In Pakistan, just $75 to survive coronavirus ‘divine punishment’

By Jaime León.

Islamabad, Apr 24 (efe-epa).- Razia Bibi, who works as a cleaner on a meager salary, has lost her livelihood due to the coronavirus epidemic, and must now survive along with her six children on $75 the Pakistan government is disbursing to each of 12 million low-income families as part of an economic stimulus package.

Razia, 48, has been unable to reach the houses where she worked as a cleaner every day while her husband, a daily wage laborer, has also become unemployed since Mar. 23 when the government enforced a strict lockdown to stem the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The situation at my house is so bad that I can’t even tell you. We don’t have anything,” she told EFE, adding that her husband did not show much concern for the family even when he had work.

“This money will, of course, help me in paying my house rent which is 6,000 (Pakistani) rupees ($37),” she said.

Razia, like many other Pakistanis, believes that the coronavirus is a “punishment by God for our sins”.

“What else? Had people followed the path of god, it wouldn’t have come,” she said.

The humanitarian aid from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has provided somewhat timely succor amid the outbreak of the disease that has killed more than 220 people and infected over 10,500 patients in the country.

The government has decided to distribute 144 billion rupees to 12 million poor families of the country to help them deal with the job losses due to the lockdown that has brought Pakistan’s already slack economy to a grinding halt.

The people who want to access this aid have to send a text message to the government, which informs them of the steps to follow and the center they have to approach.

The process began on Apr. 15.

There are around 22 such designated centers in the capital that have distributed aid to more than 700 families, Mohammad Dabeer, who presides the center in Razia’s case, told EFE.

Across the country, around 4.7 million families have already received the relief, Sania Nishtar, special assistant to the prime minister on poverty alleviation and social safety, tweeted on Monday.

She called the measure the biggest social aid program in the history of the country.

Some 150 applicants, including Razia, queued up in separate lines for men and women at the Islamabad center.

The applicants have to wash hands with soap before they prove their identity to show if they can receive the aid at the center or they should go to other distribution places.

If everything is in order, the beneficiaries receive the money in cash.

Many of the people waiting at the center were desperate.

“You know when somebody is drowning and making their last attempts to swim? We are in that position now. If we don’t get anything, we will drown and this amount would help us swim through the hard waters,” Gulzar Bibi, a 40-year-old domestic help and a mother of six, told EFE.

Many of the residents agreed that the coronavirus was a punishment from God, sent to earth because people did not follow his teachings.

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