While the Middle East and Gulf nations are among the largest donors per capita to poor countries, more could be done to ease the suffering of needy people world-wide, according to WFP Goodwill ambassador, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussein.
Based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said the city can also play an important role as a base for aid agencies.
In an exclusive interview with IRIN, Princess Haya, who is also the daughter of the late King His Majesty Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan, said she hoped to work closely with Arab governments to raise awareness and promote action on the fact that thousands of people die from hunger every day.
QUESTION: What do you hope to achieve through your role as UN-World Food Programme (WFP) Goodwill ambassador?
ANSWER: I would like to raise awareness in the Arab region and throughout the world about the fact that hunger still claims thousands of lives everyday. My goal is not only to show how shameful this is in a world of plenty where we have enough food for each and every person on the planet, but also to encourage individuals, communities, organisations and governments to come together and work for achieving sustainable solutions to end hunger. I know this is an ambitious goal, but this is why I am working on this issue with the largest humanitarian organisation in the world. If there is one organisation that is equipped and ready to engage in such an endeavour, it is WFP.
Q: Will you have a particular focus on attracting Arab/Muslim countries and donors?
A: Hunger is a global issue and any real answer to this issue should involve everybody, not only Arabs and Muslims. Obviously, I will be working more with Arab countries because I belong to this region, but my humanitarian and sports activities and interests take me to many parts of the world. I will seize these opportunities to advocate on behalf of the hungry and poor.
Q: You recently travelled to Malawi and Ethiopia with the WFP, was this your first trip to Africa? What were your impressions of the problems faced by the vulnerable populations there?
A: Certainly not, I have been to Africa before, but my missions to Malawi and Ethiopia were my first as a Goodwill Ambassador for WFP. By meeting and talking to the people,for example, the mothers whose children face severe malnutrition in Malawi, and by talking to those who are working tirelessly to build their communities and pull themselves out of poverty in Ethiopia, I came with a clear conviction that hunger and poverty can be overcome.
Q: Do you feel that the UAE provides sufficient assistance to such countries in times of crisis?
A: The UAE is one of the most generous donors and has reached out to people in crisis in every major disaster, most recently [those affected by the] Tsunami in Asia, drought in Niger, and the earthquake in Pakistan. In fact, HH Sheikh Mohamed was actually among the first to respond to the drought emergency in Niger. As to whether it is sufficient, we should always strive to do more within the international context because the need is tremendous.
Q: Sir Bob Geldof said at a press conference in Dubai in December that the entire region of the Middle East could do more to help the world’s poorest in Africa. Do you agree with this statement?
A: The Middle East and the Gulf region in particular are among the largest donors in per-capita terms. Some may have this erroneous impression because they only look at donations that are internationally documented through the UN, for example. Most countries in this region, however, have traditionally opted to donate bilaterally. If those donations are included, you will see how involved and generous this region is. But I do agree with Sir Bob Geldof that it is in no way enough and much more needs to be done and very fast.
Q: It is said that food aid can perpetuate and prolong conflicts, such as in Sudan, by literally feeding all sides of the crisis. In what circumstances is it not a good idea to provide food aid?
A: Food aid should be provided on the basis of need and when using it enables us to send more girls to school, help a poor village fix their irrigation system or plant trees or harvest rain water as I have seen in my visits to WFP projects in Ethiopia and Malawi. Without food aid many people would have died in places such as Darfur and South Sudan. When food aid is provided in a transparent way, only on the basis of need, and not to armed combatants, then there is no way it can prolong a conflict that has its own causes and dynamics. It is too cynical to think that if the world left children and women and the elderly to die of starvation, the armed combatants (who are usually men) would resolve the conflict faster!
Q: As the first WFP female Arab Goodwill Ambassador - do you hope to highlight women’s issues too?
A: It is indeed women and children who suffer first and most from hunger during conflicts or when poverty leads to chronic hunger, but I am a Goodwill Ambassador for WFP and I would like to advocate on behalf of all the hungry poor.
Q: You also established the first food aid NGO in the Arab world – why did you do this? And how many people has it reached out to and where?
A: I established ‘Tkiyet Um Ali’ in Jordan in memory of my late mother HM Queen Alia, as it was one of the ideas that she was looking to establish herself in Jordan 25 years ago. Her objective was to make sure that all Jordanians were provided with the basics for survival, and based on this vision, ‘Tkiyet Um Ali’ was established in 2003 and now provides food and social services to the less privileged segments of Jordanian society from its central location at the heart of the less privileged areas in Amman.
Q: As you are based in Dubai- although not a traditional choice for aid agencies we note that the city is promoting itself as a hub for humanitarian organisations. How do you view this and what would be your message to agencies wanting to base themselves here?
A: I believe that it is an ideal place for aid agencies, especially those involved in emergency response. Its location, within a two-hour flight to major crisis areas in Africa and Asia, means that emergency teams can bring life saving assistance quickly and on time. Dubai’s capacity as a major regional supplier also means that aid agencies can procure what they need quickly and cost effectively. More importantly, there is a commitment at the highest level in Dubai to facilitate all procedures for aid agencies to enable them to deliver help and save lives. This combination of factors indeed makes Dubai an ideal platform for humanitarian agencies.