COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: With the holy month of Ramadan where physically fit Muslims undergo their 30-days fasting that began on Monday the town of Pagalungan, Maguindanao and the Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) Philippines distributed food packs to vulnerable families in five communities affected by the recent drought.

Maguindanao was one of the first provinces that declared a state of calamity in the first quarter of the year after severely affected by El Niño. In March 2016, the Department of Agriculture in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) reported that P140 million worth of crops were destroyed.

To provide short-term relief for drought-affected families in these areas, IRW Philippines distributed 1,960 food packs to almost 10,000 individuals from the villages of Kudal, Bago-enged, Galakit, Inug-ug and Damalasak in Pagalungan. The food pack includes 15 kilos of rice, vegetable oil, salt and assorted canned goods.

The food packs were prepared to meet the nutritional requirements of a family for at least five days. These were provided to families who could not afford to buy food for suhoor and iftar. Suhoor refers to the past midnight dinner taken by Muslims who go on the daily fasting for the period of 30 days, while iftar is the breaking of the fast at dusk or early evening.

Zaman Kawasa and his family are among the most vulnerable in Barangay Inug-ug. He raises six grandchildren by selling nipa. The children, aged six to 10, were left to his care after their parents passed away a few years ago.

“It’s been a difficult life. This Ramadan I can only really pray for a longer life so that I can continue supporting my [grand] children,” he said. Zaman has, so far, also depended on the kindness of his neighbors for food especially on days when his family has nothing to eat.

Zinraida Usop, Kudal village chieftain said that the food distribution came in an appropriate time especially for families still recovering from the drought.

Some of the sitios (sub-village) in Kudal and Bago-enged can only be reached by 20 to 45 minute boat rides.

The Ramadan Programme is a seasonal project by IRW offices around the world. IRW Philippines first came to the country to respond to Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and has since established an office in Cebu City with projects on shelter support, livelihood support, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Disaster Risk Reduction in the towns of Bantayan, Daanbantayan in Cebu and Leyte.

Originally appeared in The Manila Times