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Distribution of donations & What we are doing wrong

Usama Qureshi explains how his donation drive taught him important lessons. Which if not followed will cause wastage and duplication of donations and deprive needy families from much needed donations. He offers some smart ways which could enhance effectiveness of COVID-19 donation programs.

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A few days ago, I received an unexpected text from my friend, Arshad; expressing the need to start a donation drive to support daily wage workers and other white collar workers affected by the coronavirus and the resultant lockdown. I didn’t think twice and told Arshad I was in.

I then texted another friend, Ahsan, who texted some of his friends and what started as a text, in less than 30 days became a small movement to collect money and donate ration bags. We were able to generate 1800 large ration bags that would support a family of four to five people for at least 15 to 20 days, depending on their consumption. A kind volunteer developed a web based application for us to maintain a proper and transparent database for all the work we undertook.

Consolidated data from the donation drive. Source: Usama Qureshi

Our target was to reach 100 families initially and even though we all knew that people can use a helping hand at this time, we did not fully grasp how difficult the situation was for some people till we started our distribution drive. The reality hit us like a ton of bricks; where for the privileged the lockdown means postponing yearly vacations and working from home, for some of our brethren it is a grave choice between starving their families and exposing themselves to the virus when they go out for work.  No one deserves to be in that position. So we did not stop at a 100 families, how could we?

We knew that it would be hard to organize an entire drive and were dreading the money collection aspect but people surprised us with the openness of their hearts. What actually gave us a tough time was locating families that needed help. We had decided from the start that we will locate the families that do not come to the forefront to ask for help.

Read more: Lockdown: Middle class to fight hunger and malnutrition

Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have a system for income profiling, which can be used to identify communities in need. I think the biggest deficiency in documenting the economic situations of our citizens is that being a filer in Pakistan has been ridiculed and reduced to the ability to pay taxes. Most people who need the support today aren’t registered on the Federal Bureau of Revenue or any other government database.

Aid delivery should be exercised at street and union council levels; everyone knows their area councillor. This will effectively curtail the role of parliamentarians; while most of them don’t even live in their constituencies. The best practice across the globe is to deliver disaster relief aid through local bodies and district or county administrations.

What is lacking here is empowerment and training of local government staff to deal with epidemics and natural disasters. They should be emancipated from political pressure to communicate, coordinate, and manage aid delivery efforts in a transparent, hassle-free, and compassionate manner.

These are transformational initiatives the government can take with minimal costs and risks of failure. All institutions are in place, we just need to get them to work

Each citizen should be given a smart chip-based CNIC; commonly called smart card in Pakistan. What a smart card can deliver is limitless: it can be all-in-one documentation, identification, authentication, payment, and delivery tool. Income profiling coupled with smart cards will eliminate the need of the 8171 helpline. You don’t need cash disbursals; chip-based smart cards can act as debit or even credit cards.

Smart cards can make targeted subsidies a real possibility in an eternally developing country of 220 million people. Smart cards can be enabled just like debit or credit cards for shopping and availing pre-approved targeted subsidies or free rations at all utility stores and designated private outlets nation-wide. This phenomenon can also revolutionise online utilisation of targeted subsidies.

We noticed that no data was consolidated pertaining to the families that have already received ration ration bags from various governmental and/or non-governmental ration drives during the lockdown. This inefficiency alone could cost us a lot. This creates room for wastage, duplication, misuse, and above all potentially depriving a lot of deserving families.

Read more: Partial lockdown or curfew? Who is right – PM Imran or CM Murad?

Effectively implementing the above-mentioned initiatives have the potential to consolidate and transform all kinds of existing aid flows to the needy, not only during the existing pandemic but for any other natural disaster or calamity in the future. Adopting these measures will also make the entire process transparent and cost-effective. These are transformational initiatives the government can take with minimal costs and risks of failure. All institutions are in place, we just need to get them to work.

Usama Qureshi has served various senior positions at prominent corporate organizations of Pakistan. He tweets @UsamaQureshy (twitter.com/UsamaQureshy). The blog originally appeared at The Express Tribune Blogs. The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.