08 Nov 2015

HRH Princess Haya receives Giglio d’Oro Award in Florence, Italy for Her outstanding contributions in the humanitarian field

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured by this recognition of the humanitarian work I do on behalf of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and the United Nations.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I will treasure this award, not as a reminder of all that has been done, but as a reminder of all, there is still to do.

It will likely find a home next to an hourglass which I love that is filled with sand from the Arabian Desert. It is about this big, and it takes exactly 15 minutes for the sand to trickle from the top chamber, through the narrow space in the middle, to the bottom.

Sometimes, I turn the glass over and race the sand while I tackle a task… anything from reducing a backlog in my inbox to tidying my front room. In truth, I find that it is usually the things that are overdue or onerous that benefit from an injection of urgency.

Earlier this week, as I was packing for this trip, my little boy, Zayed, walked in, threw his little arms around my legs, and asked me to play with him. Crouching down, I promised I would, as soon as I was finished packing.

“But when Mama?”, he asked. “Fifteen minutes”, I replied, reaching out and turning the hourglass over as I did.

Well, let me tell you, a quarter of an hour is not a long time for a woman to pack.

Three or four minutes in, I was running. By five, I was beginning to break a sweat. When I looked up again, there were equal amounts of sand in both chambers. I was not going to make it.

Zayed, who was watching in quiet bemusement, walked over to the hourglass, picked it up, and lay it on its side.

“I make time wait for you, Mama”, he said, breathtakingly perfect in his three-year-old innocence.

If only it were so simple.

I am truly humbled to receive this award today, but equally, I feel somewhat fraudulent in accepting it. Firstly, and most importantly, because I know that I have not done enough with the time that I have had. And while we are gathered here tonight, to reflect for a moment on the accomplishments of the past, humanity’s hourglass has not been turned on its side: poverty and hunger do not come with an intermission.

The persistence of hunger right now, in 2015, says more about the rest of us than it does about the hungry. The truth is that the world has had more than enough food to feed every man, woman and child for over half a century. We just do not share very well.  

Global food aid and support for agriculture each year

amount to less than what the developed world spends on pet food. Not only do we share badly, but we make it very hard for the poor - especially the women - to fight their way out of poverty.  

My interest in helping combat hunger among the poor comes from my mother, Her Majesty the Late Queen Alia, who was devoted to this cause and inspired me to create the Jordanian NGO Tkiyet Um Ali in her honour. I also learned from her how very fragile – and finite – life is. None of us can know how much sand remains in the upper part of the hourglasses of our lives; what proportion has already passed. The lessons which teach us to use our time wisely are surely life’s most difficult.

Tkiyet Um Ali has been primarily a domestic initiative -- Jordanians feeding Jordanians.  By the end of this year, we will be reaching every family that lacks the income to pay for a decent diet, and we will achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal on hunger in Jordan. However, this is only a start, and we need to do more.


On the UN side, I have been impressed by the progress that has been made against poverty, hunger and disease. When I was an ambassador for the World Food Programme I remember visiting a hospital in Blantyre, Malawi filled with starving women and children. Most had AIDS.  

There were virtually no anti-retroviral drugs in Malawi at the time. I am sure all concerned would deny this today, but there were arguments within the United Nations and among the donors whether it was even worthwhile to feed these people. They were destined to die. Why bother? There was no cure, and the drugs they needed were expensive.

Our sense of humanity triumphed in the end.

We did feed these families; we bought them time, and today, millions of Africans are on lifesaving medication.  But we have not done enough, and I come back to the fact that the hourglasses of the lives of those less fortunate than us have not been laid on their sides while we consider our next moves.

The second reason that I feel fraudulent in standing here tonight is because, in many ways, you have awarded this prize to the wrong person. Really, the recipient should have been my husband, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed - without his loving support and generosity, I would not have been able to do nearly so much.

Last year, for example, we were able to feed almost 300,000 people in shelters in Gaza as the Israeli bombardment devastated the city. Tkiyet Um Ali organised contributions in Jordan and put together rations within days after the fighting began. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed organised an air bridge of 747s and C130s from the International Humanitarian City in Dubai to Amman to ferry relief supplies to UNWRA -- tents, water purifiers, blankets and most importantly food to Gaza. The International Humanitarian City in Dubai was his creation. It is now the world's largest logistical centre for aid, which has been so crucial in the initial response to crises ranging from Syria to Afghanistan to Haiti, and now even Greece.  

In my time with the United Nations, I have met some wonderful people - one of them was the Maestro Pavarotti and his beloved Nicoletta, whose already generous spirit has grown wings; and who the adored Luciano Pavarotti would be most proud of, and their daughter, Alicia, looks up to.

My personal list of heroes includes the aid workers in Medecins Sans Frontiers, the World Food Programme, the UN peacekeepers, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to name a few. They often struggle against great odds with little reward and every one of them is deserving of our recognition, respect and support.

But the question is not, what have we done well, but how can we do more as we race the hourglass of poverty, of hunger, of disease?

In our approach to aid, we need to be more creative, and to encourage innovation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed recently established the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives foundation to consolidate the work of 28 Dubai organisations focused on fighting poverty and illness, spreading knowledge and culture, empowering the community and driving innovation.

The foundation will launch the largest and most comprehensive development programme in the Arab region and will invest in medical research, as well as educational, knowledge-focused and scientific initiatives.

Dubai and the UAE pride themselves on promoting creativity in business enterprise and eliminating political and social obstacles to economic growth. Few people know this, but the UAE has moved into the number one position among the world's donors, giving 1.2 per cent of GNI every year to foreign aid in more than 100 countries - nearly $5 billion from a country of only 8 million people.

I am deeply proud of our leadership for this remarkable commitment - if every donor country matched it, we would have more than enough funds to end hunger, attack climate change and bring an end to poverty.

But no matter how generous donors may become, we will never succeed in ending hunger and poverty until we open our minds and try harder to understand people whose traditions are different from our own.

Only then will we free our leaders’ energies from endless cycles of geopolitical manoeuvring and violence, and enable a focus instead on humanity.

And only then will our children, and our children’s children, be able to look to a future that is worthy of them; a future within which their shared human experiences outweigh their differences.

Thank you.