UAE's ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign is benefitting millions of refugees, individuals and families in need in more than 25 countries across the world, including Palestine, Jordan, and Bangladesh. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased the difficulties of millions of refugees and displaced people in several countries. The pandemic has had negative ramifications on the living conditions of refugees and people in need.
Therefore, the UAE leadership launched the ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign on April 11 with the aim of providing food assistance to refugees and pandemic affected communities in various countries across the world. As per the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the monumental food campaign reached its target of raising Dh100 million from more than 185,000 donors in just 10 days since its inception.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Abdel Mageed Yahia, director of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) office in the UAE and representative to the GCC, hailed the UAE's ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, asserting that the world needs more such initiatives. The WFP senior official said that the UAE's food campaign is serving as an inspiration for people to take initiative and help vulnerable communities at a time when global food security is at risk due to various challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are around 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar and about 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari and Azraq camps. The Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh has emerged as the largest refugee camp in the world. About 40 percent of the total Palestinian population (around two million) is estimated to be food insecure and needs urgent assistance. More than 52 million people are undernourished in the MENA region with the majority of them being children and women.
Yahia warned that hunger is surging across the world, as challenges like climate change, floods, droughts and armed conflicts in some parts of the world have severely impacted the food supply chain. Furthermore, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased the difficulties of refugees and other communities as they struggle to overcome pandemic repercussions.
In this regard, Yahia noted that donations and proceeds generated by the ‘100M Meals' Campaign provide crucial support to World Food Programme's operations in Jordan, Palestine and Bangladesh.
"In 2019, we were supporting 90 million people in different parts of the world, mainly in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America. But last year, due to pandemic repercussions, the number increased from 90 million to 115 million. This year, we are expecting the number of people in need of food assistance to spike up to 136 million," the WFP official added.
He lauded the UAE’s food campaign, which has grown 10 times bigger than last year’s national ‘10 Million Meals’ campaign in providing necessary assistance to pandemic-hit communities in the country. The UAE's food campaign aims to deliver 100 million food parcels to needy individuals and families in countries around the world during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
“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, it has already added a greater push for what we are doing at WFP," Yahia said.
He stressed the UN agency has been struggling to meet the demands of all people in need, but has successfully been able to overcome challenges and feed more people in 2020 than last year. In this regard, he lauded campaigns like the UAE's ‘100 million Meals Campaign’ that aims to provide food assistance to refugees and other pandemic-hit communites. As donations continue to pour in the largest food drive announced by the UAE, the magnitude and value of the 100m Meals campaign serve as inspiration for people to come forward and help.
Empowering pandemic-hit communities
Furthermore, Yahia called for a programme to encourage beneficiaries as “performing assets" such that they could play a role in not only helping themselves but others as well. He explained that those in need should also be considered as assets, not just as receivers. Such programmes will also help crisis-hit communities in better recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While right now, affected communities are in a situation when they need help and assistance, in the coming times, authorities must develop appropriate programmes tapping their skills and talents with the aim of providing help and support to others in need.
The WFP senior officials cited an example of small farmers, noting that they have limited or no access to markets; no cold storage facilities; no logistics and transport, among other challenges. Every year, a large portion of their produce is lost due to these disadvantages.
Therefore, Yahia noted that various sectors can work together to boost farmers' potential and capacities.
"Let’s say, the private sector could buy food from them or improve their storage facility and give them access to markets. Everyone here will win. Farmers will get much-needed support and the public and private sector don’t need to give them handouts anymore,” Yahia explained.
He noted that food campaigns and charities serve as urgent stopgap measures, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has exacerbated worldwide food insecurity. Yahia further warned that around 34 million people in 20 countries are at risk of famine if no urgent action is taken.
Yahia stated that WFP’s ongoing operations have been providing food assistance to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan since the war in Syria in 2011. Located in Jordan's Mafraq region, Zaatari is the second-largest refugee camp in the world. It first started in the year 2012, less than 10 miles (ca. 16 km) from the Syrian border. Gradually, the camp has evolved into a permanent settlement, becoming the fourth largest 'city' in Jordan. It is currently home to more than 150,000 Syrian refugees with the majority of them being children. Another major refugee camp located in Jordan is near Azraq.
Yahia added that the WFP provides monthly cash and food voucher to all eligible Syrian refugees, which helps them in purchasing food items from any partner shops across the country.
Earlier, MBRGI Director Sara Al Nuaimi had told Gulf News that cash and food vouchers are distributed to people in need instead of traditional rations to provide flexibility to the beneficiaries to prepare their own meals during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It also provides a fresher and more diverse diet to the beneficiaries.
Yahia explained that the amount of food vouchers varies from country to country, depending on the cost of living in the region. The food vouchers provided by UAE's '100M Meals' campaign to help around 200,000 refugees in Jordan for a period of one to two months.
Assistance to refugees
Yahia asserted that WFP has been providing crucial assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar for more than three years now. While the WFP observed the progress made by the humanitarian community in Cox’s Bazar since the arrival of Rohingya in 2017, the need for continuous assistance to affected people still remains high in the largest refugee area. The UAE's 100 million Meals campaign also provides support to Rohingya refugees through in-kind and food vouchers to help them in meeting critical needs.
Aid to Palestinians
In 2021, the WFP continues to provide food assistance to around 350,000 vulnerable non-refugee population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The agency has been distributing food vouchers and in-kind food parcels to affected refugees in the region. In addition, the WFP has been implementing a number of home-based agricultural activities to provide long-term assistance to vulnerable families.
Yahia explained that the UAE's food campaign is in line with the ongoing large-scale assistance programmes and provides greater impact and flexibility to build a more resilient future for crisis-hit Palestinian refugees.
"The protracted humanitarian and socioeconomic crisis in Palestine hit 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," the WFP noted.