The dramatic changes in the world’s social and economic climate brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have reinforced in many a sense of uncertainty about the future. This is to say nothing of the uncertainty introduced by long-term changes in the planet's climate.
How countries choose to advance into the present uncertainty will define their societies for generations. Here in the UAE, the key to success lies in commitment to maximising safety, well-being, prosperity and, ultimately, happiness – backed by hard science and innovation.
Yesterday, the UAE announced a number of changes in its government make up, with the objective of being 'more agile' and responsive to the ever-changing world we live in. In addition to merging some ministries and government authorities, there is the creation of a new Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology, led by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, and adding the digital economy to the portfolio of AI Minister Omar Al Olama, highlighting the importance of technological evolution in a post-coronavirus future.
The government is further proof of how the UAE is forging its own path to the future. On Saturday, Dubai announced it had taken steps to create a commercial drone network to carry not only goods, but also passengers. One obvious benefit – in the age of physical distancing – is the ability of such a system to minimise human contact while travelling in an environmentally friendly way.
Other tech-based initiatives are setting new standards for economic growth and food security in the UAE and throughout the region. Although the Arabian peninsula is known for its arid deserts, where water and arable land are scarce, residents of the UAE already are accustomed to shopping for locally-harvested tomatoes, potatoes and other produce. All of this is made possible by forward-looking solutions like vertical farming, cloud-seeding, research in agricultural genetics and hydroponics.
Last week, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, toured local farms to emphasise the need for food security amid the pandemic. “Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan attached great importance to agriculture,” he said. “He supported it and did not listen to those who thought agriculture had no future in the UAE”.
This goal envisioned by the country’s Founding Father is all the more vital today, as major agricultural producers such as India and China have reduced exports to prioritise local demand.
The UAE’s achievements in the sphere of innovation have inspired a whole generation of young Arabs. According to the Arab youth Survey, the Emirates has been the destination of choice for young Arabs to live and work for the past decade.
That so many young people in the Middle East look towards the UAE as a role model means that the country has a responsibility towards future generations, and Emirati rulers have taken this seriously. This week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced that the government will offer scholarships and financial incentives to scientists and creative minds as part of the Arab Space Pioneers programme. This was announced just 10 days before the launching of the UAE’s Hope probe headed to Mars, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The Mars mission is a reminder that, whether on our own planet or others that we have not yet claimed, the UAE remains committed to facing the unknown with an ambitious vision of progress. In a world struggling with such monumental challenges, this is an approach worthy of recognition.