Saba, 25, resides with her eight-member family in Mohallah Railway station at Pithoro Taluka[1]. Her home is three kilometers away from Community World Service Asia’s health center in Pithoro of Umerkot District. Saba was in her third trimester in November 2020.

“My husband worked in a textile company as part of the skilled labor before he lost his job amid COVID-19 and was earning PKR-15,000/month. In August 2020, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis. It has been difficult to make ends meet, as my husband was the sole bread earner. We had to take loan from relative to keep our livelihoods going.”

Diarrhea, Tuberculosis (TB), Hepatitis, skin infections and malnutrition are some of the more common health problems reported among communities in Pithoro. During Covid-19 it was very difficult for these rural communities to access medicine and other health services as most humanitarian organisations were unable to operate due to strict restrictions or closures of offices.

“I was able to visit the health facility for checkups as the women medical staff at the Mother Neonatal Child Health Centre is very comforting and efficient in healthcare delivery.”

Saba visited CWSA’s health facility with her sister-in-law for the first time in her first trimester.

“I was so pleased with the health services. The medical doctor conducted a thorough check-up and prescribed some medicines, which I easily got from the pharmacy free of cost. The medical team also gave a health session to maintain a healthy diet and shared a diet plan for me to follow. I strictly follow the plan and it has been very beneficial in terms of health. I did not feel weak or tired throughout my pregnancy period.”

Saba has to face some challenges due to the unavailability of laboratory services in the health facility.

“We have to travel to Mirpurkhas for blood tests, Ultrasound, Hepatitis, Urine-DR and blood CP. Moreover, the tests can be expensive with one blood test costing up to PKR 1500 (Approx. USD 9) in the district’s laboratory. People in my neighborhood do not have sufficient income to manage their household expenses. For this reason, we cannot afford additional expenses of healthcare at quality medical facilities.”

ⁱ A tehsil (of taluka) is an administrative division in some countries of the Indian subcontinent that is usually translated to “township”.

“For years, I have been chopping wood and selling it in the local market known as Pithoro Market. The COVID-19 lead lockdown imposed in our district minimised work opportunities for many of us. Market places had been shut down and people stayed indoors with no opportunity for businesses to operate or grow. Consequently, I was also unable to sell the wood and earn any sort of income. To further add to our worries, we also lost our home during the heavy rains in August (2020). Our house was made of mud and was fragile. We were forced to move out of the village as most of the village was flooded with rainwater. To survive, we built a tent near the main road on a nearby higher ground as a temporary shelter. We have been living here for weeks now. We plan to rebuild our home as soon as the land dries out and return to our village.”

Jarviz is a father to five children and belongs to a remote village named Saint John Colony, located in Talka[1] Pithoro in district Umerkot of Sindh. He is the sole breadwinner for his family despite being physically disabled due to polio at a very young age. Before COVID-19 hit the country, Jarviz earned PKR 200 daily (approx. USD 1) which was not quite sufficient to cover all the needs and expenses of his family of seven (including himself) but the family stayed together and lived on a day to day basis. Jarviz has been a strong man and always helpful towards everyone he knew and is therefore an inspirational member of the community’s Village Committee for over a year now.

“I have been a member of Saint John Colony’s Village Committee (VC) since its formation in August 2019. We are ten members in total with equal numbers of both genders. The committee is formed to ensure community participation and facilitate Community World Service Asia’s (CWSA) health project team in project planning, implementation, and coordination with government line departments and other NGOs. The main objective is to address the problems and needs of the community together. As an active member, I have been involved in conducting health sessions and organising free medical health camps with the project team in remote villages in the area,” shared Jarviz Masih. 

Jarviz also remotely took part in the health sessions conducted by CWSA’s health team on COVID-19 safety in May and June 2020, under its health program.

The sessions sensitised me on social distancing, hand washing, using protective gear and avoiding public gathering to eliminate the transmission of the virus. In addition, the team held sessions on family planning and health and hygiene. One of the key purposes of these sessions were for VC members to replicate the teachings in our communities to make communities aware on COVID-19 preventive and safety measures as much as possible. I myself delivered sessions sensitising 157 people in my village in the following two months. The health team has been continuously providing remote counselling and educating us on accessing Taluka hospitals in case of emergency or other general health issues.”

“In one instance, a woman in our neighborhood delivered a baby at home in an emergency. After her delivery, due to high blood pressure, she suffered from fits. I immediately contacted the health team and they advised us to immediately head towards the THQ[2] Pithoro, as the medical staff of the government was available there. The paramedic in Pithoro referred the women to the Female Medical Officer in Mirpurkhas hospital. The timely counselling and consultations benefitted and the woman was safely and immediately admitted to the hospital and is being treated well,” narrated Jarviz.

As a humanitarian response to the COVID-19 crisis, Community World Service Asia (CWSA), with support of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), implemented a project addressing the immediate needs of affected communities in Umerkot district in Sindh province of Pakistan. Jarviz was selected as a participant of this project.

“A cash assistance of PKR 24,000 was provided to me and my family in two installments in the months of August and September 2020. With the money received, I purchased groceries for my family to put food on the table. In addition, I bought some clothes and crockery items for my daughter as her wedding is planned in a month’s time. The assistance was very beneficial and timely for me and my family.”

[1] A tehsil (of taluka) is an administrative division in some countries of the Indian subcontinent that is usually translated to “township”.

[2] Taluka Headquarters

Under the Enhancing disaster resilience against droughts in Sindh Province project, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan,[1]  eight Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) committees have been set up in eight villages, with fifteen members in each. Established in April 2019, the committees work towards strengthening the local community’s capacity to manage emergencies and collaborate with government agencies and relevant authorities to reduce risks during emergencies. These DRR committees play a pivotal role in facilitating the implementation and oversight of the project and to ensure community ownership and inclusion to maintain its long-term sustainability.

As physical interaction and implementation of any kind was not possible after the nation-wide lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country since March, Community World Service Asia’s DRR team got in touch with the members of the committees through mobile phones. Together they discussed ways of raising community awareness on COVID-19 symptoms and how to stay safe from it. Upon agreement, training sessions with the DRR committees were planned and conducted in April 2020.

Haji Chanesar village in Umerkot district was one of the selected areas and five members of its DRR Committee were part of the remote training session. They were informed about what communities should be doing to be prepared to respond to a case, how to identify a case once it occurs, and how to properly implement the preventive measures to ensure there is no further transmission of the virus.

Prem, 28, is married and a father to three children. After completing his intermediate, he was engaged in different volunteer work as he had grave interest in helping others. As a member of the DRR Committee, he looks after and operates the RO plant established in the village and also supports in the implementation of the project activities. Prem, who is an active member of the DRR Committee of Haji Chanesar village was one of the participants in this training.

The trained members of the committee then replicated the learnings separately in a number of neighbouring villages. Over two hundred local community members were introduced to information on COVID-19 and learnt basic hygiene measures to protect against the infection. By the end of these awareness sessions, communities were able to identify basic symptoms of coronavirus, common transmission channels, how to assess the risk of infection and key preventive measures.

An isolation room was established in Haji Chanesar, in case anyone is infected or is suspicious of being infected. The sessions alerted the villagers and they followed all SOPs[2] strictly especially at homes.

“In my home, none of my children go out to play nor does my wife socialize with her friends or family. We have limited our external activities, and we only go out when food or important household commodities need to be purchased. We have been fortunate till date as no case of coronavirus has come up. To prevent the spread of the virus in our area, we remain secure at home and maintain physical distance,” Prem concluded positively.

[1] Disaster Risk Reduction
[2] Standard of Procedures

“I earn PKR 300 everyday (Approx. USD 3) working at a brick kiln. I also own ten acres of farmland; however, the cultivation is far less due to lack of rainfall and proper irrigation in the area. This year I was only able to grow Guar[1] on the field as the cash assistance provided by Community World Service Asia was consumed for tillage on the land. I purchased Guar seeds from a loan I took from a local seller. I am confident that I will be able to pay off the loan after the harvest season,” shares Mangal, a resident of Vickloker village, located in Umerkot. He lives with five other members of his family. Before the locust attacks they all lived a comfortable and content life together.

In 2019, Mangal cultivated Guar on his land, but the locust invasions completely destroyed the crops. The attacks proved to be catastrophic for the local crops in most parts of Southern Pakistan. Lack of harvest in the area affected the livelihoods of many farmers.

“The earnings we received after selling the crops helped us fulfil our family needs and household expenses. Sadly, this year we had nothing to sell or earn. The local farmers have followed conventional approaches to combat the attack of the locusts. These techniques included making noise and the use of fire smoke. Unfortunately, these attempts did not help much and most of the fields were left bare and eaten. As a result there was no harvest season.”

As part of an Emergency Response project, Community World Service Asia (CWSA), supported by Japan Platform, provided cash assistance to 1600 agrarian families this August. Rural families whose livelihoods were most affected by locust attacks and COVID-19 received conditional cash grants that helped farmers to plough lands to eradicate locust eggs before hatching.

“If effective steps to stop the hatching of new eggs are not taken, existing crops will be destroyed and this will eventually have a significant impact on farmers’ food security and welfare. However, the support we got this year saved us.”

Mangal’s family was among families that received a cash grant of PKR 13500/- (Approx. USD 86) under the emergency response project in Umerkot.

Mangal plans to save some of the harvested crops for household use and sell the rest in the local market as a means of livelihood.

“The money is going to help me repay the loan I took earlier to manage household expenses and to help me buy food for my family.”

[1] Guar is an important legume crop. It is cultivated for fodder as well as for grain purpose.

Chothay is a 26 year old mother of three who lives with her husband, Kapil and children in Haji Chanesar village of Umerkot.

“My husband teaches at a nearby private primary school. We also grow cotton and wheat as joint croppers on a 5-acre field close to our house. Together with my husband’s salary and our earnings from the field, we bring home an income of PKR 15,000/- (Approx. USD 91) every month.”

Most of Chothay and Kapil’s income is spent on household utilities and ensuring to provide three meals for their children. The couple’s elder daughter attends a private school in the locality for which they pay a monthly fee of PKR 1000/- (Approx. USD 6).

“We are used to cooking on conventional mud-made stoves, which have one burner that results in contiguous smoke emissions. This meant more fuel consumption and the fire was hard to manage. The intense fire also damaged cooking utensils and left dark stains on all our crockery and cutlery. With the fire being unmanageable due to high winds, there have been many cases of houses burning down or women’s hands being burned or lungs being affected due to spending long hours in the kitchen. It even took longer to cook the food,” explained Chothay.

Gathering wood for the fire was also a laborious job often shouldered by the women in the house.

“Most of us would have bruised hands and legs when we return from fetching firewood due to the difficulty in breaking the branches and shrubs from trees and bigger plants.” 

In October 2019, Community World Service Asia conducted a training on making and using fuel-efficient stoves for twenty-five women in Haji Chanesar. The participants of the training were taught how to construct the stoves and were sensitised on its health and environmental benefits, including reduction of smoke emissions and decreased deforestation with lesser wood consumption. These trained women then replicated the same training in more than five hundred households in over sixty villages in the last ten months.

“We witnessed multiple fire flaring-up incidents in Haji Chanesar in the months of May and June last year, resulting in burnt hands, depreciated kitchen utensils and increased air pollution due to the smoke. Whereas, ever since we have started using fuel-efficient stoves, such accidents have minimised. Lesser shrubs and branches are used and cut down now which has also resulted in increased forestry and greenery,” said Chothay.

Chothay and many housewives of rural Umerkot now consume less fuel to cook as compared to when using traditional stoves.

“We are now saving time as well as energy while cooking our meals. We are coughing less and cooking more all while using two burners simultaneously. It has also reduced health risks as we do not burn our hands and less smoke is generated. We are using lesser wood which has reduced deforestation in our area and we now see more greenery in our area which is refreshing.”

Ratni is a 70-year-old widow who lives with her son and his family in Senate John Colony, located in Pithoro of Umerkot district in Sindh, Pakistan. They all live together in a cob house made of mud and straw.

“My son, Khemchand, is a teacher at a local private school. He used to earn a reasonable monthly income of PKR 8000 before COVID-19 forced all schools in the region to shut down. The school administration discontinued paying its teachers as the school was not equipped to carry out online classes and there were no incoming student fees that could cover teachers’ salaries. However, the recent monsoons brought some relief to us agrarian communities. The rains have revived the agricultural activities and have given us opportunities to work on the fields. My son and daughter-in-law started working on the fields and were able to bring home some income through that. It was not much but was better than nothing. Sometimes, I would also assist them on the field to earn a bit more to make ends meets.”

The harvest season lasts three months in rain-fed areas of Umerkot and until the next monsoon season arrives, there will be less or no opportunities to work on the fields. Therefore, Ratni, Khemchand and his wife had no work to do once the three-month period ended in August.

“We had no livelihood by then and were forced to sell some of our household possessions to buy essential food supplies for the house and particularly for my four young grand-children. We also had to take some loan from our neighbours when there was nothing left to sell.”

Community World Service Asia (CWSA), with support of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is implementing a Humanitarian Assistance project responding to the immediate needs of drought affected Communities in Umerkot. As part of the project, 1, 206 families will be provided with two cash grants, each of PKR 12,000 in September through mobile cash transfer services to address food insecurity caused by drought, repeated locust-attacks and the economic implications of COVID-19.

Senate John Colony’s Village Committeeⁱ provided a list of families living in the area who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters to be supported through the project. As a result, CWSA’s emergency response team contacted Ratni as a project participant and she received the first cash assistance of PKR 12000 (Approx. USD 72).

“Through the money I received, I paid back the loans I had taken from neigbhours to survive in the last months and bought some food essentials for home. I have also saved some money to buy school books for my grandchildren for when the schools resume.”

ⁱ Village Committees are voluntary associations established for local administration. They are extra constitutional authorities comprised of 7-8 members including male and female from different caste in the village.

Dodo (far right) with his family

Dodo Maru Bheel is a 74-year-old father of two children, a son and a daughter, and a resident of Moriya village in UC Sekhro district of Umerkot, Sindh. He and his wife and younger daughter currently live with their son and his family (of six members, a wife and four children). Dodo has a visual impairment but he has never considered that as a disability or something that would hinder his life plans or goals. He is as resilient as can be and everyone in the village admires his determination and strength.

Dodo experienced a fatal road accident a few years ago. Due to an unavailability of an ambulance or timely first aid in the area, Dodo was unable to access appropriate medical facilities which further worsened his injuries from the accident. Since his financial conditions were unfavourable, he could not even afford most of the prescribed treatment at a bigger health centre in the nearest urban city. Dodo suffered a severe head injury which eventually lead him to lose his eye-sight completely.

With his sudden visual impairment, Dodo was unable to find any employment or paid work. He used to work as a daily labourer in the Umerkot city and surrounding areas. The elderly couple, along with their daughter, hence became financially dependent on their son. Their son, a daily wager, worked as a mason and the money he earnt barely met his own family’s basic day-to-day expenses, let alone a whole household of now nine members.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan, the government imposed a country-wide lockdown to restrict the spread of the virus. Many daily wagers lost their jobs during the lockdown; Dodo’s son was among them. The family could barely afford a single meal a day. Dodo and his son were struggling to keep their house running and their families fed. This dire situation prompted Dodo to sell a few of his goats during the days leading up to Eid-ul-Adha in late July 2020. His goats were his only remaining livestock and a supporting income means. Dodo also borrowed some money during the early days of the lockdown from a local landlord to meet their household expenses.

In April 2020, Dodo’s wife had received cash assistance of PKR 12000 (approx. US $ 71) from Ehsaas Kafalat Program as a part of the government’s COVID-19 relief fund. With that amount, Dodo and his wife planned to run a small scale, home-based business but his former creditors pushed him to pay back his loans with that amount so he was unable to use it for anything else.

The lockdown in the country has now eased but COVID-19 has left the country in a severe economic crisis that has pushed many underprivileged communities into poverty. Dodo and his son sold almost all the resources they had to sustain their family’s survival needs and are left with nothing now.

Community World Service Asia and UMCOR have initiated a project to respond to the needs of hazard and COVID-19 affected marginalised communities in rural Sindh. As part of the project, together with the support of village committees, the project selected Dodo as a participant of its cash-assistance. This will ensure that Dodo receives PKR 24000/- in two monthly installments to start his own small scale, home-based business.

Dodo and his family are happy to be selected and are looking forward to efficiently utilising the cash that they will receive next week and returning to a somewhat normal semblance of their life, as they did before the COVID-19 crisis. Dodo also hopes to save some of this money to consult an eye specialist for his eye-sight treatment.

Champa and her family outside their home in St. John’s colony earlier this year.

Thirty-eight-year-old Champa is a mother to six children and a wife of a daily-wage carpenter belonging to St. John Colony in Umerkot. Both Champa and her husband are physically impaired and the family’s only source of income is her husband’s daily labour.

St. John’s colony is basically a remote village that has a difficult access and hardly any basic facilities like health centers, schools or market places. With a meagre income that is insufficient to meet the needs of a family of eight, Champa has always been struggling to feed her children well and fulfill their everyday needs.

“My husband works only when someone requests for him or there is a general call for carpentry.  The days that he does work, he earns PKR 600 (US $ 3.5) a day, which is immediately consumed to purchase kitchen essentials such as flour, oil and lentils. We cannot afford to send our children to school with this income.  We barely make ends meet and sometimes save a small amount to meet our healthcare expenses when needed.”

In early March this year, Champa had not been feeling well and was advised by her relatives to visit the health facility located in Samaro village of Umerkot district. This health facility is set up and operational under Community World Service Asia and Act for Peace’s health project. Under the said project, CWSA is providing clinical health support in two Taulka Headquarter Hospitals (THQs) in district Umerkot with focus on Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) Services. The health services includes routine outpatient services (OPD), provision of free of cost essential medication and a full range of preventive and curative health services and continuum of care including family planning, newborn care, and child health. Other community based interventions includes formation of Village Health Management Committees and their capacity building. The health centers are facilitating in addressing the health needs of the community and in raising awareness on health issues and rights of women and children. At the Samaro health center, which is, just two kilometers away, Champa was diagnosed with and treated for diarrhea and was straightaway delivered a wheelchair as well.

Like many other families in Pakistan and even across the globe, Champa’s family has also been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has multiplied the economically struggling family’s challenges and have left them penniless.

“There is no work and no income now. Most of the days, my children sleep with an empty stomach because we cannot even afford a single meal in a day. We have no money to buy flour, rice or even a few vegetables. We did attempt to loan off some money from our relatives and friends but everyone around us is in a tough spot. COVID-19 has affected everyone, mostly financially.”

Sindh’s merciless summer has not made it any easier for Champa’s family. Extreme heat and sky-rocketing temperatures have left her children dehydrated and with little or no food, their immune systems have become very weak, catching infections easily. Her children have suffered from heat induced diarrhea, throat infections and high fevers ever since the pandemic hit the region. Alarmingly, Champa has nowhere to take her children for health care as the nearest health centre in Samaro is now closed due to the pandemic driven lockdown. Travel bans and financial limitations have restricted them from accessing other hospitals or clinics located farther off.

I cannot even think of taking my children to any other hospital other than the one in Samaro because we cannot afford it. We do not have the money to pay consultation fees, buy medicines or travel,” shared Champa.

Despite the temporary closure of the health centre, Community World Service Asia’s teams have initiated awareness sessions on prevention and safety from Coronaviruses 19 for many communities living in the Umerkot district. These sessions are planned and conducted in coordination with local government health departments, Community Health Management and Village Health[1] committees. Working collaboratively, the teams are raising awareness as part of a larger effort to unify communities to prevent the further spread of the virus in the area.

The health sessions on coronavirus focus on limiting movement, avoiding small or large gatherings, maintaining social distancing and healthy hygiene and sanitation practices. The teams utilised the vast array of informational educational material (IEC) available on the COVID-19 and translated it in local languages and thoroughly oriented the communities on it.

Village Health Committee members of St. John Colony delivered a training on COVID-19 awareness and safety measures against it and shared relevant awareness raising material with their fellow community members. Champa and her family participated in one of the sessions conducted in April, 2020.

“We know what the coronavirus is now. We learnt to keep our loved ones safe at home and adopt clean hygiene to avoid the spread of the virus. My children wash their hands frequently and do not play outside their home. They are mostly engaged in small indoor games now. My husband and I only go outside our home when there is a dire need. This is a dangerous virus and we have to stop the spread so that everything can be as normal as it was in 2019 for my husband to start work again and earn a living for our family,” expressed Champa.

[1] CWSA formed Health Management Committees (HMCs) at Taulka Level and Village Health Committees (VHCs) with equal representation of women and men (5 women and 5 men). The purpose of these Committees is to build and maintain accountability mechanisms for community-level health services provided by the Community World Service Asia and Government Health Department. The Committees play an important role in planning and monitoring of the health care services in collaboration with CWSA health team.

Photo credit: Unicef Pakistan

[ucaddon_blox_gradient_boxed_small_round_icon_box description=”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” title=”Prays for the virus to go away” align=”left” uc_fonts_data=”JTdCJTdE”]

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to engulf more cities and rural communities, all and any kind of travel and movement between cities and external borders has been halted in Pakistan. Before the travel restrictions were imposed, Community World Service Asia’s (CWSA) team working on a Food Security and Disaster Risk Reduction(DRR) project supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, conducted awareness-raising sessions on preventive measures against COVID-19 with the communities that they work with. With the imposed lockdown, those activities had to be stopped as well.

As an alternate way to continue raising awareness and minimize the threat of the virus further spreading our teams decided to engage Village Committees[1] (VC) in the mobilization processes. CWSA project staff teams conducted online sessions over mobile telephones with members of Community Based Organisations(CBOs) and Disaster Risk Reduction Committees, both community-based structures established by the project to ensure community ownership and engagement, of eight villages in Umerkot. The sessions aimed at enhancing knowledge of community members on the COVID-19 disease, its signs and symptoms and precautionary measures to be taken. Through these sessions, selected community members were trained and were asked to replicate the same trainings within their communities.

We received soaps from the  Chairman of the Union Council, which we distributed door to door in Surto Oad village. We also informed the people in the village on frequent hand washing to maintain cleanliness at homes and the surrounding environment. We were told to maintain social distancing and avoid participation in social gatherings to reduce the chances of being infected,

 shared Shiva Ram President and DRR Committee Member in Surto Oad village of Umerkot.

To share our learning ahead, we are mobilizing people to avoid unnecessary movement during the lockdown situation. With the help and guidance of the CWSA’s team, we have identified an isolated place where any suspect of the coronavirus will be quarantined. These isolation rooms have been identified and set up in various villages where awareness sessions have been conducted. The villagers have converted their Otaqs, which are drawing rooms or guest rooms located at a distance from family homes in rural household settings, into isolation rooms. All community members been made aware of signs and symptoms of coronavirus and are advised to immediately shift suspected people to the isolated place identified in the village. We have also updated our DRR plan with the emergency contact details of government and other line departments to be used in case of suspected patients or emergency,

added Shiva.

The online sessions not only focused on sharing practical information on COVID-19 but also sensitized communities on building societies grounded in solidarity, equity, and care for one another. Motan, a DRR committee member from Haji Chenasar village in Umerkot said,

Farmers are busy hoeing and harvesting Okra crop. While working in the fields, all farmers wear masks or take over a cloth to cover their mouth and maintain six feet distance. Our earnings have decreased as a result of the lockdown as work opportunities are limited. There is limited aid from the government and civil society organizations. We are being offered to work in agricultural fields but at very low wages. If the situation is prolonged and markets do not open, the food security and livelihood situation will become challenging for us.

In order to minimize the spread of the virus, I wash my hands with soap at least 10 times a day and also teach the same to my children and other children of the village. We wear masks whenever we step outside our homes and cover our mouth when sneezing or coughing. My family and I are not going out or visiting our relatives now. We only go outside when we need to purchase food or household items. When a guest arrives at our place, we ensure social distancing and sit six feet away from each other,

shared Hurmi, who is a member of the Village Committee in Haji Chensar Mari village.

Some Village Committees’ members in Umerkot are forced to discontinue their jobs and stay at home until the situation is contained. Social distancing and home isolation are effective measures to control the spread of the virus but is simultaneously having adverse impacts on women and children in terms of gender-based violence (GBV), child-abuse and increased manual labour.

In Pakistan, figures on GBV are expected to rise as the poorest of communities are continuing to lose their livelihoods and income. Women are categorized as the more vulnerable in the current crisis and need to be at the forefront in all awareness-raising, mental and physical health activities associated with COVID-19 response. To ensure their inclusion and to address the risks associated with the pandemic for women, twenty-four sessions on gender implications of COVID-19 and best practices on minimizing these risks were conducted among rural communities (both men and women) in Umerkot in the month of April.

Establishing and strengthening village committees in target villages has proven to be effective in terms of awareness and knowledge building on COVID-19 among communities. This would not have been possible without the communities showing keen interest and being proactive in learning, practicing and sharing the information to reduce the risks of the virus spreading in their homeland.

While rural communities are struggling to make ends meet and to ensure a means of food security for their families, the pandemic is indiscriminately impacting both rural and urban communities in terms of businesses closing down and unemployment rising rapidly. It is expected that between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people in various sectors may lose their jobs in Pakistan. In Punjab province alone, at least half a million textile and garment-industry workers have lost their jobs[2].

[1] A body of like-minded people representing households in a certain locality for to help in improving the localities in terms of progress and awareness building on different matters. These community groups have been established by CWSA through its projects to ensure community participation and ownership of programs.

[2] Pakistan Workers’ Federation (since March 28th)