UAE's One Billion Meals campaign is reshaping Ramadan charity

Endowment funds will generate financial returns to be spent on feeding the needy

Last year's Most Noble Numbers auction in Dubai for special vehicle plates and mobile numbers raised more than Dh53 million ($14.4 million) to support the One Billion Meals campaign. Wam
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Charity, they say, begins at home. But while people in the UAE embark on a safe and secure Ramadan, the country is expanding its One Billion Meals campaign to dozens of nations and reshaping the programme into an aid commitment that will support the needy for years, not just the holy month.

This year’s drive, launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, will direct donations into endowment funds. From these, financial returns will be spent on feeding the vulnerable. The aim is to ensure the principal grows steadily, allowing vital aid to be delivered on a long-term basis.

It is an important and strategic switch that not only embraces the spirit of Ramadan but also works in tandem with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending global hunger by 2030. It also comes at a particularly critical time for millions of households around the world hit by rising food prices.

The statistics are daunting. The World Bank says about four fifths of low-income countries and more than 90 per cent of lower-middle-income countries have witnessed year-on-year food price increases in excess of 5 per cent in 2023. For many families on the breadline, this is 5 per cent too much.

And then there are those whose situation is even more precarious. In February, The National reported how the One Billion Meals campaign distributed 5.4 million meals to people living in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. This community, which is already enduring displacement, poverty and extreme danger, had its World Food Programme rations cut by 17 per cent this month, something described in this paper by Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur, on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, as “unconscionable”.

Indeed, unconscionable is the right word to describe the sad reality that millions of people live a knife-edge existence while, according to the UN, the world wastes about 14 per cent of the food produced between harvest and retail. Ramadan, then, seems exactly the right time to take decisive action on world hunger, given the numerous verses in the Quran and hadiths that encourage philanthropy but also admonish the sin of wasting food.

A strength of the campaign since it started three years ago has been its accessibility. From its beginning in 2020 as a local initiative to support UAE communities hit by the coronavirus, it was designed to make it as easy as possible for people to donate. This year, money can be pledged online, either monthly or as a one-off donation. Donations can be made by text message through Etisalat or du, through the DubaiNow app or bank transfer.

Making donating as convenient as sending a text has allowed the drive to be an inclusive and participatory campaign, something reflected in the number of donors – both at home and abroad – it has attracted. In 2021 alone, its 185,000 donors included individuals and companies inside and outside the UAE.

It has been a remarkable three years. In 2021, the campaign provided food parcels and instant smart vouchers to millions of people across four continents. Last year's initiative supported the underprivileged and undernourished in 50 nations.

These are feats any charitable drive would be proud of but One Billion Meals has not only widened its scale, it has redefined its targets to combine strategic and practical action with the selfless spirit of the holy month. Ramadan may last for just a few weeks but this year’s campaign will lay the foundation for years of international aid work. Charity may begin at home, but this year it will also reach from the UAE to the whole world.

Published: March 22, 2023, 3:00 AM