UAE Ramadan initiative targets one billion meals 

Ambitious campaign comes amid rising global food prices and soaring rates of hunger and malnutrition.

UAE philanthropists, corporates, and community groups have given generously to the One Billion Meals campaign, which aims to distribute meals and food parcels to those in need across 50 countries. Launched at the start of holy month of Ramadan, and organised by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the campaign is an extension of last year’s 100 Million Meals fundraiser.

It comes as the world grapples with soaring rates of hunger, due in part to rising food caused in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (a major exporter of wheat), but also because of climate-related weather events such as droughts and flooding, and the deleterious effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on labour and supply chains.

According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people worldwide are suffering from food insecurity and several countries - including Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia - are now inching towards famine.

Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said children were bearing the brunt of the hike in food prices and already high rates of malnutrition was likely to “drastically increase”.

Already in Lebanon, nine out of ten young children are not receiving the food they need, and more than 40 per cent of women and children under the age of five have anaemia. In Yemen, meanwhile, 45 per cent of children are stunted due to poor diets, putting them at risk of severe irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“We have a ring of fire circling the earth now from the Sahel to South Sudan to Yemen, to Afghanistan, all the way around to Haiti and Central America, warned David Beasley, the executive director of the UN’s World Food Programme speaking at a conference in February.

“If we do not address the situation immediately… we will see famine, we will see destabilization of nations and we will see mass migration.”

Philanthropists who have donated the UAE campaign so far include Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, who has given US$2.7m, and UAE-based Indian doctors, Azad Moopen, the founder of Aster DM Healthcare, and Shamsheer Vayalil, of VPS Healthcare, who have each contributed $272,000.

“One of the greatest gifts we can give is to feed a hungry human being — feeding the needy in 50 countries is a mammoth task but Dubai makes the impossible possible,” said Dr Moopen.

Marwan Abdulla Al Rostamani, chairman of the UAE’s Al Rostamani Group, which this week pledged $2.7m to the drive, said: “We are proud to contribute to the humanitarian effort and the noble global message of this initiative… to reach the needy wherever they are without discrimination. This translates the values of giving that are deeply rooted in the UAE and its people.”

Last Ramadan the campaign was boosted by proceeds from an auction of art and sports memorabilia, reaching its 10 million target within just 10 days.

This year, an auction of vehicle license plates and mobile numbers in Dubai raised a $14.4m in just a few hours, while another event in Abu Dhabi collected $30.2m

Three weeks into the 2022 campaign, 230,000 individual donations had already raised enough to pay for 420million meals and distribution had already begun in a number of countries. These included: Lebanon, Jordan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan.

"This translates the values of giving that are deeply rooted in the UAE and its people."

Marwan Abdulla Al Rostamani, chairman, Al Rostamani Group

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Food packs will be distributed to people in 50 countries. Photo: MBRGI.

Distribution of the food parcels is being overseen by the Food Banking Regional Network (FBRN), set up by Egyptian philanthropist Moez El Shohdi, and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment (MBRCH), in partnership with the WFP, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and other local groups.

In parallel to the food distribution, the UAE Food Bank has launched the One Million Saved Meals campaign, which aims to reduce food waste during the month of Ramadan by working in collaboration with hotels, food retailers, and fruit and vegetable distributors.

One strand will see surplus food collected from iftar buffets to be packed up and given out to people on limited incomes. Another involves taking food that is not fit for consumption – and which would otherwise be thrown away - to be recycled into fertilizer or biofuel for agricultural use.

El Shohdi, whose Egyptian Food Bank has been pioneering the safe recycling of buffet food since 2006 and pre-Covid was saving an average of 20 million meals per month - said he was thrilled the UAE was taking action to address food waste.

“This is about more than saving food, it is also about saving labour and energy and our environment,” he told Philanthropy Age. “We have to think about the future and the coming generations. We need to be more sustainable and think of the long-term impact of how we use resources.” - PA

How to donate

You can donate to the One Billion Meals campaign online here, or via phone, SMS or bank transfer. Dubai-based online crowdfunding site, YallaGive is hosting dozens of corporate and individual fundraisers here.