Stampedes as Destitute Throng Pakistans Free Flour Distribution Points — Global Issues

A man collects his rations at one of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) collection points. However, the project resulted in deaths and injuries as people rushed to the collection points. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar)
  • Associated Press Service

“We have been lining up to receive a bag of flour since morning but to no avail, as the police had to resort to batons to charge those who were going to receive them. At least 20 people, including seven women, were injured because policemen attacked the crowd with batons,” Abdul Wali, 35, a daily bettor, told IPS.

A resident of Mardan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Wali says he doesn’t have money to buy flour and other supplies for daily use and has pinned his hopes on the free flour program. But due to the large number of people, he did not receive it. Instead, the injured man was taken to the hospital.

Wali, a street vendor, said he received first aid at the hospital, where his wound was bandaged, but he was forced to rest until he recovered.

On March 8, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced that the government would provide free 10kg of flour to 100 million people during the Ramzan holiday in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces. He said the national budget would cost Rs 73 billion (about $257 million).

Since the start of flour distribution at designated spots, ten people, including two women, have been killed in an attempt to receive free bags under the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP).

Pakistanis, affected by rising prices, flock to the spots every day, but half of them return empty-handed in the evening due to the number of people trying to claim their food packages. Stampedes has a problem, especially in KP, where poverty rates are higher than in any other province.

Ghufran Khan, a daily bettor in the Charsadda district, told IPS: “My father stood in a line to get the dough, but in the meantime the stampede started and he died instantly. His father, Wakil Khan, 55, who suffered from asthma, passed away before he got his hands on the flour rations.

“Poor management at distribution points is keeping the elderly and sick away from places where young and healthy people get flour,” he said.

On March 26, a Jirga tribe banned women from visiting distribution points in Bara Khyber District in KP.

Shahid Khan Shinwari, a member of Jirga, said: “Our women are being treated harshly, and therefore, we have decided that only male members of deserving families should receive it. hand bag”.

According to him, the government should give the cash through the bank to avoid mistreating beneficiaries.

“According to local tradition, our women do not venture out in public, but poverty has hit people hard, forcing them to even beg. The government should sympathize with the poor who have no choice but to wait in the scorching sun for flour,” said Shinwari.

He said the situation in the tribal districts along the Pakistan-Afghan border is very precarious because of poverty.

Nasreen Bibi, a resident of Peshawar, the capital of KP, is angry about the distribution mechanism.

“Three days ago, I went to this spot but didn’t have a chance to get the item due to overcrowding. I was scared and didn’t go there anymore,” Bibi, a housewife, told IPS. A widow, she had to raise her six children. All are unemployed and her eldest son, a mason, has lost his job as construction activities have come to a complete halt due to Ramzan, she said.

She explained that young people were climbing over trucks laden with flour and taking away bags while the women were forced to silence the audience.

Sharif visited several cities after reports of deaths and injuries, but there was no improvement due to faulty mechanics. On March 27, he checked several places in Islamabad, but so far there has been no improvement.

Human rights activists are concerned.

“It is a blatant violation of human rights. People are scrambling for flour without regard for their happiness and health. I recommend that the government adopt the mechanism of former Prime Minister Imran Khan during the Covid-19 period, where people receive Rs 12,000 through the bank,” said Muhammad Uzair, a human rights activist.

He said, on rainy days, the situation becomes worse when people get wet with unusable powder.

“We urge the government to recognize the gravity of the situation and turn to cash assistance to save women, children and the elderly from disrespect,” he said.

He said that if the government does not pay attention, the crisis could intensify and many people could lose their lives.

Even in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, people gathered at distribution points early in the morning, but many lost hope and returned to their homes.

“The government has registered 150,000 families in Islamabad, but the speed of distribution is very fast and the police have to intervene again and again to ensure order,” said Shah Afzal, 59. .

Afzal, a dishwasher in a restaurant, loses his job in Ramzan. He said the distribution of flour had given hope to impoverished communities, but the system was faulty and the elderly could not continue to risk their lives.

Report of the UN IPS Office

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service


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