With Pakistan in dire straits due to loan delays by international financial institutions, its charity sector is particularly hit hard by cash shortages.
Ghazi Khan has resumed sleeping on the street as authorities have closed down shelters in Quetta, the capital city of the southwestern Balochistan province.
Until recently, the 61-year-old manual worker, whose wife, an only son, and grandchildren live away in his native Mastung area, used to spend nights at the Spinny Road Panahgah (shelter home) and eat at the adjacent Langar Khana (soup kitchen).
However, that is no longer the case.
He told DW:
I work at the vegetable market to load goods onto trucks and earn paltry sums daily, so [renting a] room is out of the question. [Former Prime Minister Imran] Khan gave homeless people like me the roof [Panahgahs] to sleep under at night but the current government snatched it from us and therefore, we all are back in the open to nap and sleep.
The Panahgah closures in the city also forced Parveen Bibi, a 55-year-old Afghan widow, onto the street again.
She said she used to spend the night in the Saryab Road Panahgah but now slept either at the main bus terminal or at the nearby railway station and depended on cash handouts for survival.
Projects and Jobs at Risk
Currently, Pakistan is embroiled in a serious financial crisis caused by a long delay in the $1.1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Other major lenders of the world, too, have promised loans but linked their release with the signing of the IMF deal, which, to many, is not in sight.
The local industry has suffered badly from the rupee’s massive devaluation and import hurdles, while 36.6% inflation, the highest in the country’s history, has caused a squeeze on people’s income.
Both public and private sector organizations complain they don’t have enough to cover expenses, a threat to the ongoing projects as well as the jobs of staff members.
Government Under Fire from Opposition
Former prime minister Imran Khan’s administration put up Panahgahs and Langar Khanas across the country with the help of private hunger relief organizations.
However, those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces were closed down lately with the semi-autonomous Pakistan Baitul Mal (PBM), which oversees the initiative, citing the unavailability of funds as the reason. All workers except guards were also laid off.
Sania Nishtar from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party and former PM Khan’s aide on poverty alleviation claimed that 80% of shelter homes and soup kitchens had wounded up operations in provinces other than KP and Balochistan, while the rest had reduced their activities to almost zero.
Khan, too, blasted his successor Shehbaz Sharif over the closure of shelter homes and promised to reopen them if or when he returns to power.
In a tweet a day before May 1 International Workers Day, Khan said:
I felt humbled when I visited a Panahgah – laborers being served a meal with dignity & sleeping in warm beds rather than on footpaths in the bitter cold. In inhumane acts, govt has now closed most Panahgahs & targeted health card schemes too. We [PTI] will reopen Panahgahs immediately on being reelected.
I felt humbled when I visited a Panahgah – labourers being served a meal with dignity & sleeping in warm beds rather than on footpaths in bitter cold. In inhumane acts govt has now closed most Panahgahs & targeted health card scheme too. We will reopen Panahgahs immed on being… pic.twitter.com/aeKPVoj6OW
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 30, 2023
Social Welfare Suffers
Experts warn the continued economic crisis means more cutbacks in charitable programs.
“Private societal actions of philanthropy and charities are here to stay. However, such government and public-funded initiatives may suffer due to fiscal constraints. The government needs to focus on insulating allocation for the social safety nets amidst this crisis,” development economist and head of the Islamabad-based think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Dr. Abid Suleri told DW.
He also insisted that though the closure of Panahgahs and Langar Khanas was unfortunate as it would add to the misery of the poor, many of those public-funded initiatives were not very sustainable, to begin with.
The cash crunch has led the PBM into delaying the funding of patient care, suspending the delivery of food to poor neighborhoods in Islamabad and the adjoining city of Rawalpindi while — affecting women’s vocational training program.
PBM managing director Amir Fida Paracha told DW that his organization had asked the government for the provision of additional grants on a priority basis to keep its welfare projects going but at the same time, it was minimizing its administrative expenditure to divert funds to projects of public welfare.
He also said that a national campaign to raise funds was in the works amid hopes that it would help address the PBM’s financial woes, while philanthropists were being encouraged to help provide assistive products to people with disabilities.
Private charities Edhi Foundation and Chhippa Welfare Association insist that the demand for their ambulance service, a major source of their income, has taken a major hit.
Muhammad Shahid of the Chhipa Welfare Association in Karachi told DW that the inflation-induced income squeeze had forced people to use cheaper transportation modes compared with ambulances.
“Now, the cost of living has gone up so high that people have ambulance affordability issues. They prefer taking patients to hospitals on ride-hailing motorbikes or public transport vehicles as this commuting mode is not as heavy on their pockets as our ambulance service is,” he said.
The charity worker also claimed an almost 50% drop in the collection of Zakat (mandatory handouts given away by Muslims to the poor and the deserving) by his organization and blamed it on people’s reduced purchasing power due to the record inflation rate.
The Edhi Foundation which claims to have over 1,800 ambulances, the largest fleet in the world, has seen a decline in ambulance use by patients, according to its staff member, Zeeshan Ahmad, in the city of Quetta.
He also told DW that his charity organization also collected Rs. 230 million from Zakat in the last month of fasting compared with the previous Ramadan’s Rs. 300 million.