Kyrie Irving Fights Water Scarcity in Tharparkar, Pakistan

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SINGAPORE, Singapore — Due to sporadic rainfall and sweltering heat, the people of the Tharparkar district in Sindh, Pakistan, have been suffering from a dire shortage of water and regular crop failure. This has stifled the prosperity of Tharis, the people who live in Tharparkar, with only 13% of the population living above the poverty line. According to Amanullah Khan, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Pakistan, the country is “slowly moving into a water-stressed situation.’’ For this reason, water scarcity in Tharparkar necessitates urgent attention.

5 Facts About the Severity of Water Scarcity in Tharparkar

  1. As of 2020, only 47% of Tharis have access to potable water.
  2. Women and girls often have to travel more than three kilometers to collect water and spend an average of three to five hours fetching water. This takes a toll on their health and economic prospects as they have little time and energy left for paid employment or educational endeavors.
  3. Already a hotspot for malnutrition and disease, the increased stress of water scarcity in Tharparkar threatens to claim the lives of “hundreds of children” annually. A national nutrition survey in 2018 found that 22% of children younger than the age of 5 in Tharparkar suffer from moderate or severe malnourishment.
  4. Out of desperation to feed their families, farming households have sold their land and seed stocks in what they describe as measures meant “only for emergencies.” While providing short-term relief, such actions damage a household’s long-term source of sustenance.
  5. Many families have been forced to migrate, enduring arduous journeys of up to 200 kilometers searching for food, water and jobs.

However, the hapless plight of Tharis has not gone unnoticed by the international community. In particular, the situation has caught the attention of National Basketball Association (NBA) star Kyrie Irving. In collaboration with the Paani Project, Irving’s foundation, the KAI Family Foundation (K.A.I.F.F.), has built a solar-powered water center in the Rohal village of Tharparkar to mitigate chronic poverty and water scarcity in the district.

A Closer Look at the Organizations

Based in the U.S. state of Michigan, the Paani Project is a nonprofit water aid organization founded in 2017 by four Pakistani-American students eager to help address the water crisis in Pakistan. The central aims of the organization are to provide clean water, donate medical supplies to local clinics, educate Pakistani youth on the importance of sanitation and initiate waste management projects in Pakistan. Aware of the educational and food security needs in his hometown and other parts of the United States, Irving initially established the K.A.I.F.F. to support marginalized communities. The foundation focuses primarily on youth empowerment, operating in the domains of education, food and water security and social change.

A Dream Collaboration

The collaboration began in April 2021 when Sonny Khan, one of the Paani Project’s founders and a Kyrie Irving fan, reached out to the KAI Family Foundation. Khan believed the Foundation would be willing to help alleviate the impact of drought in Tharparkar, given the NBA star’s philanthropic track record. Within four months, the Paani Project was able to build a solar-powered water plant in the Rohal village, thanks to generous funding from Irving’s foundation. As one of the hottest villages in the district, creating a solar-powered water plant in Rohal is a much-needed solution to make a dent in the issue of water scarcity in Tharparkar.

Not only will Irving’s contributions bring access to clean water to more than 1,000 villagers but the plant will also provide electrical power for fans and lights in local schools and mosques and support a small-scale farm to promote food sustainability. Speaking to the New York Post, Khan shared that very few people make an effort to address humanitarian issues in Pakistan. Khan expresses how heartwarming it is to have somebody like Irving take “the time to learn about an issue that impacts so many people.”

The Road Ahead

According to the human rights activist, Rida Tahir, there is no water source in Tharparkar that can meet the minimum standards set by the World Health Organization. As the country battles COVID-19, access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities is essential in preventing further outbreaks. Further, Tahir notes that despite the fact that Pakistan is a signatory to treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), both of which emphasize the importance of reliable access to water for multiple purposes, the Pakistani government still has a long way to go in ensuring the right to water is not just provided on paper.

While the issue of water scarcity in Tharparkar is far from resolved, Irving’s Foundation also helps to fight water crises in other parts of the world. In 2019, the K.A.I.F.F. partnered with Project Maji to provide three water pumps to Northern Ghana and three to Kenya.

Irving’s efforts and that of nonprofit organizations such as the Paani Project attest to how simple and affordable solutions can make significant inroads in addressing socioeconomic issues. As the world continues to try to contain the global water crisis, such solutions and cooperation among all stakeholders (private businesses, corporations, governments, international and regional agencies, philanthropists, NGOs and scientists) will be critical in ensuring the fundamental right to clean water becomes a reality for all.

– Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

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