Islamabad - The globally acclaimed Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme emerged as a most extensive social protection intervention in the history of Pakistan which has empowered the weakest segments of society in the unusual circumstances of COVID-19 lockdown.

The initiative was launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 1, 2020 to provide one-time emergency cash of Rs12,000 to the piece rate and daily wage workers, realising the economic hardship faced by the vulnerable groups due to the corona lockdown in the country.

The large-budget initiative has so far disbursed an amount of Rs180 billion among 15 million families representing half of the country’s population while the payment process was still continued for those who remained unable to collect their amount due to faulty bio-metric issues and death of beneficiaries.

The micro analysis of the country’s labour work force revealed that there were 24 million breadwinners in the country who either work as daily wage workers, at piece rate enumeration or self employed in the country’s large informal economy. When this figure is multiplied with the family size, the country has 160 million of such individuals which is two third of the total population.

The Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, conceptualized by the Prime Minister Imran Khan and supported by the federal cabinet, was launched to mitigate the socio-economic damage from the lockdown and focused on utilising all the options for providing cash assistance to the poorest people who lost their jobs due to closure of businesses amid lockdown.

The daily wagers and labourers whose livelihoods were affected badly during the lockdown were asked to send SMS on 8171 through wide advertisement after which 139 million SMS were received. The details of the applicants were scrutinised through data analytics and different parameters to select the most eligible beneficiaries in a transparent manner. 

The payment process was started through the designated banks and retailer outlets with ensuring compliance of COVID Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) while many challenges were faced like cyber attacks, biometric failures, unregistered deaths, closure of banks and relevant institutions etc.

According to a study conducted by UNICEF, UN and IPC-IG to assess social protection response in Asia focusing on an extensive mapping and overview of how social protection measures were deployed by the countries in Asia and the Pacific region in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Pakistan covered highest number of responses to social protection in Asia through Ehsaas Emergency Cash. 

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar, who is heading Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, is committed to ensure transparency in all schemes being implemented under the umbrella of Ehsaas.

Sughran Bibi, a widow of Mohammad Sharif, resident of Chak 40-GB Satyana, who visited BISP office, Satyana Road for receiving financial assistance sai that she was looking after seven daughters and two sons with disabilities.

She expressed her satisfaction over the cash support and praised Prime Minister Imran Khan for considering the miserable condition of the poor people who suffered the most during the lockdown. 

She said that she received the cash amount after biometric verification process without any delay and the staff at the payment centre was very supportive.

Another beneficiary, Yaqoob Khan who is a resident of Nishter Colony, Lahore, termed the facilities at Ehsaas Kafalat Centre in Nishter Town as remarkable. He said that special arrangements including clean drinking water, sitting, waiting room and shelters besides security were ensured to facilitate the people visiting the centres.

The SOPs pertaining to Covid-19 were strictly implemented by the district administration to contain spread of virus, he said and added that SMS alert system to inform the applicant about his eligibility and payment collection was an effective step to avoid inconvenience for the people.

Haji Mushtaq, a beneficiary from Lahore appreciated the efforts of the government for taking care of the poor and vulnerable sections of society in the difficult circumstances. He said that he was provided with financial assistance of Rs12,000 during Covid-19 pandemic when he was struck hard owing to the lockdown and lost his daily wage work. However the cash amount under Ehsaas proved as a blessing for my family in hour of need.

According to the provincial breakdown of Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme disbursed and withdrawal amount till Nov 06, an amount of Rs92459.628 million has been disbursed to the bank in Punjab while Rs79999.338 million has been withdrawn. 

A total amount of Rs60532.548 million has been disbursed to the bank in Sindh out of which Rs55305.1245 million have been withdrawn; Rs34914.384 million disbursed to bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which Rs.30390.04325 million withdrawn and Rs9593.364 million disbursed to bank in Azad Jammu and Kashmir out of which Rs2826.825 withdrawn.

An amount of Rs952.488 million has been disbursed to bank in Islamabad out of which Rs833.8525 million withdrawn and Rs1494.396 million disbursed to bank in Gilgit-Baltistan and Rs1346.74975 million withdrawn.

The ongoing programmes under the umbrella of Ehsaas also include Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship, Ehsaas Langar Scheme, Ehsaas Kafalat, Ehsaas Interest Free Loans, Ehsaas Amdan, Waseela-i-Taleem Initiative and Ehsaas Nashonuma and billions of rupees have been disbursed under these initiatives to benefit millions of people.