How the World Food Program’s Dubai hub could save 1.5-million people

Princess Haya bint Al Hussein this week contributed to a new fund to allow the rapid purchase of stocks of high-energy biscuits designed to ensure a source of nutrition for communities facing a human catastrophe anywhere in the world.
The biscuits stored at the WFPs Dubai warehouse in International Humanitarian City are manufactured in Oman, one of just a handful of approved sites around the world.
The biscuits stored at the WFPs Dubai warehouse in International Humanitarian City are manufactured in Oman, one of just a handful of approved sites around the world.

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Princess Haya bint Al Hussein this week contributed to a new fund to allow the rapid purchase of stocks of high-energy biscuits designed to ensure a source of nutrition for communities facing a human catastrophe anywhere in the world.

Her exact contribution has not been made public, but David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Program, has described the donation as “a life saver” and said the princess is “a true champion for people facing hunger and poverty".

Princess Haya’s donation will help the WFP’s regional office in Dubai procure emergency stocks of the biscuits, which can feed a person for an entire day with just 100 grams. The biscuits are packed with energy and micro-nutrients and are the backbone of the WFP’s efforts to ward off famine in various disaster areas around the world.

“They’re not as tasty as you would buy in the supermarket,” says Stefano Peveri, a senior logistic officer at the WFP and the UN Humanitarian Response Depot Dubai manager. “But they are very nutritious and packed with micronutrients.”

Peveri told The National that the biscuit formula has changed over the years. The current recipe delivers a more sophisticated package, but has a shelf life of just 12 months, compared to 2 years previously.

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The biscuits stored at the WFP’s Dubai warehouse in International Humanitarian City are manufactured in Oman, one of just a handful of approved sites around the world.

There are just 150 metric tonnes stored at the Dubai hub, but that’s enough to feed 1.5-million people for a day.

The WFP’s Dubai hub is currently supplying thousands of families in Yemen, Syria, Sudan and Bangladesh with the biscuits, staving off the catastrophe of famine in some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

In 2016, Humanitarian Response Depots, like the one in Dubai, sent out more than 87,000 tonnes to 12 countries on behalf of 170 organisations.

In recent years, the WFP has supported Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh and displaced rural populations flocking to the Somalian capital Mogadishu looking for food.

Supplies were also sent to the Philippines in 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan, and Afghanistan in 2014.

In 2016, the WFP bought 2.6 million tonnes of food worth US41.36 billion and delivered 3.5 million tonnes of food to 74 countries.

Dubai’s humanitarian operations are generally ‘first response’ in nature. The NGOs based at the International Humanitarian City are geared to provide emergency equipment and supplies until a more permanent solution can be found by other regional offices in Asia and Europe.

The biscuits are usually the only food source in the first instance, says Mr Peveri. The dire circumstances of those in need often mean they have no means of cooking:

“So there is no point in giving them beans or wheat," he says.

The biscuits, he explains, are only intended as a stop gap “for three or four days” until more long term support can be brought in with other agencies.

The logistics operation is one of permanent emergency. If a natural disaster strikes, leaving thousands displaced and without food and shelter, or if a refugee crises such as that in Bangladesh begins to emergence, the regional hubs, such as Dubai, are contacted. Flights are then chartered and supplies of the biscuits sent to the most local airport to the affected population.

From here, the biscuits are loaded on to lorries or helicopters.

“But we have also used elephants and camels”, says Mr Peveri. “Whatever works best.”

Speed is obviously of the essence. The WFP aims to have the assessment of needs and the funds made available for transport within 24 to 48 hours of being alerted.

At the same time, other UN agencies such as the UNHCR begin to mobilise NFI (non food items) such as blankets, tents and cooking equipment.