It is difficult to imagine the scale of Typhoon Haiyan, the superstorm that tore through the Philippines this time last week. The statistics – as of yesterday, 2,275 people were confirmed dead with a further 10,000 missing and at least 600,000 homeless – are overwhelming.
The UAE was among the first nations to respond to the disaster, with the President, Sheikh Khalifa, pledging Dh37 million in relief projects. The UAE Red Crescent has sent a team to the Philippines with an initial Dh1 million budget, to be supplemented when the requirements on the ground are known. On top of all this, there have been large private donations from across the Emirates, from charities, social groups, businesses and individuals. One man reportedly gave Dh50,000, and many other people and companies are sending direct aid to the families of their Filipino employees.
All this underscores the place that philanthropy holds at all levels of society. Charity is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith, and the UAE, as one of the wealthier Muslim nations, has taken the lead.
As Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Development and International Cooperation, told delegates at the Emirates Foundation Philanthropy Summit in Abu Dhabi this week: “As a country we have always believed that giving back is important and understood that we must help less fortunate members of the community.”
Such acts of charity make clear the values of this nation and all the people who live here; our shared sense of fairness, empathy for others and ethical stance. Giving unites people across many divides and, when it is done wisely, it can drive positive change in the world.
The need in the Philippines is now urgent – to feed, clothe and shelter those who lost everything in just a few hours – but there will be much more to do in the long term.
Thousands of families will suffer hardship for the foreseeable future. What Haiyan has torn apart will take years, perhaps a generation, to restore. Well before then, the media caravan will have moved on, and attention will be focused elsewhere.
Our challenge is to continue to give, and to care, after the headlines fade away. Money, equipment and expertise will be needed to help those whose lives have been shattered, and to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals to higher standards so they will survive the next natural disaster.