Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
Statistics such as this underline the fact that most of us take the food we eat for granted. Many of us around the world are completely and utterly unaware that basic food is a precious commodity for an astonishing 800 million people.
One in nine people in the world struggles to find a simple meal or any form of good nutrition. Let that sink in. Every single night, 800 million people go to bed weak from having eaten little or nothing that day. And so many of us rarely even think of them.
The cost of this apathy is that many of the five million of the youngest children who die of disease each year, die simply because they were malnourished. This heart-wrenching statistic is only made worse by the fact that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereal crops.
Hunger is often and quite rightly called “the world’s greatest solvable problem”. We don’t need to look to more biotechnology advances or genetic engineering breakthroughs to feed the hungry — we need more effort.
To end world hunger, what we need is simply more ‘heart’ — the‘heart’ to empathise with the suffering of people; the heart to take action and do what it is needed to bring them relief.
I have had the good fortune of working with countless people with big ‘hearts’ at various levels — aid workers, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, fund-raisers, charity leaders. Some of them are my personal heroes.
But among all the people I know well, the person who has made the biggest impact on the global humanitarian scene, is His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. In my work with global charities and aid organisations, I have seen what a difference people like him, with the will and determination to take decisive action, can make to a humanitarian mission. His ‘heart’ truly helps people.
In 2014, when Palestinians in Gaza desperately needed relief supplies after an Israeli bombardment ravaged their city, Shaikh Mohammad took quick action with one goal — to help those who needed it the most. He organised an air-bridge of 747s and C130s to travel from International Humanitarian City in Dubai to Amman in order to ferry supplies, including food, to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) for distribution to the beleaguered Gazans. There were no lengthy deliberations or complex discussions. Shaikh Mohammad knew it was time to act. He didn’t get bogged down in the ‘could happens’ and the ‘what ifs’, he knew help was needed and he knew he could offer it. Equally swift and decisive was his recent order to airlift relief supplies to Uganda to help refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan.
The International Humanitarian City in Dubai was his creation. It is now the world’s largest logistical centre for aid and has played a pivotal role in aid responses to crisis-hit areas as far afield as Gaza, Pakistan, Nepal, Haiti, Greece and Sudan. I do not know of any global leader who has supported international relief efforts with the personal care and commitment that Shaikh Mohammad has. While he has a deep passion for giving the best possible life to his people he is also keen to share some of the gains of the country’s progress with the less fortunate around the world. His contributions have not been limited by politics, geography, race, colour or religion. He is passionate about helping those who need it and puts that passion into practice whenever he can.
Shaikh Mohammad has followed the footsteps of the leadership of the UAE who put humanitarian concerns high on their agendas. The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a man whose extraordinary generosity set the tone for the UAE becoming a global leader in humanitarian aid. Just like Shaikh Zayed, Shaikh Mohammad represents the uncontrived humanitarian spirit of Emirati leaders who, while having achieved the highest acme of progress for their countries, have not lost touch with their Islamic and Arab values.
His humanitarian ethos extends far beyond feeding the poor. He has realised that poverty is merely a symptom of larger development problems that include lack of education, social empowerment, personal security and, most of all, leadership and governance. The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), launched last year, are just one of his landmark contributions that seek to holistically address poverty and deprivation.
These new initiatives aim to educate 20 million children and invest Dh2 billion in establishing medical research centres and hospitals in the region. Over Dh500 million has been dedicated to finding concrete solutions for water shortage. In parallel, the initiative is seeking to train Arab youth for providing better leadership and governance and create incubators where Arab innovators, scientists and researchers can put their brains together to find unique solutions for our development problems.
The scope and ambition of the programme is huge. This is a signature project of Shaikh Mohammad — lofty in its vision and deeply strategic in its aims. MBRGI seeks to build on the work of Shaikh Mohammad’s existing initiatives that have already brought food, water, education, health care and basic amenities to millions of people across the world. About 23 million people have been treated and protected from blindness, 1.5 million households in 40 countries provided with support and relief and 6.5 million people provided with drinking water, to give you just a few figures.
Shaikh Mohammad has been one of the driving forces for one of the UAE’s lesser known achievements — becoming the number one donor among the world’s nations, with more than 1.3 per cent of GNI (gross national income) being given every year as foreign aid to more than 100 countries — over $5 billion (Dh18.36 billion) from a country of only 8 million people.
What makes Shaikh Mohammed stand out as a humanitarian figure is that he is able to respond to human suffering at two levels. The first is urgent and immediate action to ease the distress of people and the second is a strategic long-term response that tackles the issues that lie beneath the surface.
Shaikh Mohammad’s initiatives demonstrate that if more world leaders had the will and desire to solve the problems of the deprived, we could easily realise our dream of ending hunger and poverty.
Today, on World Food Day, it is time to spare a thought for the billion people who wake up every day hungry, malnourished, thirsty and sick. It is time to also think more deeply about how each of us can contribute to ease their pain. Those of us living in the UAE don’t have to look far for inspiration.
Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain is the wife of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai