Humanitarian aid conference in Dubai urges unity

Humanitarians must join forces and be better prepared if they want to make significant progress on global health challenges.

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DUBAI // Humanitarians must join forces and be better prepared if they want to make significant progress on global health challenges. That was the message from organisers yesterday, at the end of the three-day Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (Dihad) conference.

They issued a final declaration which focused on improving public health, particularly during crises and in developing countries. The organisers of the seventh annual conference concluded that global health issues must be addressed through a more co-ordinated approach, and called for "better and more affordable healthcare systems" that would reduce maternal and child mortality rates, and combat recurring diseases that mostly afflict the poor.

Speakers, including health professionals and officials from international organisations, stressed the need to share medical knowledge and innovations during a crisis, citing the recent Haiti earthquake. In the closing address, Makiya al Hajiri, the chief executive of International Humanitarian City (IHC), described the event as an ideal "platform" to host members of the humanitarian community. "The objectives and vision of Dihad coincide with those of IHC, with an ultimate goal to make Dubai a bridge between East and West and provide humanitarian players with a place to network, learn and operate from," Ms al Hajiri said.

Finbarr Curran, of the World Food Programme, spoke of the urgent need to look at the health repercussions of hunger and to work together to find solutions. "One billion people go to bed hungry," he said. "That means one out of every seven people don't know where they'll get their next meal from." This figure included 400 million children, said Mr Curran, who described undernutrition as the "number one health challenge in the world".

Some 275 exhibitors took part in the accompanying exhibition, from UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to companies that produce relief items and armoured vehicles - a stark reminder of the danger often faced by aid workers in the field. Among the visitors yesterday was Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuaimi, the vice president and chief executive of the Al Ihsan Charity Centre in Ajman, who said he was encouraging more projects that could be maintained over the long term.

"The main issue is sustainability and how to give, for example, by encouraging and supporting small businesses and training people," he said. "Our aim is to shift the paradigm to empower people more." Dozens of school pupils looked around the exhibition hall, to stop at stands, and learned about organisations operating in the UAE and beyond. Organisers announced yesterday that Dihad 2011 will take place from March 28 to 30.