Friday - - In the UAE -

Soli­man Mo­ham­mad Daud shows me a few din­ing ta­ble-sized flat-pack car­tons neatly stacked in the cav­ernous ware­house of UNHCR’s Dubai Sup­ply Of­fice. Smil­ing, the avun­cu­lar gen­tle­man then leads me to an­other area of the ware­house where a mod­est struc­ture of four walls with a slop­ing roof of soft can­vas stands.

‘Do you know,’ says the se­nior global sup­ply of­fi­cer, ‘it takes just four hours to set up a shel­ter like this from the flat packs you saw ear­lier.’

The walls of the shel­ter are made of white fi­bre­glass sheets firmly bolted to a steel frame. ‘The tech­nol­ogy used to make this shel­ter is sim­ple,’ he says. The in­struc­tions to assem­ble it are clear and very much Ikeast­yle and can be put to­gether even by un­skilled peo­ple.

‘The new ones come equipped with so­lar lamps and are suit­able for a fam­ily of five, and can be sep­a­rated by a cur­tain into a liv­ing and cook­ing ar­eas,’ he says.

Most re­cently these shel­ters were shipped to Iraq to help refugees cope dur­ing the harsh win­ters.

Of­fer­ing shel­ter to needy peo­ple is just one part of UNHCR’s mis­sion. ‘We re­spond to hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gen­cies that are a re­sult of any nat­u­ral or man-made dis­as­ters or con­flicts,’ says Soli­man. ‘Such cri­sis sit­u­a­tions could force peo­ple to leave their homes and part of our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to pro­vide shel­ters for such peo­ple.’

The fig­ures tell a har­row­ing tale. Ac­cord­ing to the UN agency, more than 65 mil­lion peo­ple around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Among them are over 21 mil­lion refugees, and what is more wor­ry­ing is that over half of them are be­low 18.

That’s not all. Nearly 34,000 peo­ple, says the agency, are forcibly dis­placed ev­ery day as a re­sult of con­flict or per­se­cu­tion.

The UNHCR’s Dubai of­fice stock­piles emer­gency shel­ter as­sis­tance that can be rushed in 72 hours or less to any cri­sis point. ‘We work on the premise that if there’s a dis­as­ter and peo­ple start mov­ing in large num­bers, there are of­ten no big public build­ings where such peo­ple can stay. We of­fer them as­sis­tance to stay un­til a long term so­lu­tion is found or when they can re­turn to their homes,’ he says.

While the UN body also has emer­gency stock­piles in Malaysia, Panama, Spain and Italy, the de­pot in Dubai is the largest, hold­ing tents, blan­kets, plas­tic sheet­ing, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, jerry cans and more, which can meet the needs of 350,000 peo­ple.

‘Nor­mally, within 24 hours we would be able to send a Boe­ing 747 air­craft full of sup­plies de­pend­ing on the cri­sis,’ says Soli­man. When was the most re­cent call for help? ‘Two days ago from South Su­dan,’ he says. The call em­anates from the UNHCR’s of­fice in Bu­dapest, which co­or­di­nates aid flow. Field teams make an ini­tial as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine the num­ber of shel­ter units, for in­stance, that are re­quired. ‘They will brief our head­quar­ters in Geneva, which will in­form the emer­gency sec­tion in Bu­dapest. We re­ceive in­struc­tions from them on when, where and how many units to ship or air­lift.’

The of­fice in Dubai does more than just rush ship­ments. ‘We also con­duct reg­u­lar qual­ity as­sur­ance mea­sures on the items that ar­rives here,’ says Des­ta­mena Vin­odh, sup­ply as­so­ciate. ‘We en­sure that ev­ery­thing we buy is of a cer­tain qual­ity. For in­stance, the jerry cans are sub­jected to a drop test.’ A few ran­domly se­lected cans are filled with wa­ter and dropped from a height of about 2m – the height at which the av­er­age per­son would be car­ry­ing it on their head to fetch wa­ter – to see if it bursts upon im­pact.

Cook­ing uten­sils too are checked for leak­age and if their han­dles are firm, while blan­kets are checked for tears.

‘Blan­kets and tents are of­ten the most im­por­tant things a refugee re­quires so all care is taken to en­sure they are of the high­est qual­ity,’ says Soli­man.

He then leads us to a smaller, highly re­stricted room where bul­let-proof vests and bul­let-proof hel­mets are stocked. Sport­ing the vests that weigh around 14 to 16kg feels akin to car­ry­ing around a sauna – un­com­fort­able and sweat-in­duc­ing. ‘But they can be very im­por­tant to vol­un­teers and the UN team on the ground in some hotspots,’ says Soli­man.

As we pre­pare to leave the ware­house, I ask him what the set of long poles are for. ‘They are street lights,’ he says. ‘They come with so­lar lamps and can be erected eas­ily.’

You have pretty much ev­ery­thing cov­ered, I tell him. ‘We have to be,’ says Soli­man. ‘The idea is to do as much as pos­si­ble to make the refugee fam­ily im­me­di­ately com­fort­able and stress free.’

Soli­man Daud says emer­gency shel­ter as­sis­tance can be rushed in 72 hours or less to any cri­sis point from Dubai

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