WFP offers a lifeline to displaced families in northwest Pakistan

Food brings hope for tribal communities who’ve fled war and face the threat of coronavirus

By WFP staff

For Khaish Meena, a 65-year-old woman from northwest Pakistan, COVID-19 is yet another obstacle that she needs to confront, like any number of hardships she’s encountered over the decades. When law-and-order operations in her own region forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee in 2015, she made it to the Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“Leaving behind our homes, properties and our relatives is a hard thing to even think about,” says Khaish. “I came here with my sons and grandchildren. Life has not been easy here. One of my sons is disabled and the other is jobless so we can’t really support ourselves. We can only rely on others to support us.”

Khaish Meena’s family is among the 16,000 displaced families WFP is supporting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Photo: WFP/Photolibrary

The needs are many for Khaish and her family and food, of course, comes first. Since 2008, WFP has been providing food assistance to the displaced populations in the then Federal Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. At the onset of the operation, nearly half a million received WFP assistance. With improved security, the majority of them have since returned but 16,000 families remain.

Men line up for food assistance at the WFP food distribution point in the Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Photo: WFP/Photolibrary

Every month, Khaish receives a pack that consists of wheat flour, pulses, cooking oil and salt. While for a large family of three generations like hers, this is not always enough, it is the family’s only reliable source of food. Now, with the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, this food support has become ever more critical.

Khan Bibi is another woman whose family receives WFP food assistance.

“Yes, I know about this virus,” she says. “My sons are daily labourers. Now that all the shops and markets are closed, they can’t go out and look for work. I pray to God to stop this virus from spreading, it will make our lives more difficult if things continue like this.”

Temperature checks are mandatory. Photo: WFP/Photolibrary

When Khan and Khaish come to WFP’s food distribution site, their temperatures are taken. Everyone is asked to thoroughly wash their hands with water and soap before they proceed to the next step. When waiting in queue to verify their identity and collect the food, social distancing is observed, with people standing a metre apart in chalk circles.

After years of displacement and countless challenges, Khan and Khaish are ready to confront COVID-19 with their usual resilience. Prayer is a must, and hope remains.

Khan Bibi speaks to camera. Photo: WFP/video still

“We have to continue living, and living more carefully,” they say. “Who knows, if our area becomes safe maybe we will finally go back home one day.”

“The virus is unfortunately stopping the progress made that has helped families return and to become self-sufficient,” says Chris Kaye, WFP country director. “In this challenging time, it is essential that we continue to support vulnerable families like these to see them through this crisis.”

Read more about the World Food Programme’s work in Pakistan

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World Food Programme

World Food Programme

The United Nations World Food Programme works towards a world of Zero Hunger.