COVID-19 Forces Relief Rethink at World’s Largest Humanitarian Hub
This is how the UN Country Team for the UAE was able to respond during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching millions, from the UAE to the world.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the United Nations Country Team for the UAE, together with the International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai, rose to the challenge and were able to respond immediately and extend support to people in distress and communities affected by the COVID-19 globally. To date, the COVID19 emergency continues to dominate the operations of IHC, where two-thirds of the response is dedicated to pandemic assistance. Whenever a disaster occurs, the UN system springs into action to send emergency relief.
How did UN Agencies in UAE respond to the COVID19 pandemic?
The World Health Organization (WHO) uses its warehouse and logistics office at IHC Dubai, to send out relief medical supplies to all 6 WHO geographic regions, supporting a total of 129 countries. During the initial 90 days of the pandemic, approximately 75-80% of WHO-procured PPE in response to COVID-19 was dispatched from WHO stockpiles within the IHC in Dubai. The WHO operations have expanded from 2,500 square meters to now nearly 10x the size with 20,000 square meters of storage infrastructure within the IHC; currently managing the arrival and dispatch of over 100 metric tons per week.
“We are roughly 10 times the size that we were in 2018 and the dollar values of supplies held has grown from 5 million to 70 million,” said Robert Blanchard, WHO Team Lead for Operational Support and Logistics. “We have basically completed more shipments to more countries across more regions than we ever have before.”
In their turn, the World Food Programme (WFP), operates in Dubai with the largest humanitarian response depot in its global network, leveraging the UAE’s unique position as a logistics gateway and commercial hub connecting all corners of the world. WFP is working closely with WHO and the UN system and is using its logistics capacity and expertise to provide emergency response and logistics and supply chain services, ensuring critical health and humanitarian cargo and personnel can move to where they are needed most.
Infrastructure for Global Response
The UAE provided the UN with 7 air freight flights at the start of the pandemic when global transport connections were disrupted as a result of lockdowns. WFP alone delivered 700 tons of health-related supplies valued at US$42 million, to 72 countries in the first few months of the pandemic, in addition to leveraging supply chain partners and other contributions. As a result, WFP can reach nearly 80 million people within a duration of 3 hours.
Additionally, WHO have also secured charter flights, strengthened partnerships with the UAE government, and consolidated medical supplies with other UN partners to maximize the efficiency of the response. For instance, WHO/Dubai Logistics Hub dispatched health commodities worth US$ 58.9 million to 116 countries. The volume, value, number of shipments, number of countries, and number of regions supported in 2020 exceeded the outputs of the previous 5 years combined.
Responding to Urgent Humanitarian Needs
The COVID-19 pandemic, which began as a health crisis and quickly became a human and socio-economic crisis, has shaken the foundations of our societies and economies and exposed the most vulnerable to unprecedented hardships. Due to the UAE’s strategic presence and support, multiple UN agencies are responding to urgent humanitarian needs to ensure that no one is left behind.
UNICEF, as a key delivery partner for COVAX, is rolling out the largest vaccine supply operation in history, navigating a complex web of logistics to ensure deliveries reach their destination on time. UNICEF has received a vital boost from the Abu Dhabi-based HOPE Consortium to transport life-saving supplies to countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a major in-kind contribution to COVAX announced by the UAE in 2021.
Additionally, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) utilizes one of its largest stockpiles globally, located at IHC Dubai, to reach displaced communities worldwide. The stockpile mostly consists of shelter materials and non-food items such as family tents, blankets, kitchen sets, and other relief items. It is equipped with Core Relief Items for more than 250,000 people, in addition to Safety and Security items for field operations and vehicles. With the support of the IHC, it can provide an immediate response to urgent humanitarian needs of displaced persons worldwide and provide functioning living conditions within days.
What happens when the next global emergency hits?
Conor Lennon from UN News visited the warehouses of WHO and WFP at the IHC in Dubai, for a podcast episode of “The Lid Is On” featured on UN News, to speak to some of those responsible for getting needed supplies as quickly as possible to those who desperately need them and to ask what happens when the next global emergency hits? Listen to the podcast here.