In Dubai, a temple of luxury, free bread distributors for the poorest

A free bread distributor on September 22, 2022 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

Faced with galloping inflation, free bread dispensers for the poorest have sprung up in Dubai, a wealthy Gulf emirate where millionaires, influencers and poor migrant workers rub shoulders.

The city, which imports almost all of its food, is not immune to rising prices, a global trend exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

In front of one of the ten distributors installed this week in supermarkets, Bigandar attentively observes the touch screen that allows him to choose between Arabic bread, bread for sandwiches or chapatis (Indian pancakes).

The credit card reader is not used to pay, but to make donations.

A man (c) holds a box taken from a free bread vending machine on September 22, 2022 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
A man (c) holds a box taken from a free bread vending machine on September 22, 2022 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

“A friend told me there was free bread, so I came,” the young Nepalese told AFP, declining to give his full name.

Like millions of Asian immigrants, he came to try his luck in the city of plenty located in the United Arab Emirates.

According to the Dubai Statistics Center, the food price index rose by 8.75% in July year-on-year, while transport costs increased by more than 38%.

At the beginning of the initiative of bread distributors, the foundation of the leader of Dubai, Mohammed ben Rashid al-Maktoum.

A free bread distributor in Dubai on September 22, 2022 in United Arab Emirates
A free bread distributor in Dubai on September 22, 2022 in the United Arab Emirates (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

“The idea is to go to disadvantaged families and workers before they come to us,” its director Zeïnab Joumaa al-Tamimi told AFP.

Anyone in need can now get a pack of four reheated buns in less than two minutes, just “at the touch of a button,” she says.

The United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich state, has a population of nearly 10 million, of which about 90% are expatriates, middle-class expatriates, and especially poor workers from Asia and Africa.

Help reserved for Emiratis

Dubai, which is less rich in hydrocarbons than the capital Abu Dhabi, is counting on this army of workers to build skyscrapers or even support the service sector, from real estate to luxury tourism, which has earned its reputation.

View of the city of Dubai, on September 22, 2022 in the United Arab Emirates
View of the city of Dubai, September 22, 2022 in the United Arab Emirates (GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)

Bigandar, who has been employed as a car washer for three years, says he is paid three dirhams (0.84 euro cents) per car. vehicle and relies on tips from customers to generate 700 to 1,000 dirhams a month (between 195 and 280 euros).

“My employer covers accommodation and transport, but not food,” he says.

In a sign of the growing difficulties for foreign workers, a rare strike was led in May by couriers demanding better wages in the face of rising petrol prices.

In July, the authorities announced a doubling of social assistance, but only for the handful of Emirati families with incomes below 25,000 dirhams a month (about 7,000 euros), considered disadvantaged households. These aids do not include foreigners.

“We are living in a special economic situation because of inflation and rising interest rates,” Fadi Alrasheed, a Jordanian executive who has lived in Dubai for 20 years, told AFP.

A free bread distributor in Dubai on September 22, 2022 in United Arab Emirates
A free bread distributor in Dubai on September 22, 2022 in the United Arab Emirates (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

“There are many people whose wages are low and who, with the rising cost of living, can no longer meet all their needs,” he notes, welcoming the free bread initiative.

According to the latest UN World Migration Report, the United Arab Emirates is home to nearly 8.72 million migrants, mainly from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Hentley and Partners firm counts more than 68,000 millionaires and about 13 billionaires in Dubai, ranked as the 23rd richest city in the world.

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