Dubai: Millions of refugees, needy individuals and families in Jordan, Bangladesh and Palestine as well as 27 other countries across the world benefit from UAE’s ‘100m Meals Campaign’. At a time when global food security is threatened, the country’s food campaign serves as an inspiration for people to come forward and help, a senior official at UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) told Gulf News.
In an exclusive interview, Abdel Mageed Yahia, director of WFP office in the UAE and representative to the GCC, said the world needs initiatives like the UAE’s 100m Meals Campaign. He noted there are around 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari and Azraq camps while up to 900,000 Rohingya refugees are in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which now hosts the largest refugee camp in the world. Around two million Palestinians — representing 40 per cent of the total population — are also estimated to be food insecure who need urgent assistance. In the MENA region, more than 52 million people are undernourished — most of them women and children.
Yahia praised the UAE’s food campaign, which is 10 times larger than last year’s nationwide ‘10 Million Meals’ campaign that empowered COVID-19-hit communities across the country. He said proceeds generated from the ‘100M Meals Campaign’ support WFP operations in Jordan, Bangladesh and Palestine. “The WFP food assistance is the only lifeline for the refugees and needy families to survive and secure their daily food needs. Every dirham counts. Even if it just for one month (the campaign’s target is to provide 100m food parcels this Ramadan), it has already added a greater push for what we are doing at WFP,” Yahia commented.
He added: “Hunger is soaring in the world — exacerbated by armed conflicts in some parts of the world, climate change, drought and floods, and on top of them, came the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, we were supporting 90M in different parts of the world, mainly in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America. But last year, due to the effects of the pandemic, the number increased from 90 million to 115 million. This year, we are expecting the number of people who need food assistance to increase to 136 million.
“We have been really struggling to meet the demands but we have been successfully able to meet the challenges and feed more people this year than last year — thanks to campaigns like the ‘100 million Meals Campaign’,” Yahia underlined.
Solidarity, not just charity
According to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the UAE’s massive food campaign has reached its target of raising Dh100 million from 185,000 donors in just 10 days after it was announced on April 11. Yet donations continue to pour into the region’s largest food drive to date. “The magnitude and value of the campaign serves as inspiration for people to come forward and help, even if it is only for a certain period of time,” noted Yahia, adding: “It not just about charity but also solidarity.”
Moving forward, Yahia noted, there should also be a programme that would look at the beneficiaries as “performing assets who could play a role not only to help themselves but also others.”
He explained: “Nobody would like to live on handouts. People would like to end their poverty. And those in need should also be considered as assets, not only as receivers. Yes, they are in a situation that they need help but, moving forward, we need to come up with programmes that would tap their skills and talents to help themselves and others.”
Empowering those in need
Yahia cited for example the small farmers. “They have limited or no access to markets; no logistics and transport; no cold storage facilities. Every year, half of what they produce are lost because of these limitations. But we can empower them. Let’s say, the private sector could buy food from them or improve their storage facility and give them access to markets,” he explained. “Everybody here will win. Farmers will get much needed support and the public and private sector don’t need to give them handouts anymore,” Yahia added.
He added food campaigns and charities are urgent stopgap measures, especially now that the pandemic has aggravated worldwide food insecurity. “We are talking today of around 34 million people in 20 countries who may face famine if no urgent action is taken,” he explained.
From the UAE to refugee communities
Yahia noted WFP’s ongoing operations provide food assistance to over 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan since the war in Syria started in 2011. Zaatari, the second largest refugee camp in the world located in Mafraq, Jordan, first opened in 2012 less than 10 miles from the Syrian border. The camp has evolved into a permanent settlement and has since become Jordan’s fourth largest ‘city’, hosting around 150,000 Syrian refugees with more than half of them being children.
Another refugee camp is located near Azraq, Jordan. Yahia said all eligible Syrian refugees receive a monthly cash or food voucher from the WFP, which enables them to purchase food items in any of partner shops across the country.
Sara Al Nuaimi, director of MBRGI, earlier told Gulf News that by distributing cash and food vouchers instead of traditional rations, the beneficiaries are given the flexibility to prepare their own meals during the Holy Month of Ramadan as well as a fresher and more diverse diet.
Yahia noted the amount of food vouchers vary from each country, depending on the cost of living. With the UAE’s 100M Meals Campaign, around 200,000 refugees in Jordan will be for a period of one to two months.
Support to Rohingya
For more than three years now, Yahia noted, WFP has been providing life-saving assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The WFP noted progress has been achieved by the humanitarian community in Cox’s Bazar since the arrival of Rohingya in 2017, but the need for continued assistance remains high at the world’s largest refugee area that is home to around 900,000 Rohingya.
Support from the UAE’s 100 million Meals Campaign also come in the form of in-kind and food vouchers to meet the critical needs of the refugees and the local community that has generously hosted them.
Aid in Palestine
According to WFP, “the protracted humanitarian and socioeconomic crisis in Palestine hits the poorest families the most, making them more dependent on external support for survival as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen an already dire situation.”
This year, the WFP continues to provide regular food assistance to some 350,000 vulnerable non-refugee population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, mainly through food vouchers and in-kind food parcels. WFP also implements home-based agricultural activities for longer term impact on vulnerable families’ dietary diversity and livelihoods.
Yahia noted food campaigns complement the ongoing large-scale assistance programmes and provide greater impact and flexibility to build a more resilient future.