COVID-19 has presented extraordinary challenges for many of our KEF Scholars. Without a central source of accurate information, hunger-inducing lockdowns, a lack of PPE and other sanitation equipment, many of our Scholars have had to step up and lead COVID relief efforts in their home communities around the world.
So what does a pandemic look like in conflict-ridden and politically unstable communities? Liaqat Ali, a KEF Scholar in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, has been on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 amidst his remote corner of the world.
On May 28th, 2018, just over two years ago, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan created the merger of the FATA into the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This merger was enacted to extend constitutional rights and governance to 5 million of the poorest people in Pakistan: an idealistic, yet complicated, goal. Prior to the absorption of the Tribal Areas into Pakistan, the FATA was ruled by the Frontier Crimes Regulations: an oppressive colonial-age system whose crippling effects have yet to fade. The FATA (now known as the newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) have been suffering from the hostile presence of the Taliban for over a decade, resulting in dangerous instability and large scale population displacement.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this has “heavily impacted people’s livelihoods, limiting food and livestock production, food consumption, and disruption to rural infrastructure and markets.” As of January 2020, around 1.2 million people in this region were categorized as being in a state of crisis or emergency in regards to food insecurity. As if this was not devastating enough, around 100,000 people are still displaced as their areas of origin have not yet been cleared to join the merger, meaning that they have still not received constitutional rights.
Shakeeb Asrar, Wajeeha Malik, Asad Hashim, and Hazeme Asif, 2019, Al Jazeera Media Network
Needless to say, COVID-19 is devastating to this region as they are already suffering from the effects of terrorism, food insecurity, and low levels of infrastructure. Due to its hostile climate, the FATA area has been mainly untouched by COVID relief programs. However, the FATA native, Liaqat, has not shied away from helping his community.
As a young boy, the Taliban captured Liaqat’s father and raided their home. He grew up with the mark of this trauma, continuously witnessing the destructive ways that geopolitics stunted his community’s development. Yet, due to his bravery and an internal drive for positive change, Liaqat refuses to flee his community. Instead, he arms himself with the power of his education, and plunges headfirst into the battle against COVID.
While he distributed COVID aid, Liaqat photographed the rubble of buildings that were destroyed by the Taliban.
With the help of his wife, Liaqat has been visiting refugee camps near the Afgan border, as well as other areas in desperate need of aid. In each settlement, the pair has used KEF’s Emergency grant to deliver sanitation materials including: gloves, masks, and other essential hygiene products. As a medical professional and one of the few educated women in the region, Liaqat’s wife has disseminated important messages of how to slow the spread of the virus as they moved along their border camp journey.
Rather than flee a difficult situation, Liaqat and his wife have taken advantage of their status as educated people. With the power of knowledge and KEF’s Emergency Grant, the pair has changed the lives of refugees whose circumstances left them unequipped to deal with this menacing pandemic alone. We at KEF help our Scholars complete their degrees so that they can put their education to work in their communities, and Liaqat is following this mission of “paying it forward” even amidst extreme circumstances.
1: The Integrated Phase Classification describes the severity of food emergencies. As of January 2020, 1.2 million people in the FATA region were either in Phase 3 (crisis) of Phase 4 (emergency).
Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 Pandemic 2020, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2020