As the Muslim world prepares to celebrate Eid al-Adha, most of Pakistan’s earthquake survivors, left homeless and destitute after last October’s disaster, are struggling to participate in the important Islamic holiday.
But some displaced people in one of the worst-affected areas will have something to celebrate thanks to special efforts by aid workers from international agency Oxfam.
Muslims around the world are poised to commemorate an act of devotion and sacrifice by the Prophet Ibrahim by slaughtering an animal and distributing its meat to relatives and the poor. Children often receive new clothes for the holiday, too.
But millions of Pakistanis camped across the cold mountainous northern provinces are now struggling to feed their families, and have no means to offer a sacrifice. The United Nations World Food Program has said that more than two million people in the region need food aid to survive the winter.
Around the devastated town of Balakot in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province, however, Oxfam has been handing out cash, vouchers, and materials to a targeted number of earthquake survivors in the more inaccessible villages.
“Our initial objective was to reach 32,000 people,” said Heloise Troc, coordinator of Oxfam’s livelihood program in the region. “The team has worked extremely hard to be able to reach this target before Eid so that families would get the cash before the celebrations.”
One of those families is that of Musarat Bibi, a camp resident from nearby Ghanool who lost her husband in the earthquake.
“I will buy some food and some clothes for my children for Eid,” she said.
Vouchers for Goods
Oxfam has been providing cash handouts and vouchers to earthquake survivors in three different areas around Balakot: Ghanool, Sat Bani, and part of Hungrai. The vouchers can be exchanged for goods sold by a selected list of traders.
“My father was killed,” said 13-year-old Yunis, standing by his elderly uncle as he exchanged his voucher in a general store in Balakot, now reduced to rubble by the earthquake. “My mother is very ill, so she had to stay in the village. She has asked me to buy flour, black tea and sugar with the voucher and cash I received.”
The cash and voucher program not only allows the survivors to buy items of their choice, but boosts local commerce by helping traders rebuild their businesses and revitalizing local markets.
The program, which has reached more than 48,000 people so far, is designed to offer people real choices regarding the kind of help they receive.
The Oxfam team has also been distributing five corrugated iron sheets per family to thousands of households to help survivors build shelters and pens for their remaining livestock. “This is probably the most sought-after commodity in the villages,” said Troc. “The idea, once again, was to reach as many families as possible before the Eid celebrations.”