By Robin Gomes
Since the first coronavirus case, the number of infections in Pakistan has been growing. The country’s four provinces began to take action to contain the spread of the virus until a general lockdown was in place.
Pakistan now has a total of more than 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with over 1,000 deaths.
Since the lockdown, the poor and vulnerable people have been particularly hit with the loss of jobs and means of livelihood.
Daily-wage earners have found it particularly hard to provide food for their families, apart from basic sanitation and health needs.
Caritas in action amid a worsening situation
Caritas Pakistan, a member of Caritas Internationalis - the global confederation of 165 national Catholic relief and development agencies - is the social and development arm of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference.
According to Amjad Gulzar, the executive director of Caritas Pakistan, the overall situation in the country has been worsening since the first case was discovered.
He told Vatican News that, while the government was taking measures to ensure public health, Caritas was drawing up its own plan of action, “sharing updates and situation reports” with Caritas Internationalis members.
On March 19, Caritas Pakistan called a meeting of all its diocesan offices and established certain guidelines to ensure the safety of its staff, volunteers and community groups who assist people during the pandemic. For this, they need safety and hygiene kits.
With the situation growing worse, the government declared a nationwide lockdown. The governments of all four provinces followed suit.
Protecting against Covid-19
Gulzar pointed out that the pandemic is an unprecedented emergency that the entire world has been grappling with. Pakistan is no exception.
Social distancing appears to be the most effective measure against this deadly, invisible enemy. Hence restrictions on movement and gathering of people and lockdowns are the emergency path of governments to contain the spread of the virus.
Caritas Pakistan thus began to gather information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN’s Children’s Fund UNICEF, government public health institutions and others to protect the people and make them aware of the danger of the virus.
They then developed information and education materials which they began distributing to the people through their field officers, the social media and other means.
Lockdown - joblessness, food needs
Gulzar pointed out that the immediate effect of the lockdown was the immense suffering of the people because of the loss of jobs and livelihood.
Daily daily-wage earners have been worst hit. Putting food on the table daily was the immediate need.
Caritas swung into action, providing those affected with relief food packages. A single food package includes 10 kg of flour, 3 litres of cooking oil, 5 kg of rice, 3 kg of lentils and essentials such as chilli powder, salt, tea leaves and sugar.
According to Gulzar, the amount is sufficient to feed a family of 4 to 5 persons for over a month. This way, Caritas has been able to help more than 5,000 families.
Coordination among Church entities
According to Caritas Pakistan’s executive director, they are working in close collaboration with all the 7 dioceses of the country, through their respective parishes, organizations and institutions.
Gulzar also pointed out that the government has announced many relief and development plans but little has been done to implement them.
But the Catholic Church of Pakistan through Caritas is reaching out to the vulnerable people.
Many religious congregations are also engaged in charity and relief work. Caritas has been coordinating with them for more effective and concerted action of the Catholic Church.
Post-Covid-19 plan against unemployment
The lockdown of over 2 months, Gulzar observed, has brought the economy of the country to a standstill. Its effects will linger long after the economic and commercial activities have resumed.
One of these effects, he said, will be a “very high level of unemployment”, which will affect entire families and communities.
Caritas recently held a coordination meeting with all the diocesan Caritas heads for a plan of action against unemployment in the post-Covid-19 period.
In this regard, specific programmes will be launched to assist particularly the poor and the most vulnerable in 48 districts in the coming 4 years.
Youth will be provided with specific opportunities, skills and vocational training so that they can be employed or self-sufficient.
Gulzar pointed out that the government offers many schemes and programmes for the economic upliftment of the poor. Caritas will help people to access and benefit from these initiatives.
Caritas will be coordinating with diocesan offices and district authorities to implement certain projects for the social and economic development of people who are hit by the lockdown.