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.”


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 March 2019
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.