On August 19, the United Nations marked its annual World Humanitarian Day with public outreach events held across the globe. The aim of that day is to raise public awareness about humanitarian assistance worldwide and the individuals who risk their lives in order to provide aid to people in need.
Major UN celebrations were held in three key global humanitarian relief cities — New York, Geneva, and a third city, in the Middle East, which likely appeared as a far less obvious choice to the casual observer.
That city is Dubai.
Thanks to the vision and continued support of its leaders, Dubai today is the biggest hub for global humanitarian relief, with a unique capability to deliver humanitarian aid. The city is strategically located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia and offers seamless infrastructure to provide rapid emergency response to the world’s major crisis areas.
Dubai facilitates global aid and development by providing key humanitarian organisations with facilities, logistics and services specifically designed to meet their needs — all grouped in a dedicated environment known as the International Humanitarian City (IHC), a landmark initiative chaired by UN Messenger of Peace, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain, wife of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has been mandated by the UN General Assembly to provide protection to refugees and stateless people around the world and, when called upon, internally displaced persons, established a global emergency stockpile of humanitarian relief items in Dubai in 2006. From this hub, UNHCR has most recently airlifted critically-needed relief supplies to South Sudan, Turkey, Yemen, Myanmar, Mauritania and deployed land convoys to Iraq and Jordan.
The stockpile in Dubai enables UNHCR to initiate the delivery of aid to 600,000 people in need within 72 hours of a disaster or a call for assistance. The emergency stockpile in Dubai is the largest of the UNHCR’s stockpiles around the world and can quickly provide crucial relief items such as tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, basic kitchen sets and jerry cans for up to 350,000 people. The remaining stock is positioned in six strategically located regional hubs, mainly in Africa.
In 2011 alone, UNHCR deployed from the Dubai hub 100 relief shipments, handling 26,000 cubic metres of emergency supplies — excluding operational equipment such as vehicles, information and telecommunications equipment and pre-fabricated emergency office structures. That is equivalent to more than 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with goods that can sometimes literally be life sustaining.
Emergency response requires speed of delivery and, with UNHCR’s commitment to start delivery within 72 hours, Dubai’s truly fast-cycle logistics environment is a critical factor in our success. The rapid delivery of supplies to humanitarian emergencies worldwide from the city is ensured through its proximity to Jebel Ali, the Middle East’s largest and busiest seaport, and the six international airports within a three-hour drive.
For all those reasons — the role it has generously played in supporting the rapid delivery of aid as well as the UAE’s long-standing commitment to global humanitarian assistance, it made perfect sense for Dubai to serve as one of the three host cities for World Humanitarian Day activities last month.
This was a truly global celebration of humanitarian action under the campaign theme of “people helping people.” That campaign — held in Dubai at the base of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower — has already made social media history: Since its launch, more than one billion messages of hope have been shared via Twitter, encouraging people everywhere to do something good for someone else.
Amin Awad is Director, Division of Emergency, Security and Supply, at the headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.