Opinion Piece for Asharq Al Awsat Newspaper by H.E. Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation
This week, the UAE reached a milestone in its efforts to fight COVID-19, as it passed the 1000-tonne mark in the distribution of medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) to over 70 countries. That figure translates into direct assistance to one million frontline health workers around the world.
The airlift began shortly after the first signs of rapid spread of COVID-19. We started by offering assistance to neighboring Arab countries. Then, we received requests by other governments outside the region for assistance, as a sudden rise in cases overwhelmed their ability to cope.
This sort of response is not new to the UAE and stems from the authentic Arab values embodied by our wise leadership in all areas of cooperation with Arab nations and other countries around the world with which we share ties of brotherhood and friendship. The best expression of this isin the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai: "Living nations do not escape or despair of challenges; we are a living nation that has not suffered in the past and will not despair in the future. We do not delay in supporting brothers, friends, afflicted and needy people wherever they are, supporting the weak and teaching the young, satisfying the hungry and treating the patient, building hospitals and cities, building schools, and spreading the message of love and giving among mankind.”
Yes, the Arab nation is alive is facing the most dangerous pandemic and threat to humankind. With our Arab brothers and sisters, we wanted to demonstrate that at a time of crisis, the Arab world was an active part of the global response to COVID-19. We wanted to translate the solidarity and empathy the world was experiencing into cooperative action.
While the PPE flights are perhaps the most visible aspect of the UAE’s contribution to the fight against COVID-19, they are part of a much broader and deeper effort built on the UAE’s expansive global relationships, strategic location, and long-term investment in health and logistics infrastructure. As a global hub inextricably tied to the global economy and exchange of ideas in a volatile region, the UAE has always felt a responsibility to try to alleviate suffering. This is reflected in our historical commitment to be among the top providers of global aid in both relative and absolute terms.
In March 2020, we evacuated 215 foreign nationals from COVID-19-afflicted Wuhan, China, and hosted them in a special preventative healthcare facility in the UAE. And as global commercial flights ground to a halt, the UAE helped thousands separated from their families and loved ones get back home – wherever home was. In addition to the PPE and repatriation flights, we have delivered large numbers of testing kits to countries that needed them.
A decade of international collaboration in science and technology has enabled the UAE to make significant contributions on the medical front, as well: we have helped advance the search for a COVID-19 vaccine and developed a promising stem cell treatment. We have also helped rapidly bring advanced screening and testing technologies to market.
The UAE’s deep commitment to advancing humanitarian objectives is clear in another domain: space exploration. Some might ask why, in mid-July 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, the UAE sought to launch a probe to Mars (aptly named “Hope.”) It is because we believe that space exploration is not just about what is up there, but what is here on Earth: it advances the cause of science, provides us with perspective and a sense of greater purpose, and promotes intensive cooperation with other countries. It also shows Arab youth that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
While the fight against COVID-19 is certainly not the same as a space mission, there are some similarities. Perhaps, most of all, both provide us with perspective. As we adapt to the ‘new normal,’ we must maintain perspective and appreciate that overall, the global response to COVID-19 has been nothing short of spectacular in its scale and scope.
Governments, communities, and companies have set aside disagreements and competitive concerns in pursuit of a common cause.
But as the world adjusts to its ‘new normal,’ we must be vigilant. We must make sure we do not forget the lessons of COVID-19 and rush to return to old habits and conveniences. This is particularly true when it comes to climate change. Over the last months, global emissions have fallen dramatically. Signs of environmental resilience are everywhere. While it is an unintended effect of the pandemic, this is a clear demonstration that we can join efforts and protect the share resources of our planet. We can all make a difference. There is hope, and we must find ways to reinforce this message at every turn.
Meanwhile, as the UAE continues its efforts to fight COVID-19 with our Arab and international partners, we are looking forward to taking international cooperation to a new level here at home with Expo 2020 Dubai. The country’s successful bid has been an enormous source of pride. It is a sign of how far the UAE has come since independence in 1971, as well as the trust the international community puts in us. When it became clear we needed to postpone the event, there was a feeling of great disappointment. But when Expo 2020 opens in Dubai in 2021, it will surely be infused with even more energy and urgency, as our collective perspective has shifted. Expo 2020 will be an opportunity for humanity to reflect on how it persevered in the face of COVID-19, with hope for the future -- and for us in the Arab world to be extremely proud of our contributions to the greater good.