The unique threat posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) would have catastrophic effects on poor people’s lives. Nearly 24% of the 210 million people living in Pakistan are below the poverty line. The country needs a fast response to prevent its poor from becoming any worse off.
The national lockdown placed on 13 March is a mandatory pre-emptive measure to contain the emergency for health. But it aggravates socio-economic threats for disadvantaged people who have lost their jobs or are unable to access health and social programmes.
The pandemic also puts women, who are already vulnerable in the workplace, at greater risk because they shoulder the invisible burden of caring for the poor, the elderly, and children. One of the initial steps taken by Pakistan, with World Bank funding, was to extend its national safety net agency, the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), to direct additional support to its 4.5 million female beneficiaries.
The government has also expanded its flagship cash transfer scheme, Ehsaas Kafalat, to include an additional 7.5 million needy families impacted by the crisis — thereby increasing its annual cash transfer budget by 85%.
This cash transfer service can be accessed through a free SMS number (8171), which disadvantaged people, such as daily wagers and piece-rate workers, can use to send applications or verify their eligibility.
Ms. Sakina, a resident of Quetta said, “My husband is ill and has to stay at home. I’m so grateful that I’ve received Rs. 12,000 today, it will help us get by for a full month. We are thankful that the government has supported us and stands with us at a time like this.
Moving towards a comprehensive framework for updating the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) and incorporating social program databases would help retain focused data current and ensure a two-way flow of information. A centralized and integrated social registry will also provide data for informed decisions on socio-economic policies and interventions to avoid duplication of effort.
This response surely is one of the best investments that a government could make in a crisis. The cash transfers provide purchasing power for people to meet their needs.
Not only do cash transfers offer extra monetary assistance, but they also help discourage the vulnerable from developing harmful coping mechanisms that impact children’s health and education.