livestock.

"Thar is one among Pakistan's poorest regions, where 95 percent of the population lives in remote villages with only one source of income," he said.

"No other area has been suffering from this lockdown quite Thar."

Breeding of cattle threatened

Many Tharis trudged through the recent sand and roads to urge to the adjoining districts days before the lockdown was imposed, but thousands are still expecting the restrictions to ease, consistent with Samoon.

"Even those that managed to maneuver also are facing troubles. Some are forced to return while others are still stranded at different points," he said.

Ali Akbar Rahimoo, head of Aware, an area non-governmental organization that deals with water and livestock issues, fears a water and fodder crisis could affect the breeding of animals within the region within the months to return.

"Shortage of fodder and water will have a cascading effect on the breeding of cattle, which can eventually hit the region's already weak economy," Rahimoo told Anadolu.

He added that the closure of several cattle markets in Thar and adjoining districts thanks to the lockdown has compounded the economic hardships of the local communities.
Rahim said Thar's cattle account for 15 percent of the country's livestock.

"Wheat harvesting remains to continue [in nearby districts]. they will still find jobs for themselves and fodder for his or her cattle at the farmlands if the [lockdown] restrictions for them are eased immediately," he said.

"Livestock is everything for Tharis. it is a source of income, nutrition, and property. Immediate actions got to be taken to save lots of that." said Rahimoo.

Pakistan has been under lockdown since late last month and can continue until May 9 because the country reported quite 13,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 281 deaths thus far.