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The impact of Covid-19: How Pakistani workers are living with the new reality

Those Pakistanis who have suffered the most from the economic impact of the outbreak are primarily the country's daily wage workers and urban slum dwellers.

Updated June 07, 2020

Pakistan is estimated to have faced an economic loss of up to Rs2.5 trillion because of the Covid-19 pandemic in the current fiscal year and government figures project that around three million jobs are expected to be lost in the "initial round" of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Those Pakistanis who have suffered the most from the economic impact of the outbreak on lives and livelihoods are primarily the country's daily wage workers and urban slum dwellers.

This photo essay looks at how workers and their families are struggling through the restrictions and how some of them are finding ways and means to cope with the new reality.

Ishrat Arif applies cream to her face after taking a shower as her children play along with their cousins in the background at their one bedroom residence, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad. Ishrat's husband, Arif Masih, a daily-wage mason and a father of five children, is currently without a job because of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Ishrat Arif applies cream to her face after taking a shower as her children play along with their cousins in the background at their one bedroom residence, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad. Ishrat's husband, Arif Masih, a daily-wage mason and a father of five children, is currently without a job because of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Five-year-old Yushya sneaks a few rusks as his mother cleans the bedroom and tries to fight giving them back when his 15-year-old sister Samantha asks him to return them. A 30 cents bag of rusks is rationed in the household because of the tough times that the family is going through. Every member gets a certain quantity to eat for breakfast everyday, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.
Five-year-old Yushya sneaks a few rusks as his mother cleans the bedroom and tries to fight giving them back when his 15-year-old sister Samantha asks him to return them. A 30 cents bag of rusks is rationed in the household because of the tough times that the family is going through. Every member gets a certain quantity to eat for breakfast everyday, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.

Yushya (left) and two-year-old Cynthia (right) along with their cousins, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.
Yushya (left) and two-year-old Cynthia (right) along with their cousins, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.

15-year-old Samantha puts on make-up as the family gets ready to go to the nearby park, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.
15-year-old Samantha puts on make-up as the family gets ready to go to the nearby park, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.

Yushya plays with his mother's *dupatta* as he entertains the family, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.
Yushya plays with his mother's dupatta as he entertains the family, April 29, 2020, in Islamabad.

Arif Masih walks his family to the nearby park, an activity they do on a daily basis because they get tired of staying in their one bedroom, April 30, 2020 in Islamabad.
Arif Masih walks his family to the nearby park, an activity they do on a daily basis because they get tired of staying in their one bedroom, April 30, 2020 in Islamabad.

Arif Masih with his children Musa and Cynthia in the nearby park.
Arif Masih with his children Musa and Cynthia in the nearby park.

Ishrat sits on a swing during the family’s visit to the park. Going to the park not only serves as a respite for the children but also for adults, April 30, 2020 in Islamabad.
Ishrat sits on a swing during the family’s visit to the park. Going to the park not only serves as a respite for the children but also for adults, April 30, 2020 in Islamabad.

One of the busiest expressways in Islamabad after over 6-weeks of lockdown, May 3, 2020.
One of the busiest expressways in Islamabad after over 6-weeks of lockdown, May 3, 2020.

Children play in French colony, an urban slum that primarily houses the Christian community, May 3, 2020, in Islamabad.
Children play in French colony, an urban slum that primarily houses the Christian community, May 3, 2020, in Islamabad.

Sub-Inspector Fakhar Abbas telling shopkeepers to close down and abide by the 5pm call to shutdown shops, May 6, 2020, in Rawalpindi.
Sub-Inspector Fakhar Abbas telling shopkeepers to close down and abide by the 5pm call to shutdown shops, May 6, 2020, in Rawalpindi.

Beenish Fatima, Assistant Superintendent of Police at Civil Lines Circle, speaks to her team after returning from a round of her Covid-19 duties, May 6, 2020, in Rawalpindi.
Beenish Fatima, Assistant Superintendent of Police at Civil Lines Circle, speaks to her team after returning from a round of her Covid-19 duties, May 6, 2020, in Rawalpindi.

Arif Masih attends the Sunday mass in one of the streets in his neighbourhood along with his wife Ishrat and daughter Cynthia. Mosques in Pakistan remained open during the month of Ramazan but churches have remained closed until very recently. Photograph taken on May 10, 2020 in Islamabad.
Arif Masih attends the Sunday mass in one of the streets in his neighbourhood along with his wife Ishrat and daughter Cynthia. Mosques in Pakistan remained open during the month of Ramazan but churches have remained closed until very recently. Photograph taken on May 10, 2020 in Islamabad.

33-year-old Nusrat Bibi is one the two breadwinners in a family of seven. She had to quit her education once her father got ill and had to learn how to stitch to earn an income. During the current outbreak, she is stitching face masks from her home for Hashoo Foundation, a non-profit organisation that teaches vocational and entrepreneurial skills to women in impoverished areas, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.
33-year-old Nusrat Bibi is one the two breadwinners in a family of seven. She had to quit her education once her father got ill and had to learn how to stitch to earn an income. During the current outbreak, she is stitching face masks from her home for Hashoo Foundation, a non-profit organisation that teaches vocational and entrepreneurial skills to women in impoverished areas, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.

Nusrat Bibi, spends time with her mother Nurbano. Bibi and her brother are the only two members who earn an income in the family. Photograph taken on May 18, 2020 in Rawalpindi.
Nusrat Bibi, spends time with her mother Nurbano. Bibi and her brother are the only two members who earn an income in the family. Photograph taken on May 18, 2020 in Rawalpindi.

Nusrat Bibi watches television with her father Dost Ali who has been ill for many years, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.
Nusrat Bibi watches television with her father Dost Ali who has been ill for many years, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.

Nusrat Bibi sits down with her family and waits to open her fast during Iftar, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.
Nusrat Bibi sits down with her family and waits to open her fast during Iftar, May 18, 2020, in Rawalpindi.

District Forest Officer Gulzar Rehman holds a tree sapling with a torch on his phone at the nursery where out-of-work labourers have now been hired by the government as 'jungle workers' in an initiative to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats at Garhi Saleh Muhammad Nursery on the outskirts of Peshawar, May 11, 2020.
District Forest Officer Gulzar Rehman holds a tree sapling with a torch on his phone at the nursery where out-of-work labourers have now been hired by the government as 'jungle workers' in an initiative to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats at Garhi Saleh Muhammad Nursery on the outskirts of Peshawar, May 11, 2020.

A worker does weeding at the Garhi Saleh Muhammad Nursery.
A worker does weeding at the Garhi Saleh Muhammad Nursery.

Forester Adalat Khan holds a tree sapling in the field where labourers who went out of work due to the Covid-19 outbreak have now been hired by the government as 'jungle workers' in a reforestation drive to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats, May 11, 2020 in Azakhel Mattani, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Forester Adalat Khan holds a tree sapling in the field where labourers who went out of work due to the Covid-19 outbreak have now been hired by the government as 'jungle workers' in a reforestation drive to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats, May 11, 2020 in Azakhel Mattani, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Workers tend to plants, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.
Workers tend to plants, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.

A man working as part of the government’s initiative to plant 10 billion trees takes water from the tanker for the plants, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.
A man working as part of the government’s initiative to plant 10 billion trees takes water from the tanker for the plants, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.

Abu Hurera, who is currently out of school because of Covid-19, tends to plants while working for the government’s initiative to plant 10 billion trees, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.
Abu Hurera, who is currently out of school because of Covid-19, tends to plants while working for the government’s initiative to plant 10 billion trees, May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.

A worker waters a tree sapling while forester Adalat Khan supervises out-of-work labourers who have now been engaged by the government to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats, on May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.
A worker waters a tree sapling while forester Adalat Khan supervises out-of-work labourers who have now been engaged by the government to plant 10-billion trees to deal with climate change threats, on May 11, 2020, in Azakhel Mattani.


Saiyna Bashir is a Pakistani photojournalist. While working in the US she was awarded the Rookie Reporter of the Year award by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for her coverage of the African-Muslim community residing in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work has gained her recognition as one of the 20 emerging female photographers. She was awarded a grant from National Geographic Society for in-depth coverage that depicts the socio-economic impact of Pakistanis living in urban slums. Her photos have been published alongside news stories in The NYT, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Al-Jazeera, The Telegraph, Huffington Post, and others.

See more of her work on www.saiynabashirphoto.com and @saiynabashirphoto


This work was supported by the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Fund for Journalists.