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Smash hit song helps quench water woes of Thar women

Until last month, Savita had to trudge through burning dunes of sand under midday broiling sun to fetch drinking water.

It would take her and hundreds of other women from remote Meghwar village at least two hours to cover a five- kilometer gruelling distance on a teetering sandy path every day with temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius to fetch water from another pump..

It’s been a routine affair for women in most parts of sprawling Thar desert, where periodical droughts have become a new normal due to climate change ravages.

But, she no longer has to go through this arduous exercise after establishment of an state-of-the-art water filtration plant in her village.

Established by Coca Cola, the solar-powered plant has a capacity to supply 1,000 liters of clean water per hour, benefitting over 8,000 inhabitants of this rundown locality even by the standard of impoverished Thar desert.

To ensure sustainability, the new plant has been installed with Solar, GPS system and flowmeters as the village has no electricity.

Located on the southern outskirt of Umerkot district, the birthplace of third Moghal Emperor Akbar, Meghwar village is home to Hindu Meghwar community, which is considered one of the indigenous communities of over 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilization.

The desert, which forms a natural boundary with neighboring India, spans a region of 200,000 kilometers, has a population of 1.5 million, which makes it one of the world ‘s most densely populated deserts.

It is ranked by the World Food Program as the most food insecure region in the country.

The desert’s annual rainfall is just 250mm, making life extremely challenging with temperatures soar to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer.

  • Fetching water is not piece of cake

While the Tharis have been able to struggle through previous droughts, each year makes the situation more desperate and now many of their traditional go-to sources of water have gone dry.

“Fetching a few pots of water after covering a two-hour tiring distance especially in the summers, is no less than a challenge. And I had to do that everyday,” Savita, 45, a mother of five children said.

Her trip to get water in this far-flung village is a balancing act as she teeters across burning sand, grabbing one pot in her arm, and placing a couple on her head amid swirling winds and sand.

Fetching water is not here only duty. Without taking a break, she prepares food, and rush to a nearby mine where her husband works.

Her neighbor and tourmate, Parmeeshi had a similar ordeal to share, saying that fetching water is not only a daily challenge for Thari women but “it’s a battle.”

“It’s relatively easier in winters to trek this distance but in summers it’s unbearable. But we have no choice,” said Parmeeshi, whose real age is 30 but, with her wrinkled skin, looks in the late 40s —-a result of the region’s merciless weather conditions.

“But thanks God, this huge problem has been resolved after setting up of this plant. Now we don’t have to take such an exhausting walk,” she said with a huge smile on her face.

Behind this fuss-releasing development is a song, which is about folktale story from Sindh province, which shares a major chunk of Thar desert, dated back to 14th century.

The melodic and rythamic lyrics of smash hit “Aayi aayi aayi aaye” song narrates the story of Marvi, who resists the overtures of a powerful King Umar and the temptation to live in the palace as a queen, preferring to be in a simple rural environment with her own village folk.

Her resistance and love for her homeland was immortalised by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s celebrated poetic compendium ‘Shah jo Risalo’ (book of his poems).

Shah Latif also named one of the seven musical notes he invented after Marvi, commonly known as “Sur Marvi.”

Marvi later returned to her home village, Bhalwa, untouched.

  • ‘My only demand was water for my people’

With its rich history and culture, Umerkot is Pakistan ‘s largest Hindu-populated district, with a population of slightly above 50 per cent.

Apart from Meghwar, other indigenous communities inhabit here include, Kolhi, Malhi, Manganhar, Bheel, and Oadh.

One of the singers of this song, who bears the same name as the heroin of the folktale, belongs to Meghwar village, demanded water for her people, in addition to her fee.

“Water is life. And no one can understand this saying more than us,” Marvi donned in traditional embroidered shalwar-kameez and covering her head with a matching dupatta said.

“They (music company) asked me what can they do for my people in return? My straightaway reply was, water,” she went on to say.

“I had been watching this since my childhood. I wanted to change it but I had had no idea how to do it.”

“Here I found a life-time opportunity to make it, and I did that,” Marvi said, smiling.

Marvi’s niece and co-singer Sahiba followed the suit.

“I have placed the same demand for my village after watching women’s ease here,” Sahiba said, wearing her signature smile that raised her to fame

The company has approved another water filtration plant for her village located in Diplo town some 130 km from Meghwar village.

“This (song) has brought money and fame to us. But thet can’t match the ease that it has brought to our women,” she maintained.

Aisha Sarwari, senior director of public affairs at Coca-Cola-Pakistan, emphasised the importance of access to clean drinking water, particularly for women and children. “Pakistani women struggle with access to clean drinking water nationwide, especially in arid areas. Their children often fall sick due to gastrointestinal diseases. This initiative is a small step towards sustainably solving this massive issue.”
The “Water For Women” program, under the Paani Project, has already served around 17 million people across 53 plants in Pakistan. The initiative aims to empower women and communities by providing clean drinking water, thereby improving their health, education and economic opportunities.

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