KHAR: There is a bunch of unemployed laborers sitting along a roadside in Khar, headquarters of Bajaur tribal district, waiting for a daily-wage job. Every time, someone passes by the laborers, they swiftly turn to them in the hope that they will be asked for work.
Among them is 42-year old Abdul Malik who hasn’t got any work for the last two days. Holding a spade in his right hand and a hoe in his left, he eyes every passerby as he expects to get some work and earn a livelihood for his family. Unluckily, he doesn’t find any offer on the third consecutive day.
Unlike the past, there are very few people coming to the road searching for any worker. The fewer people coming here are not spotting Abdul Malik. “I regularly come here and sometimes it seems it may not be in my destiny to get some work,” he says while talking to TNN.
Abdul Malik is the sole breadwinner of his family. If he doesn’t get work, his family has no other source to get food and likely face hunger. According to him, this is not the first time that he is not getting work. He remained without work for about five months during the lockdown triggered by the corona pandemic. During that recession period, he sold out what he had in his home including the cattle to feed his family comprising his wife, an elderly mother, and five children.
He is apprehensive about the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, saying “if another lockdown is imposed, thousands of daily-wage laborers like me will suffer and will not be able to earn a livelihood”.
In April last, the federal ministry of Planning estimated that about 18 million people in the country would lose livelihoods and the national economy will sustain about US$15 billion losses due to the shocks from the coronavirus outbreak.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER) says in a report that about 75% of the country’s total 65 million laborers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Among the labor force, around 40% are in the agriculture sector while the rest are in other sectors.
The PILER further says that a majority of these laborers are not registered and they do not have any social security or legal protection. If these laborers face any problem, lose their job, or are forcefully laid off from work by the employers, they can neither approach a court of law nor can get help or relief from any other source.
Comparatively, the laborers from the merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been hit harder by the lockdown. They have hardly recovered from the repercussions of the militancy and the military operations in the tribal districts and were about to settle when the coronavirus pandemic loomed over them and put them in yet another trial.
Muhammad Shoaib, who had fled his hometown Orakzai and moved to Hungu due to the military operation, tells TNN that people like him have been hit harder by the pandemic. “As compared to other citizens, we are being faced with more problems. Since we had left our homes and are now living in rented homes, we can hardly manage our expenses such as the utility bills, school fees of the children, and rent of the house. I borrowed money from friends and relatives to meet my expenses during the first lockdown and if it happens again, it will severely hit us,” he remarks.
“Before the lockdown, whenever I went to the city, I did get some work and was able to earn a livelihood but the lockdown ceased everything,” Shoaib recalls. He, however, has taken a sigh of relief after the lockdown was lifted, saying “things are coming back to normalcy”. He appeals to the government not to impose another lockdown otherwise millions of people like him will suffer again.
As millions of laborers struggled during the corona lockdown, the federal government had launched the Ehsaas Emergency Cash program in April 2020 to provide relief to vulnerable families in the context of the economic hardship being experienced by them. Under the program, a total of Rs203 billion were doled out among more than 15 million families as each deserving family was given Rs12,000. Apart from this, many philanthropist organizations and individuals extended financial support to poor households during the lockdown period.
The Youth of Waziristan, a non-government organization established by some youth in the area, also raised some donations and helped deserving families.
The organization held a meeting in a local hujra in North Waziristan and discussed the future course of action in case another lockdown was imposed by the government during the second wave of the pandemic. After a detailed collaboration, the organizers decided that apart from distribution ration, it would be a better option to distribute blankets and quilts among the deserving families as the winter has already set in. As a result, a group of youngsters has been assigned to collect data of the poor and needy families so that they may be provided with the required items.
“Thousands of laborers from North Waziristan suffered during the first lockdown and lost jobs. We went from door to door and provided ration and other relief items to the needy families,” Hidayat Dawar, a member of the Youth of Waziristan organization tells TNN.
There may be many philanthropist organizations in Bajaur and Orakzai districts which have been working for the relief of laborers and other needy people, but people like Abdul Malik and Muhammad Shoaib could grab the attention of any such groups. While nobody offered any help to them, they too didn’t ask for any help as they might prefer hunger over begging.