Ramazan in Dubai: A month of soaring food waste?

Published: August 16, 2011
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Iftars at the top end venues are often pricey, with some charging as much as 200 dirhams ($55) per person. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL/EXPRESS

Iftars at the top end venues are often pricey, with some charging as much as 200 dirhams ($55) per person. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL/EXPRESS

DUBAI: Hundreds of Asian labourers sit silently on the floor outside Dubai’s Fatima Hassan Mosque in front of plates laden with fruit, pakoras and biryani as they wait patiently in the energy-sapping humidity to begin their Ramazan iftar.

Nearby, sweat-drenched volunteers hastily scoop the deep-fried vegetables and the rice-based dishes of stewed meats from huge metal urns on to plates for the last of their weary guests, as they count down the final minutes until the sun disappears from the horizon, the moment they can break their daily dawn-to-dusk fast in the Muslim holy month due to end as August closes.

The mosque, situated downtown just yards from Dubai’s creek — the location of the emirate’s original trading hub when it was just a small trade and fishing centre — provides a free iftar for the poor every day during the holy month, cooking enough rice, mutton or chicken to feed some 1,500-1,800 workers in one sitting.

The Fatima Hassan Mosque’s waste bins may be empty, but Ramazan brings a huge increase in food waste across the city and the Gulf as leftovers from more lavish banquets attended by the well-to-do are thrown out in a region where soaring summer temperatures mean that fresh food goes off quickly.

“We hardly have any waste. Whatever is left over we serve to people. We call the people over and give it to them,” said Nour Mohammed, a sales coordinator who volunteers to serve food.

But not all iftars in Dubai are simple meals provided for the poor — many of whom are migrant workers, paid less that 1,000 dirhams ($272) a month and often have large debts.

Dubai has transformed itself over the last 50 years into a regional business and tourism hub renowned for extravagant real estate projects, flashy living and the luxurious banquets at hotels and restaurants to accommodate the demands of wealthy consumers who want the best fresh food at their iftar feasts.

The emirate boasts the world’s tallest tower, man-made islands in the shape of palms visible from space, and a number of luxurious hotels — including the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab — many of which lay on massive iftars for those who can afford it.

Iftars at the top end venues are often pricey, with some charging as much as 200 dirhams ($55) per person.

“They see Ramazan as a possibility to squeeze a non-alcoholic consuming demographic and the economy has been slow for a while,” said Mishaal al-Gergawi, a current affairs commentator in the United Arab Emirates.

What a waste

Despite the hours of preparation put into the often vast displays of food, waiters at top hotels in Dubai say much of the food left over goes straight into the waste bins.

The amount of food thrown out in the emirate jumps considerably in the holy month — by as much as 20 percent according to Dubai Municipality, with most of the waste comprising rice and non-vegetable foods.

Around 1,850 tonnes of food were thrown out on average per day during Ramazan in 2010, roughly 20 percent of total waste in the emirate during the holy month, it said.

In neighbouring Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, at least 500 tonnes of food were thrown out on a daily basis during the month Abu Dhabi-based daily the National reported in August last year.

“Hot and cold — all the food on the buffet gets thrown out,” said a waiter at a five star hotel in Dubai who gave his name only as Nazir, through fear of losing his job, as he went around topping up dishes on the iftar buffet, while businessmen hovered around him, eying the vast spread of food on offer.

“If people order room service then we’ll make it fresh again. But sometimes we have a lot of waste,” Nazir said.

Food experts at top hotels JW Marriott and Hilton in Dubai however say they plan so that no food is thrown out despite preparing up to 15 percent more food during the holy month.

“We have control systems that help us avoid excess,” said Simon Lazarus, senior area director of food and beverage, Hilton Worldwide, Middle East and Africa.

“Even if there is a little bit left over the staff all eat it. We never recycle food and we have our own strict policy not to.”

Spirit of fasting

The large increase in food waste during the holy month has drawn criticism from religious scholars who say that it goes against the spirit of fasting.

“Wasting the blessing of Allah, like food, particularly at a time when you see people starving in Ethiopia, Somalia and other places, does not fit in the Islamic notion of moderation. God says in the Koran that those who waste the blessing of God, they are the brethren of the devils,” said Sheikh Muddassir Siddiqui, an Islamic scholar in Dubai.

“Hotels should cut back on the amount of food they provide. It should not be a matter of prestige. Iftars at hotels should not be intended just for rich people but for everyone – particularly the less fortunate and there are many of them.”

One charity that has been looking to help the poor and needy is Hefth al-Ne’ma — Arabic for “Saving Grace.” Set up in 2004, the Abu Dhabi-based organisation collects leftover food from large gatherings such as weddings, banquets and iftars at hotels in the UAE capital to distribute food that is safe to eat.

The charity is hoping to set up operations in Dubai and other emirates later this year its manager Sultan al-Shehi told Reuters.

“There are a lot of people who are in need in the UAE and this is an interesting way to bridge the disparity,” said commentator Gergawi.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Adnan
    Aug 16, 2011 - 8:32PM

    Somalia and Kenya are suffering one of the worst droughts and people are dying of hunger. It is time that help reaches them in the form of food or money. The UN has also appealed for help. Those who would like to help must support credible aid agencies who are working in those regions.

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  • Mohd Rify
    Aug 16, 2011 - 9:52PM

    I been fortunate to spent few months in UAE. And have interacted with people of various ethnics, religious, and nationalities. From what i have seen, Arabs ( i mean those wealthy Arabs, Saudi, UAE, Qatari, Bahraini, Kuwaiti ,Omani ), have great tendency to love for everything from western, right from their cars, white women, drugs, alcohol, casinos,..etc. yet they do nothing to the rest of the Muslim nations like Somalia, Afghans, Palestinians. they spend money lavishly on gambling, and do everything that Muslims prohibit to do..but when they have problem , they use Muslim card, and say Muslims are attacked…

    Believe me, i have iota of feeling for these filthy Arabs, who use religion as a escape card when they are in trouble.. and between, for them all Asians are third class people, even you could be Muslims..by which i mean Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Iranians , Phillipines are a sex material for them… but these south Asian Muslims feel pride to work for Muslim state, and are OK to be slave to Arabs…

    So therefore, i am no surprized to see such wastage of food, and you wont see those Arabs guys in Arab nation now.., they must be hiding in Europe and Thailand, as they cant fast and cant live without being with women…to me, west is far far better, when it comes to helping hand than these filthy sex minded Arabs. These Arabs state cant be guardian of Mecca and Medina, and cant protect other poor Muslim nation, let alone protecting themselves.Recommend

  • Star
    Aug 17, 2011 - 3:33AM

    @Mohd Rify…. You seem awfully obsessed with the sex lives of the wealthy Arabs?… All men are answerable to God for their actions themselves… Let him be the judge of their deeds… In the meanwhile i would advise you to seek some serious help in overcoming your disturbing obsession with the wealthy Arab men and their fondness for White and Filipino women.

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  • Asma
    Aug 17, 2011 - 6:48AM

    @Star:
    Star – like most people you have missed the point of Mohd Rify’s comment. If all you can understand from his broad comment is the mention of sex then I am sorry but you are the one who sounds obsessed. All matters/ issues should be discussed like adults and the fear of the ghairat brigade should not hinder a frank discussion.

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  • Mirza
    Aug 17, 2011 - 8:53AM

    I have not lived in any such country and have no desire either except visiting friends there for a few days several times. The first time I came across the local people I felt proud and thanked God that I am not one of them and instead a Pakistani. All the Pakistanis who question that I am not a Pakistani or call me a traitor please note that I do feel proud to be a Pakistani especially when surrounded by egotistic, lazy, hypocrites and slave drivers.

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  • Aug 17, 2011 - 11:41AM

    This Ramadan, let’s remember those who are not as blessed as we are. Also, please consider sending the money to chairty organisations we would have spent on “Eid Presents” this year, to help the needy. It will make us feel a whole lot better. Do I need another pant? Another coat? Another cell phone? This money saved, can make a whole lot of difference to someone.

    The Quran states: “O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, he likes not those who commit excess.”
    According to a Hadith (Prophets words): “Eat, drink and give charity without excessiveness or arrogance”.

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  • pardesi
    Aug 17, 2011 - 8:16PM

    @ Author,

    if the poor are not wasting the food they are getting, why even mention them in this article.

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  • Mohd Rify
    Aug 17, 2011 - 8:19PM

    @ star : i guess you just read abt sex as a word that i mention..
    if u read it, i mean they have the tendancy of doing it for their own mean.so when it comes to facing the problem , they have to face it, my problem is why they use religions as a mean to escape..which is bothering rest of the muslimbrotherhood….

    Polygamy is not practice in south asia, as our law doesnt permit, yet in the world, we as a muslims are branded as if we love to have many wives.. its hard to explain a non muslim guy, that i am muslim and im not a arab, and there is a huge difference in it.

    Between, I am very educated, well mannerd, well cultured person, i dont need any class or rehabilitation session of any sort. perhaps you need to get out of madarssa, and stop adoring arabs, just because they happen to be living in the place where our prophets once lived.

    @ Asma : glad you able to read my mind..;)Recommend

  • Bilal
    Aug 18, 2011 - 12:23AM

    Dear Mohd Rify,

    whatever you have mentioned is somehow correct but i don’t agree with you totally. i am living in emirates for last 4 years almost. i have been working with locals here as well as other Arab nationalities like Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians etc. when i said i agree with you somehow, i meant in case of UAE, your study is not totally correct but to some extent. Locals here are very caring, loving and they respect others with hear and soul. Point to remember is that all the Arabs were not wealthy enough few decades ago but during last 3 to 4 decades, Allah blessed them with uncountable wealth. those who go money in recent years “Nau Daultiye” are not very well mannered but majority are pretty decent. Because this article is specifically mentioning Dubai and UAE, i would say that locals here are best among all Arab nationalities.

    secondly, when we point fingers at others, before that we should have a look at ourselves as well. we being Pakistanis, as a nation as well as Muslims, are we having good behaviors, respect for other and love with in ourselves?? because you have mentioned specifically about sex, i would say that we are not different as well. if they play Islamic card, we as a nation also play it when we are in need of money, our government runs to Gulf countries and ask for money in the name of Islam and Muslims of Pakistan.

    to cut short, we are also same, in fact as per my worst knowledge, we as a nation have more bad habits than Arabs in Gulf.

    you may not agree with my opinion, but i have tried to share my experience and understanding.

    regards,

    Proud Pakistani

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