The International Humanitarian City in Dubai’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai, the world’s largest humanitarian hub, plays an integral role in facilitating efficient first responses to crises at a global level.

IHC members community includes about 80 UN organisations, International NGOs, intergovernmental organisations, and commercial companies concerned with humanitarian work.

Because of the city’s strategic location in Dubai, humanitarian organizations can quickly respond to disasters and deliver relief supplies to nearly two-thirds of the world with utmost speed and efficiency.

The International Humanitarian City assists humanitarian organizations by facilitating and expediting the transportation of aid to those who need it most.

As the COVID -19 pandemic continues to spread rapidly around the world, the IHC in collaboration with its members community doubled down its efforts to extend support to people in distress and communities affected by the COVID-19 globally.

Since the beginning of this year, the IHC and its members have played an active role in assisting countries and communities in need, providing them with assistance and aid to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 on populations affected around the world, and facilitating first responses to crises at the global level.



Mr Giuseppe Saba IHC CEO said: “despite our focus on emergency preparedness and response and the lessons learnt from previous and recent epidemic situations such as Ebola or Avian flu, the COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented challenge for the humanitarian workers and the full community. Since the initial phases of the pandemic situation, IHC supported the relief efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), which represents the front-line UN organization in fighting against the COVID-19, by providing logistics support for a smooth supply chain. With the vision of not leaving anybody behind, we supported also the relief efforts of World Food Program (WFP), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) for responding also to other emergencies than COVID-19”.  “As of today,” He added: “IHC community did 566 shipments, weighing 1,610,159kg and value of approx. USD 63.7 Millions.” While IHC directly facilitated and supported 7 airlifts during this period.

As part of our preparedness, IHC Board of Directors, approved in December 2019 a triennium plan 2020-2022, for the Optimization of our storage space by increasing 22,500 pallet positions within the warehouse’s areas under temperature control; to build-up, a Kitting Centre, thus enabling the members to assemble various kits, including those destined to provide assistance in epidemic and pandemic situations and to create conditions for professional storage and management of medicines and vaccines requiring a cold chain. The COVID-19 pandemic imposed to accelerate all 3 projects which are becoming crucial and instrumental in the COVID-19 global response”.



Robert Blanchard from WHO’s logistics hub in Dubai said: “We began responding to COVID-19 in late January, dispatching PPE to the Philippines, the first country to record a COVID-19 related death outside of China. In the weeks and months that followed, our shipments reflected the spread of the virus as we responded to countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. As of today, we have supported 105 countries with over 18 million pieces of PPE across all 6 WHO geographic regions.”

He added: “In the first few months, approximately 80% of all PPE dispatched globally originated from our stockpiles within the IHC.”

Describing the magnitude of this response by WHO and putting it into perspective, Mr. Blanchard says: “During the first 5 years of the WHO/Dubai operations, we dispatched 333 shipments in response to health emergencies– as of today (August 2020), we are preparing shipment 349, more than the previous 5 years combined in just 8 months.”

Mr. Blanchard concludes: “The COVID-19 response has clearly demonstrated that the IHC is much more than a collection of warehouses, it is truly a humanitarian community. Through the support of the IHC we have secured charter flights, strengthened partnerships with the government of the UAE, and consolidated medical supplies with other UN partners to maximize the efficiency of the response.”



The lockdown and restrictions on global movements caused by COVID-19 are putting heavy pressure on the supply chain as the usual routes for humanitarian and health organizations are being disrupted. WFP is working tirelessly to ensure vital equipment and staff can rapidly reach the areas where they are most needed.

Through its UNHRD hub based at the International Humanitarian City – Dubai, WFP is routing medical and humanitarian cargo and workers to the front lines. Being part of the Global Humanitarian Response Hubs, it helps the entire aid community by delivering medical and humanitarian supplies where commercial services are disrupted.

WFP has dispatched around 177 shipments worth USD 12M out of its UNHRD Dubai Hub. These shipments were made possible thanks to the dedicated and valuable support of IHC and carried life-saving humanitarian cargo and medical equipment to 54 countries around the world.

“WFP is sparing no possible efforts and resources to respond effectively to the devastating impacts of COVID-19” said Mageed Yahia, Director of WFP office in the UAE and Representative to the GCC. “Our partnership with the UAE and IHC reinforces our capacity as the logistics backbone for the global COVID-19 response and shows a strong solidarity towards the global efforts to reduce the damaging effect of the pandemic” he added.

Leveraging the UAE’s unique position as a logistics gateway and commercial hub connecting all corners of the world, WFP operates in Dubai the largest humanitarian response depot in its global network. This is generously supported with funding from the UAE government, one of WFP’s top donors.



“We are proud of our strategic partnership and collaboration with IHC throughout the years.” Said Nadia Jbour, Head of UNHCR Office in the UAE. She continued: With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are all faced with a massive humanitarian challenge which requires even more cooperation and alignment of efforts to combat the outbreak.

Jbour added: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, IHC has played a key role in supporting our efforts by sending 11 airlifts and sea shipments carrying more than 4,000 cubic meters of relief items, including tents, blankets, kitchen sets and solar lamps to thousands of beneficiaries (refugees or internally displaced persons) in Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Turkey and Lebanon. In addition, more than 1 million medical units (including masks and PPEs) were dispatched by air from Dubai to several UNHCR operations around the world, mainly in the MENA region and Africa.

IHC continues to support our advocacy efforts for the humanitarian causes we represent through traditional and social media.”

The Head of UNHCR Office in the UAE concluded: “The COVID pandemic, endangers everyone on this beautiful planet – including refugees- and each one of us has a role to play. We look forward to a continuous partnership with IHC with one united goal: serving people in need.”



Since January 2020, the Dubai-based Global Logistics Hub of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has mobilized and dispatched more than 300 specialized vehicles including ambulances, mobile health units, mobile blood banks, and COVID-19 testing units worth over 15 million US dollars, as well as more than 140 tons of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) worth over 7.4 million US dollars that was shipped to 73 countries.

Ilir Caushaj, Head of IFRC’s Global Fleet and Logistics Hub in Dubai, said: “The PPE and specialized vehicles dispatched from IFRC Global Logistics Hub will ensure that life-saving assistance will reach the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. We thank the International Humanitarian City and the Dubai Government for their unwavering support that contributes towards alleviating human suffering around the world.”