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Central & South Asia

Hunger kills scores of children in Pakistan

At least 62 children dead in desert district of Tharparkar, prompting top judge to call the situation a national shame.

Last updated: 10 Mar 2014 12:07
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In 2000, a famine killed 90 percent of the desert's livestock, the economic mainstay of the area [Getty Images]

At least 62 children have died in Pakistan's southern district where thousands are suffering from malnutrition, officials said, as the country's top judge called the situation a national shame.

The disaster has sparked public outcry and diverted media attention away from the regular glut of armed attacks, with both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto's heir Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visiting the afflicted region.

Local authorities last week ordered a probe into the deaths, which occurred in a stretch of the Tharparkar desert, which begins around 300km from the port city of Karachi and runs up to the border with India.

Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani summoned top officials to the Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad on Monday, and said the country "should hang down our heads with shame" over the conditions that led to the deaths and the failure of government to prevent them.

Mumtaz Ali Shah, the home secretary for Sindh province where the desert lies, earlier told the court: "At least 62 children died, mostly because of unusual cold weather leading to outbreak of pneumonia and poor medical facilities during last three months in Thar."

Compensation paid

But the province's advocate general Fateh Malik said the situation was not as bad as had been portrayed by the media, claiming disasters were the norm in the impoverished area.

He said 120,000 bags of food had been distributed so far and a compensation of $2,000 to the families of the dead.

The court directed the officials to file a detailed statement about the situation with a plan of action next Monday.

Sharif also arrived on Monday in Mithi, the capital of the Tharparkar district, to personally look into the situation, accompanied by Bhutto-Zardari, whose Pakistan People's Party rules the province.

"The provincial government should take steps to prevent any such incident in the future," Sharif said, adding the federal government was ready to assist.

Poor health and communication infrastructure keeps the district disconnected from mainstream population.

In 2000, the desert suffered a famine that killed 90 percent of the livestock, the economic mainstay of the area.

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Source:
AFP
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