Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: major Abu Dhabi food drive delivers vital support to hard-hit workers

The packages have brought relief to those who have lost jobs and others worried about contracting the virus

A major food drive in Abu Dhabi is delivering vital support to hard-hit workers who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak and others forced to remain at home to curb the spread of the disease.

The crucial aid has brought welcome relief to embattled residents left with no salaries and no means of purchasing food.

On Sunday alone, five tonnes of supplies was delivered to 750 people by the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi. The aid could last a month.

A similar amount was handed out a week earlier to a different set of residents.

Ahmed Iqbal, who is employed in a watch and jewellery store in Madinat Zayed and lives in the same area, was among those to benefit.

He shares a flat with 21 people, two of whom tested positive for the virus and were taken to hospital last week.

A second test was conducted on all residents of the building on Monday.

“I tested negative the first time,” said Mr Iqbal, 43, who has been working in the UAE for 20 years.

“We stay inside and hope our new tests are negative.

"Our shop is shut so we don’t get any income. It's a very bad situation.”

Like most workers, Mr Iqbal sends home the bulk of his Dh2,200 monthly earnings. He spends about Dh500 on rent and electricity.

He and his flatmates are among 500 people who for the past 10 days have received two meals a day from volunteers.

“The main thing we need is food, so we are happy we can eat. But what will we do about rent and electricity? We don't have any money," he said.

Local businesses, charity groups, government officials and diplomats are involved in the mammoth task of getting aid to those in need.

After shops and malls closed across the country to slow the spread of the virus, workers have run out of funds.

They say they are also worried about contracting Covid-19.

Volunteers from the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre gather supplies for workers who have no money to purchase food and residents who are in self-isolation due to contact with coronavirus patients. Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, Abu Dhabi
Volunteers from the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre gather supplies for workers who have no money to purchase food and residents who are in self-isolation due to contact with coronavirus patients. Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, Abu Dhabi

The government has asked property owners to defer rent payments from tenants but workers remain apprehensive.

Sameer Berkka, a shop assistant who lives with 20 others in a Baniyas flat, said his diabetic flatmate tested positive two weeks ago.

“He was taken to hospital and 150 of us were tested,” said Mr Berkka, 38, who worked in a store selling abayas.

“All of us got negative test messages, so everyone is happy. Now we have food for a few months so there is less tension.”

Food parcels are distributed to residents with the means to cook in their apartments and the number given out depends on how many people live in each flat.

Each parcel is worth Dh320 and includes supplies for five to 10 people.

Two packages are supplied to apartments with 15 to 20 people. Smaller parcels are prepared for rooms shared by two to three people.

The kits include 20 kilograms of rice, 10kg of frozen chicken and 5kg of onions, as well as spices and cooking oil.

The Kerala group works with the Indian Islamic Centre and the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to lead the humanitarian campaign.

Companies that sponsor the food include a healthcare provider, an electrical company and a restaurant.

About 70 volunteers pack vans and cars with supplies for apartments on Electra Street, Old Passport Road, Baniyas and workers’ accommodation in Mussaffah.

“After we get calls or WhatsApp messages for help, we prepare an Excel contact list with names and building details,” said Abdul Rahman Povval, who leads the Kasaragod district of the Kerala group.

Volunteers alert the embassy, which in turn informs health authorities so access is granted to homes.

Aid workers also comfort residents who are concerned they lived with people who tested positive for the virus.

“They frequently cry, so we have to build up their courage and tell them how the government is taking good care of them,” said Mr Povval, who runs an office supplies business.

“We try to raise their spirits.”

India's ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor, posted a video on Twitter in which he said people living in the UAE would overcome the pandemic together.

He told The National how embassy officials co-ordinated and assisted volunteers.

“The message is not to panic, people should stay home, stay safe and follow advisories,” he said.

“The government is doing everything they can. The community volunteers have really been a big help, as have Abu Dhabi authorities.”

Indian residents have called their embassy’s 24-hour helpline with information about people who need medical help or food.

“When it’s to do with people in quarantine who need food then we step in and ask how much is required and where,” said Mr Kapoor.

“We bring cases to the attention of the foreign office and the health ministry. It’s an ongoing effort.”

The embassy has also delivered provisions to 60 workers living in Mussaffah and whose company has shut down.

The phones of volunteers constantly buzz with appeals for help.

Shukoor Ali Kallungal, president of the Kerala group in Abu Dhabi, said volunteers helped residents come to terms with the outbreak.

“It has affected people mentally because they lived in the same room,” he said.

“When they ask why there are so many confirmed cases, we explain cases will rise because the UAE is doing so much testing.

“We motivate them by talking about recovered cases and say they are helping by not going outside."

There have been several initiatives in which people have offered money, medical aid and the use of hospitals and residential buildings to boost the fight against Covid-19.

Millions of dirhams have been raised in the Together We Are Good campaign, organised by the Authority of Social Contribution in Abu Dhabi.

Supplies for 20 people for a month:

30kg of boiled rice

20kg of basmati rice

5kg of semolina

5kg of onions

3kg of black chickpeas

3kg of white beans

3kg of green gram

250 grams of garlic

250g of green chili peppers

250g of ginger

Five packets of salt

5kg of sugar

500g of tea

250g of coffee

Five packets of bread

1kg of chilli powder

500g of coriander powder

150g of turmeric powder

100g of mustard seeds

Three bottles of cooking oil

Two boxes of eggs

Three jars of jam

1kg of powered milk

Biscuits

One packet of chicken powder

One packet of sambar curry powder

10 pieces of frozen chicken

One pack of disposable plates

One pack of disposable glasses

Updated: April 8, 2020 09:30 PM

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