With the cost of living surging, free hot bread distribution for the poor has been introduced in Dubai, where millionaires rub shoulders with hard-working migrants.
The city of skyscrapers soaring above the desert, which imports almost all of its food, has been impacted by rapidly rising consumer prices, a global trend exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ten vending machines were installed last week in supermarkets, with a computer touch screen allowing people to select different types: loaves for sandwiches, pitta bread or flat Indian-style chapatis.
The machine has a credit card reader — for donations not payment.
“A friend told me there was free bread, so I came,” said Bigandar, a young man from Nepal who works at a car wash, not wanting to give his full name. Like millions of Asian migrants, he dreamt of making a fortune in the United Arab Emirates. He headed for Dubai. According to government figures from the Dubai Statistics Center, the food price index, which tracks the monthly change in the cost of a basket of food commodities, rose by 8.75% in July, year on year.
The cost of transport has jumped by more than 38%. The bread machines are the initiative of a foundation set up by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. “The idea is to go to disadvantaged families and workers before they come to us,” said the foundation’s director, Zeinab Joumaa al-Tamimi. Anyone in need can now get hot bread just “by pressing a button”, she said. The oil-rich UAE has a population of nearly 10mn people, 90% of them foreigners, many labourers from Asia and Africa.
Bigandar, who has worked there for the past three years, says that for each vehicle he cleans he earns three dirhams, or 81 US cents.
Working hard and with tips from customers, he can earn between 700 and 1,000 dirhams a month ($190-270).
“My employer covers housing and transportation, but not food,” he said.
In a sign of the growing difficulties faced by migrant workers, a rare strike was led in May by delivery men demanding better wages in the face of rising fuel prices.
A man orders items from a vending machine that gives out free bread, in Dubai.