LAHORE: As the spread of the Covid-19 virus slows the wheels of the economy, exposing the financial vulnerabilities of a significant portion of the population, people and organisations are joining hands to assist the less fortunate in the society.
The shutdown in Punjab has left millions of daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance, or financial safety net at the mercy of generous donations by organisations, support from the government, and ordinary citizens.
While the lockdown might result in lower than expected donations, charity organisations are hopeful they will be able to help the poor and those in need during the month of Ramazan.
“It is an uphill battle but we are ready to fight this one,” said one official from a Lahore-based charity organisation. Amid the pandemic, that has so far claimed over 270 live across Pakistan, it appears that ordinary citizens, the government, and charity organisations are banding together for a common cause. “Everyone is coming together to help the less fortunate in a unique way,” the official added.
As the shutdown to prevent the coronavirus from spreading continues through the month of Ramazan and forces people to stay home, many daily wage earners are likely to face starvation. In a recent coronavirus-related address to the nation, Prime Minister, Imran Khan, stated that “25% of Pakistanis cannot afford to eat two times a day.” This segment of the society, he pointed out, was the most vulnerable during the health crisis.
As the total number of positive cases in Punjab inches closer to 5,500, it appears that charity organisations have ramped up their effort to help the people in the province.
“White-collar segment faces the brunt of this situation. Most of them have no jobs now,” said Abdul Shakoor, the central President of the Al-Khidmat Foundation.
According to Shakoor, the non-profit organization collected Rs.500-700billion in donation earlier. “This year, during Ramazan, we are hoping to collect Rs.1,000 billion,” he claimed.
Al-Khidmat is not the only organisation that is collecting donations during the health crisis. Minhaj Welfare Foundation, a non-governmental international relief and welfare organisation is also collecting funds to help those in need.
“We have managed to collect significant donations both locally and internationally,” said Syed Amjad Ali Shah, country director at the Minaj Welfare Foundation. Economic experts, however, anticipate that the government will manage to collect the lion’s share of donations during this time. With the prime minister himself involved in the effort, one expert said, the government will be able to collect more funds than charity organisations. He pointed out that people were donating far more than the expected amount of Zakat.
The government deducts Zakat or the mandatory alms-giving, which is calculated at 2.5%, on a person’s annual wealth at the beginning of Ramazan. Once collected, the funds are distributed among the poor.
Prominent clerics around the country have urged the faithful to contribute generously to the prime minister’s relief fund. In a recent sermon, Maulana Tariq Jameel also urged people to donate generously to the corona relief fund.
Earlier this month, the prime minister in a video message, appealed to Pakistani to help those suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic. “In the wake of growing economic difficulties, the country needs more money in the relief fund. Overseas Pakistanis should come forward to contribute in this regard,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2020.