* Dubai food waste jumps 20 pct in Ramadan
* 1,850 tons of food thrown out in holy month in 2010
By Jason Benham and Warda Al-Jawahiry
DUBAI, Aug 15 Hundreds of Asian laborers 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
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
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
Ramadan brings a huge incease 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 Ramadan 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 Ramadan 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, eyeing 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
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
"There are a lot of people who are in need in the UAE and
this is an interesting way to bridge the disparity," said
(Editing by Paul Casciato)