08 Jan 2010

HRH Princess Haya Visits Nairobi, Kenya

You are among the world leaders who work to raise awareness of the UN\'s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As a UN Messenger of Peace, what has Your role been in terms of achieving these goals, both regionally and internationally?

My goal is to persuade political leaders and the public to take the Millennium Development Goals seriously and make education, health and nutrition real priorities for government spending. My particular focus is hunger and I have made field visits to Ethiopia, Malawi and Kenya to visit food aid projects and I plan more. I have spoken on hunger and poverty often and written about them for major newspapers in the Gulf region, Europe, North America and Asia.

My message is simple: We do not have our priorities straight. For example, Sheikh Mohammed recently wrote that the total military expenditure in the Middle East over the last 60 years was over $3 trillion while Arab countries now spend barely a tenth of what the developed world spends per student on education. How can you achieve the MDGs with these budget priorities?

There is no doubt we can do better, but governments must focus on the MDGs and make health and education come first. For example, in Dubai (HHSM) the Government has recognized that health care for children is crucial to reaching the MDGs and we are building a world class specialized paediatric hospital.

We all must invest more in the health and education of our children because, simply put, they are our future. We still have a long way to go to reach the MDGs all countries endorsed in 2000 and remind every politician I meet of the pledges they made then to the world’s children.

Your international humanitarian affiliations speak volumes of Your efforts to help underprivileged people and communities. What and where is the next humanitarian project or visit? How, exactly, is the UAE involved?

My special focus is on hunger so we have sponsored research on ready to eat therapeutic foods for malnourished children, especially under the age of 2. Wasting and malnutrition among the youngest children claims well over a million lives and destroys the futures of tens of millions more. We will use this research to help collaborate with the agencies working in this critical area -- WFP, UNICEF, MSF and others to see how we in the UAE can help. We are also looking at possible visits to food aid and agricultural projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka in Asia, Haiti and Cuba in the western hemisphere and Sudan and Palestine in our own region.

We are also having discussions with the Secretary-General’s Office about better ways to reach out to the families of humanitarian workers killed in emergencies. The level of violence in humanitarian operations just keeps rising in places like Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia. HH Sheikh Mohamed is very concerned about this issue and we our coming up with concrete measures to help.

A couple of months ago, more precisely on the morning of October 28th, five UN workers were killed in a pre-dawn attack on a guesthouse in Kabul. Following the announcement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that half of the international staff be relocated and on the orders of HH Sheikh Mohammed, the Dubai Government facilitated the rapid provision of accommodation for the inbound UN staff. In all, 200 of the UN’s staff relocated to the International Humanitarian City in Dubai.

The message is clear. We must do our part as world citizens and inspire people to embrace diversity, foster harmony, and encourage a genuine spirit of peace.

What efforts do You think should be urgently made to eliminate hunger and poverty in Arab countries with the help of the UAE?

Each Arab nation is, of course, unique, but my feeling is that Tkiyet Um Ali in Jordan provides a good model for combating hunger and poverty. The first step in ending hunger is admitting politically that it exists and many countries simply hide from reality. Denial never helps. The second step is setting up viable mechanisms – government and private -- to tackle the problem.

Tkiyet Umm Ali is the first Arab NGO focused primarily on hunger assisting 30,000 people directly and 28 schools. It does not just help feed people – it helps people feed themselves through employment initiatives and training programmes. We are using modern technology like “smart cards” for food distributions and monitoring. We are especially proud of the fact that in Jordan we acknowledged that we have a hunger problem – particularly with the rises in food prices globally last year – and we are tackling it. This could not have been achieved without the wisdom and blessings of my Late father HM King Hussein, and His Majesty King Abdullah, who has been the most supportive of our efforts.

How do we pay for it all? Well, governments must reorder priorities but private initiatives like Dubai Cares, a charity that implements comprehensive educational programs in 13 countries in the developing world to help them each achieve their MDG’s, can gather substantial resources for a whole range of anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives.

What barriers do You think should be removed to boost humanitarian operations both regionally and internationally?

There are simple logistical barriers that slow humanitarian aid and we have tried to deal with many of them at the IHC in Dubai – issues like storage, duties, and the like. But we cannot be the only duty free transport humanitarian hub globally. So more progress on logistics to help speed aid shipments is important.

But there are other issues like too many uncoordinated players trying to deliver aid at the same time and funding shortfalls. That is where the UN (OCHA) can play a more role both as a funding center and coordinator. If you do not have enough funds, you do not want to duplicate.

Your Royal Highness has an increasingly strong voice in paediatric health care – is this something you have inherited from your mother? Do you feel that there is a need for an international voice in this area?

Absolutely. Almost monthly there is new research on the social and economic impact of childhood illnesses and malnutrition. It is not just the children who pay the price of illness and hunger, but the societies where they grow up. We cannot have children whose learning abilities and strength are so sapped that they cannot study properly or work effectively when they grow older. Our obligation to help is moral – but there will be an economic payoff in more attention to this critical issue.