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Efficient aid

A few days back my friend Arshad shared his idea of starting a donation drive to support daily wagers and others affected in the current crisis.

Without a second thought, I responded ‘I’m in’, and texted another friend who in turn texted another – and today after 30 days we have provided over 1800 large ration bags (enough for a family of 4-5 for 15-20 days) to the needy without taking pictures but by maintaining proper database in a web-based application developed by a volunteer.

Our target was to reach 100 families initially, but once we achieved that none of us could stop. We got to see how bad the situation was and we couldn’t unsee it. For the privileged class, this crisis probably means working from home and postponement of annual vacations etc. But for many in the city it means having to choose between staying at home and letting your family be hungry, and going out to earn with the virus waiting to embrace you. And no one deserves to be in that position.

One would think that collecting donations would be hard, but finding people who were actually needy was the harder bit. Our aim since the start has always been to get our ration packages to people who are deserving and can’t ask for help.

Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have a system for income profiling so the communities in need can be identified. The foremost deficiency in documenting the economic situations of our citizenry is that being a filer in Pakistan has been ridiculed and reduced to the ability of paying taxes. Most people who need support today aren’t on the FBR or any other database. Tax or no tax, the state should make every single citizen a filer and make the process easy through the use of technology.

Aid delivery should be exercised at the street and union council level; everyone knows their area councilor. This will effectively curtail the role of parliamentarians; most of them don’t even live in their constituencies in any case. 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 governments’ 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.

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 an all-in-one documentation, identification, authentication, payments and delivery tool. Income profiling coupled with smart cards eliminates the need to send your plea to 8171. You don’t need cash disbursals; chip-based smart cards can act as a debit or even as a credit card.

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 can equally revolutionize online utilization of targeted subsidies.

We have noticed that there is no consolidation of data of those families that have already received 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.

Effectively implementing the above-mentioned initiatives can help consolidate and transform all governmental and nongovernmental aid flow to the needy during pandemics such as Covid-19. It will make the whole exercise way more fair, transparent, cost-effective, swift and efficient. These are transformational initiatives the government can take with minimal costs and risks of failure. All institutions are in place; get them to work.

Usama Qureshi, "Efficient aid," The News. 2020-04-29.
Keywords: Social sciences , Global crises , Smart cards , Debit cards , Political pressure , Economic condition , Disaster aid , Natural disaster , FBR