Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Rebuilding lives

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In February 2006, freewheeling around Sanghar district in Sindh I ended up in the village of Ranahu. Now Sanghar is nearly equally divided between barrage-irrigated farmland and sand desert. What makes the desert remarkable in this region is the texture of sand. While southward in, say, Mithi or Umarkot districts (of the erstwhile vast Tharparker district), the sand is dark gray and hard packed, it is light in colour and texture. Here the sand dunes are rippled.

Because of the pale colour of the sand, this part of the Thar Desert is called Achhro (White) Thar. The flowering trees were here too mobbed by purple sunbirds and babblers whistled from the thorny thickets, but I did not see any peacocks that usually run across your path in Tharparker to the south.

Ranahu, caught amid high rippled dunes was idyllic. The well was its centre of activity and in the two days I spent in the village, I never found it idle: there were always two or three men working it either to fill large canvas bags fitted on camels for domestic use or topping up the watering trough for the livestock.

The water was drawn in a sort of bucket made from old tractor inner tubes which brought up around fifty litres at a time. Since the well was about a hundred metres deep (that’s three hundred feet!), it was difficult to pull up the bucket manually. Consequently, a camel was used to raise it from the unseen depth. One man drove the camel with the rope attached to it, while the other minded the bucket as it came up and emptied it into the various containers lined up by the brink.

Out of curiosity I spoke with the men at the well and learned that having to spend the livelong day at this tedious chore, they were good for nothing else. They could not go to the city for work nor could they mind the livestock grazing out on the range. There being no agriculture, livestock was the only source of income here. Though they had plenty of milk, butter, ghee and lassi, they annually sold a part of their herds to purchase other food items to make life go. Livestock was therefore their very lifeline.

Recently I returned again; this time with a friend from Sindh Agriculture and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (SAFWCO). Between my first visit and now, SAFWCO and Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) had joined hands to gift a wind turbine to the people of Ranahu. The simple device was connected to a pump on a deep bore and a pipe emptying the delivery into a large masonry water tank. Overflow from the tank went by a lined channel to a nearby watering trough where camels and goats were drinking.

As against the old well, there was no one minding the wind turbine. It worked by itself. Children came with plastic buckets to fill at the water taps on the tank and animals slaked their thirst at the trough. Hathi Singh whose guests we were to be overnight, came around to tell me one startling thing which had not occurred to me at the time of my first visit five years ago.

Every family had two men engaged in the water chore. In winters with lower water requirement the work was easier, but summers were a blur of engagement at the well. From daybreak until after sundown, two men from each family were at the well, either drawing water or waiting their turn for it. That, said Hathi, left only boys to mind the grazing livestock.

Now, the desert is home to the wily fox. Indeed, as we were driving in we had come across two at different times that quickly trotted off behind some bushes. Boys being boys and a little irresponsible, they failed to mind the livestock as mind they should. Since they were not always paying attention, foxes took a sizeable toll of suckling kids. Hathi Singh said it was not unusual for a livestock owner to lose every year up to as many as a dozen kids to the prowling foxes.

This was a major setback when livestock was their only source of income. But there was nothing for it. They were caught between a rock and a hard place: the men could not leave the well to go either with their animals or to the city to seek work.

Hathi Singh told me that the wind turbine was installed in 2007 and in the past four years, the number of animals sold has jumped up on average by forty percent for each livestock owner. I thought that was an exaggeration, but then others like Khan Mohammad Rajar from a neighbouring village (also with a wind turbine) confirmed.

Hathi had other statistics too. He said the maintenance of the old well cost about three thousand rupees annually. In comparison, the leather washer of the piston in the bore needed changing once every three months. In the beginning they got a man from Hathungo (the nearest town) who charged six hundred rupees to come out to fix it.

But the men of Ranahu watched him work. Just by looking they now have three trained pump mechanics and they do the job themselves. Not only they have acquired a new skill, but the repair now costs only one hundred rupees.

There is now the dream of getting another wind turbine, perhaps somewhat larger for a greater delivery of water, to turn the troughs between the dunes arable. I observed that may be a long way off and Hathi said there was no harm in dreaming. If I return in another few years’ time, I may find Ranahu completely transformed. Who knows, as Tharparker in the south has become a tourist destination, Achhro Thar too might if some enterprising goat farmer sets up a two-room doss house with his savings from livestock sales. And all because a simple wind turbine and pump were installed in the village.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 3 May 2014 at 11:31, Blogger Ashfaque Dasti said...

Sir I found this very affordable idea on net, named as Warka Water, to overcome the scarcity of water in Ethiopian Desert. Hopefully any of NGO may find it useful and implement it here.
[link to warka water idea]

At 3 May 2014 at 12:22, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Ashfaque! I'll forward this to my NGO friends.

At 4 May 2014 at 05:15, Blogger Unknown said...

Salman Ji, Was wondering if the name Hathi Singh indicates his lineage to Hindu or Sikh faith, that's if he is a Muslim? Or is he a believer of Hindu or Sikh faith in current times? Not that it matters but it is interesting to know as we have common cultural heritage.

At 5 May 2014 at 04:33, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hathi Singh is a Rajput Hindu. And of course we have the same common heritage.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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Riders on the Wind

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