KARACHI: Forty-eight year old Sahanti was lying on the sand inside her traditional Thari hut and her daughter was trying to ease her pain by massaging her head. She has been lying in this position for the last 26 years with lower body paralysis, and experts say that underground supplies of water, contaminated with high quantities of fluoride, are responsible for her paralysis.
She lives in Achhro Thar (White Desert), 80 km from Khipro, District Sanghar, and 50 km from the Indian border. Her three sons and one daughter, while normal, have teeth discolored by the water supply.
The residents in her village told Daily Times that in the last three years, at least 17 from the Hajam and Rajar clan have died and dozens have been paralyzed. The Ideal Rural Development Programme (IRDP), a local organization, organized a visit of the area for journalists and the residents shared never-ending stories of their miseries.
“Many of those who died were disabled before their death and civil society workers say they died because of the contaminated water,” said Muhammad Hashim Hajam, chieftain of the Thooraho village.
For most, the Thar Desert brings to mind beautiful natural scenes with women in traditional colorful attire carrying pitchers, walking between the dunes, and some artists are dying to paint such scenes, but in reality locals face horrible conditions.
“Behind these scenes, the reality is that women and children have to walk miles in the summer to get potable water. Besides that, fluoride causes children to look much older than they are, causing white hair, curved backs, and wrinkles,” said Wakeel Rajar of the Chowanro Goth.
Almost every child has a thick layer of fluoride on their teeth, making their smiles a dirty yellow, dashing their self-confidence against the rocks and making many socially unacceptable for marriage.
“When I talked to my cousin in Khipro about the engagement of my son with her daughter, he refused mentioning the teeth color of my son,” said Satar Rajar.
Experts say that fluoride levels have increased alarmingly. “The international standard for fluoride level in potable water is one g per liter, but in this area, it is more than 17 g,” said University of Karachi Department of Geology Prof. Dr Shahid Naseem, who has visited about 400 small villages of Thar to get water samples for laboratory testing. The source of the fluoride is likely underground granite mountains, he said.
He said that although granite mountains have been present since ancient times, environmental changes and increasing population are causing the increase in fluoride levels.
The increased fluoride levels affect teeth, bone, nervous system, senses and movement, while the increased salts in the body cause increased blood pressure, which damages the kidneys.
Since there is no state-run medical facility in the area, the people receive eclectic prescriptions, said IRDP President Muhammad Ali Kumbhar, who added that many would rather visit spiritual healers than visit doctors in a city.
Sindh Graduates Association Khipro representatives tested water samples from 12 villages of Achhro Thar and found that in 8 villages, the water is dangerous for human consumption. “Safe chloride levels are 250 mg per liter, whereas we found 2,144 mg per liter on average. Levels of TDS are 5,414 mg per liter, against the allowed level of 1,000 mg per liter,” said Muhammad Ali Lashari.
He said that the new government must provide fresh river water. “It is not that difficult, as the Nara Canal is only about 60 km away and all the government has to do is lay a pipeline, which will protect human life in the area,” said Lashari.