The district of Tharparkar is the largest of twenty-nine districts in the Sindh Province of Pakistan. Situated in the Thar Desert, the only fertile desert in the world, it is home to about 1.5 million people spread out across about two-hundred villages. It receives 90% of its annual rainfall in the months of the southwest monsoon (July-September), with an average rainfall of four inches or less. The desert presents itself as an undulating wave of sand dunes separated by sandy plains and low hills (bhakars) which abruptly rise out of the ground. Herbaceous scrubs dot the landscape, with the occasional drought resistant tree. The thinly populated grasslands feature chikara (gazelles), some feathered game, like francolins (partridges) and quail, and some migratory birds like grouse, ducks, and geese.
The people of Tharparkar have a long history of poverty and hunger, but also one of great culture. Centuries old temples, intricate craftworks and unique housing are some of the most notable aspects of the area. The people live in instantly recognisable, straw-roofed mud houses that keeps out most of the desert heat.
Of all the districts in the Sindh Province, Tharparkar has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI). The UNDP reports that 87% of the population of Tharparkar live in poverty, their livelihoods relying mostly upon livestock and agriculture, but with many artisans making handcrafted goods. The literacy rate is below twenty percent, only 165,000 children out of the 500,000+ are registered in school. With most children herding livestock or accompanying their mothers to collect water multiple times a day, they often don’t have any formal education beyond primary school.
The majority of Tharparkar’s residents don’t have access to clean drinking water. There are no pipelines dug to local villages and most wells that NGOs, villagers, and the government have dug dry up due to a lack of rainfall, or are unsafe for human consumption due to a lack of maintenance. People have to travel six to seven kilometers multiple times a day to gather water. With rainfall so low in the desert, it is imperative that they drink any available water, resulting in 40% of all diseases in children to be contracted through contaminated water. Current filtration plants, as far and few as they are, provide one of the only stable sources of clean water in the area. However with most of the population in villages that cannot be accessed by car, reaching a filtration plant can be an issue. Without clean water, people accrue all kinds of waterborne illnesses that could be treated easily, however due to the complete lack of access to health care in the region, many of these diseases go untreated and are often fatal.