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OPM pivots support in Pakistan - COVID-19 response

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As part of our COVID-19 response, OPM is providing support to the provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

At the time of writing (Monday 6 April), Pakistan has recorded 3,000 cases of COVID-19, and 50 deaths attributed to the disease. To manage the spread of COVID-19 the government has introduced a partial lockdown until mid-April, possibly longer. The social and economic impact for Pakistan will be severe, especially for the tens of millions of informal workers and daily wage earners, who have limited savings and are unable to work from home.

The informal sector, the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy, accounts for nearly three-quarters of the labour market. During every previous crisis the informal economy has continued to function. Today, it stands to lose the most, particularly the workers who rely on cash wages to provide the minimum income required to meet their daily needs. The policy dilemma is stark – shutting down social and economic activity is necessary to manage the spread of COVID-19, but doing so risks forcing large numbers of the population into hunger and poverty.

Through the DFID-funded Sub National Governance (SNG) programme, OPM is providing governance support to the provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), to improve service delivery and reduce poverty. The SNG programme has moved quickly to support both provincial governments in their COVID-19 response.

Punjab

Punjab has a population of 110 million and accounts for approximately 60% of national GDP. Here, SNG is supporting a provincial Steering Committee tasked with responding to the immediate funding requirements for additional healthcare needs, and developing a social and economic stabilisation package for the province. Support has focused on measures to identify and register affected workers, design of an appropriate grant disbursement mechanism, and development of a COVID-19 Social Protection and Economic Stimulus package valued at PKR 140bn (£680m), including:

  • A grant scheme to support informal labourers and daily wage earners
  • Expanded public works programmes and Employment Guarantee Schemes
  • Special support and rehabilitation measures for small businesses, including grant schemes and tax exemptions
  • Additional payments to healthcare professionals involved in the COVID-19 response.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

We are also providing support to the government’s COVID-19 response in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)  - Pakistan’s third largest province, with a population of 35 million and contributing 10% of national GDP. Here focus has been on supporting the Health (and Finance) Minister, Taimur Khan Jhagra, in assessing and strengthening capacity within government to respond to and manage the outbreak. This includes:

  • Developing an overarching coordinating framework to manage all COVID-19 interventions, including measures to reach out to the private sector and non-government partners
  • Developing a surveillance and screening approach, and deployment of rapid response teams to check and monitor COVID-19 cases. The approach is being piloted in three districts before scale-up across the province
  • Analysis to model the spread of COVID-19 and map the availability of essential healthcare resources
  • A provincial communications strategy to build public awareness and disseminate targeted COVID-19 response guidelines.

Donors are slowly starting to respond. As part of a $14 billion global package, last week the World Bank committed $200 million to help Pakistan respond by strengthening healthcare systems and mitigating socio-economic disruption. Other donors, including DFID, are looking at how current programmes can adapt and shift engagement to support the response.

Meanwhile, Pakistanis are coming together to assist the less fortunate in unique and inspiring ways. This includes offering ‘zakat’, the traditional Muslim charitable donation usually associated with Ramadan. Across Pakistan appeals for support and donations are circulating on WhatsApp and social media. Women are playing a major role, offering their houses as collection points for staple ingredients, such as flour, oil and lentils. Many are circulating their personal phone numbers to mobilise more donations – a rare practice in Pakistan before the pandemic. And volunteer organisations have been busy distributing surplus food from restaurants and food packages to those in need.