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Misery mounts as Pakistan drought continues

MITHI, Pakistan--Two-month-old Mangal succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday in Mithi, southeast Pakistan, the latest victim of a deadly web of drought, disease and malnutrition in one of the country's most deprived regions.

Her father Buru had held a plastic tube supplying oxygen into her tiny nostrils all night, but his silent prayers were not enough.

She died in a government hospital in Mithi, the main town of Tharparkar district, becoming one of at least 67 children to die of poverty-driven disease in the area since December.

“She was in a very serious condition and we had advised her father to get her to a bigger hospital in Hyderabad city,” Doctor Mohanlal Khatri told AFP at the Mithi hospital.

“Most of the children are brought here with pneumonia, diarrhea, low birth weight and neonatal sepsis.”

The unfolding tragedy has grabbed the attention of the national media but aid remains scarce, a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, son of the late premier Benazir Bhutto, visited the area.

Thar desert, which begins around 300 kilometers east of Karachi and runs up to the border with India, is dominated by subsistence farmers who depend on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock.

It has been hit by a rainfall deficit of roughly 30 percent between March 2013 and February this year, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months.

At an army-run camp in Mithi, women dressed in the yellow, red and blue dress typical of the region's Hindu community, waited in a line for relief which many said was hard to come by.

“Please get me a food permit, I have been coming here since yesterday but in vain,” one woman pleaded.

Hindus, a small minority in Pakistan's overwhelmingly Muslim population of 180 million, have been the worst affected by what is happening in Tharparkar.

“Of all the children we treated 75 percent were from the Hindu community,” said Khatri, the doctor in Mithi.

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Pakistani villagers wait to collect relief items from a state-run distribution center at Chelhar village in the drought-hit Tharparkar district in southern Sindh province, some 300 kilometers east of Karachi, Pakistan on Tuesday, March 11.

(AFP)

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