Dubai: The UAE’s ambitious 1 Billion Meals campaign will launch long-term food projects for the world’s needy and “empower communities to secure their own food,” a top official told Gulf News on Thursday.
The region’s largest food donation drive will extend beyond Ramadan, the month of giving, and will announce new partnerships to ensure sustainable food solutions for vulnerable groups across the world, said Sara Al Nuaimi, director of Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the agency organising the campaign launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The 1 Billion Meals initiative allows various segments of society, whether government agencies, private companies, businesspeople or humanitarian pioneers at home and abroad, to contribute to supporting the needy in low-income communities.
It is an extension of the 10 Million Meals and 100 Million Meals campaigns launched by Sheikh Mohammed in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
While the 10 Million Meals campaign was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Al Nuaimi said Sheikh Mohammed wanted to widen the group of beneficiaries with 100 Million Meals and has now come up with the 1 Billion Meals initiative with an even bigger and long-term reach.
“In 2021, we started with targeting 20 countries and then through our strategic partners, we managed to reach 47 countries at the end of the distribution. In Ramadan, we doubled the funds raised. We also increased the number of meals distributed from 100 million to 220 million. We managed to bring down the cost for meals drastically because, instead of distributing cooked meals [like in 2020], we were distributing dry food packages like rice flour, oil, sugar, etc. So when that was done, His Highness raised the bar once again, and he wanted to hit the billion-meals target. But this time we are doing it with a long-term approach. It’s commencing in Ramadan, but we will carry on even after that. We will not be concluding it by the end of Ramadan.”
She said, “We are partnering with the same partners that we had last year. But we are also adding more partners and one of the things that we are looking at is to have sustainable projects where we are enabling people to secure their own food and their own meals rather than us giving them the meals. So, soon enough, we will be announcing partnerships with others to help us empower communities and support people in need to be able to secure their own food in a long-term fashion,” she said, indicating that the campaign will go on with sustainable projects.
How beneficiaries are selected
Al Nuaimi said the beneficiaries are selected in consultation with the partners.
MBRGI has partnered with the Food Banking Regional Network (FBRN), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme and Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment (MBRCH).
“Our partners have the databases of refugees, the internally-displaced people, people who are suffering from natural disasters, war zones, conflict, all of that, as well as underprivileged communities in areas where they are facing drought and hunger. So, based on what they recommend, we prioritise the beneficiaries and we try to reach the people that need help the most.”
The large number of volunteers with these partners are responsible for sourcing the food items, packaging them and distributing them with the funds provided from the campaign.
The partners will also be helping to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, which includes eliminating hunger, in addition to opening the door for everyone to contribute to charity and humanitarian work as a sustainable option.
The distribution of foodstuffs and food parcels began in Lebanon, India, Jordan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it was announced on Thursday.
Going by the track record of covering 47 countries last year, Al Nuaimi expects the campaign to cover more than 50 countries. Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco and Albania will be among the beneficiaries this year, while distribution will continue in refugee camps in Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Bangladesh, she said, naming a few.
Smart vouchers are distributed in some of the refugee camps to enable beneficiaries to purchase their own food from local markets.
In the UAE, MBRGI has partnered with the UAE Food Bank and charity establishments associated with it to execute the food donation campaign in the country. Low-income families and blue-collar workers are the main beneficiaries in the UAE.
Al Nuaimi said a special initiative for food donation in the UAE and a special event for collection of funds from the humanitarian donors will also be announced soon.
Several entities have already donated millions to the region’s largest food donation drive. The MBRCH donated Dh20 million, Lulu Group donated Dh2 million, Al Ansari Exchange, Jumbo Group and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank contributed Dh1 million each.
Asked how community groups distributing iftar meals can be part of the initiative, she said: “Whoever is interested in having their programmes associated with us, we are more than happy to have that.”
How to donate
Donors can contribute to the One Billion Meals campaign through the campaign’s official website www.1billionmeals.ae or bank transfer to the campaign’s account at Emirates NBD: AE300260001015333439802.
Donors can also opt to donate Dh1 a day through a monthly subscription by sending “Meal” via SMS to 1020 on the du network or 1110 on the Etisalat network. Donations can also be made through campaign’s call centre via the toll-free number 8009999.
Talabat users can also contribute by following a few simple steps to donate on the app and selecting one of the set donation amounts of Dh10, Dh50, Dh100, Dh300 or Dh500.