Fighting Pakistan’s food waste, one lunch box at a time

The men behind Rizq: From left: Musa Aamir, Qasim Javaid and Huzaifa Ahmad.
Updated 25 September 2017
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Fighting Pakistan’s food waste, one lunch box at a time

LAHORE: Every afternoon for 20 years, Huzaifa Ahmad’s mother opened the door of her home in Lahore and fed dozens of people who had nothing to eat.
“All of us in the family were instructed not to take more than we could eat, so that no one would go back hungry,” said Huzaifa.
Eventually, the young man realized that his mother’s efforts alone could not eliminate hunger from Pakistan, and that more work was needed to address both hunger and food waste.
In 2015, Huzaifa, Qasim Javaid and Musa Aamir — friends from Lahore University of Management Sciences — set up Rizq, Pakistan’s first food recovery and distribution service. Since then, with the support of 720 volunteers, Rizq has collected more than 30,000kg of food, distributed more than 150,000 meals, saved food worth more than $85,000 and fed 200 families a day.
Before establishing a food bank, Rizq goes into communities that are seriously underprivileged and conducts feasibility surveys. “Families come to the food bank and register themselves for food support. All families are registered after proper verification,” Qasim said.
Rizq now has one food bank in Lahore and another in Islamabad, and aims to establish 50 more across the country in the next five years. “We want to establish food banks in some of the most food-insecure pockets of the country and hopefully make those pockets food secure,” Qassim said.
Their customized rickshaw bikes, which they call as Rizq-shaws, collect excess food from across the city and bring it to the food bank. “The food is then checked for quality, sorted, packed and then sold at a minimal cost, as low as 10 rupees per meal,” which is about 10 US cents. Families that can still not afford this are given food free.
The Rizq food bank also serves as a community center, Musa said. “When a family comes for food support, we investigate why they are food insecure. We help one of the family members to learn technical skills and earn a living. During the training program, the family receives free food support. Once the member graduates and finds a job, the family stops getting the free assistance. Thus, we focus not only on giving free handouts but also building human capacities.”
Rizq also provides free lunch boxes to underprivileged schoolchildren. “We have adopted two schools so far and are feeding 350 students on a daily basis. We design lunch boxes according to the nutritional deficiencies of the community children.”
Rizq is not a charity, but a business model, Musa said. “We are a company that makes food philanthropy smarter. We assist whoever wants to share excess food. We pick food from their doorstep for a fee and distribute it to the needy at a minimal cost. Similarly, if someone wants to feed school lunches to children, we design school lunches for them.”
Like his other two friends, Musa, 23, has no regrets about making philanthropy his career, although all three have now graduated. “We are earning decently. Perhaps a little less than the market rate but at least we are doing what we love.
“If I got anything right in my life until now, then this is it. I have learnt a lot and grown a lot, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.”
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says that although Pakistan produces enough food to feed its 180 million people, more than half of households can be classified as food insecure. Its figures suggest that the cost of a basket of food staples rose by 80 percent between 2007 and 2017. Pakistanis now spend 48.9 percent of their income on food. The province of Sindh is the poorest and most deprived food-deprived province, with 72 percent of families food insecure, followed by Baluchistan, with 63.5 percent.
OXFAM says about 40 percent of food in Pakistan is wasted. “Enough food is produced to feed the entire population but because of food waste an estimated 6 out of 10 people go to bed hungry,” it said.
“Food waste is a crime,” Musa said. “The government of Pakistan should take food waste seriously and introduce laws. Many governments in the West either incentivize restaurants and consumers to share more food, or penalize them for wasting food. Such attempts will go a long way to solving the problem.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.