Contemporary and Social Issues

A Helping Hand in Times of Crisis – Interview with Dr. Aziz Hafiz, Chairman Humanity First UK

Humanity First was established in 1995, and is a global, NGO which provides humanotarian services around the world, such as providing disaster relief and and aid wherever needed. During the Covid-19 pandemic especially, Humanity First UK has been helping food banks fulfill their heightened needs and requirements. The Review of Religions spoke to Dr. Aziz Hafiz, who serves as Chairman of Humanity First UK, on this topic, among others. Previously he has served in the national executive of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association UK for over 20 years and was their longest serving vice president. He is also a GP Trainer in West Yorkshire with a special interest in palliative care and medical education. Below is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation between Dr. Aziz Hafiz and The Review of Religions’ Ahmad Danyal Arif.

ADA: Thank you very much Respected Dr. Aziz Hafiz for granting us a little of your precious time. If I can start by asking you, just to give an idea to the listeners, what is Humanity First, and also if you can tell us what were the foundations in establishing it in the UK?

AH: Ok, I’ll try my best. So, Humanity First is an international development and disaster relief NGO, like listeners will know from the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children etc. Humanity First was formed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and it formally started in 1995. The background to this was, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has a great history of serving humanity in its’ over a century of existence, based on the Islamic principles of serving humanity with God Almighty, the two instructions for the Islamic faith: to recognise one’s Creator and to serve His creation. It’s in fulfillment of serving His creation that the AMC serves across the globe. And in that, it then established an international NGO which would cater for people across the globe irrespective of race, religion, colour, or ethnicity and within that organisation, people from all walks of life, all faiths and no faith would work. So, the background was as such that, in the early 1990s Somalia was going through a very tragic civil war, and during those days it was very difficult for the Ahmadiyya Community to try to assist due to restrictions to access on the ground. At that point, the fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mentioned in his Friday Sermon in August 1992, where he said, if I summarise, that he felt that the time was now right, (this was back in 1992), that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, like other major organisations like the Red Cross and other institutions, should now establish its own NGO. And he said that it should work within the ethos of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and that ethos being to serve with fear of God Almighty, and to serve with the ethos of justice, and to serve irrespective of one’s religion, one’s race and one’s caste. The fourth Caliph also stated that if this organisation is established that he would hope that good people from outside the community would also join. So, he stressed to major Ahmadi communities across the world that they should put their minds together and should establish this organisation and funds would be raised for it, not only within the community but outside also. He prayed that may God grant the ability. Then following this impetus within the next year or two Humanity First took its foundation and it was formally established in 1995. In a nutshell, I hope that answers your question.

AH: Ok, so to have a charity and have an NGO, as I eluded to earlier, we serve people from all backgrounds across the world. And they are served on some key humanitarian principles, and these key humanitarian principles are the same principles that underpin the humanitarian work of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and at the same time, they are the same core humanitarian principles that all NGOs across the world adhere to or sign up to under the Red Cross code of conduct. There are essentially four things; they are the principles of humanity, of neutrality, of impartiality, and of independence. Each of those principles are essentially very self-explanatory, and they link directly to the groups of people we are helping. So for example, neutrality, if we are working in a conflict zone, which we did do in the Balkans in 1990s and sadly there are a number of countries in the Middle East that are troubled by conflict, you have to be completely impartial in that if you are providing emergency food aid, you cannot select between location A and location B based on their ethnicity, based on their religion, based on the fact whether they are from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or not. Your basis of assistance is exclusively based on need. So those are the key principles. In terms of the people that we help and the categories we help in, we can divide them into sort of three areas of work that Humanity First does. One is disaster relief, second is development work, and thirdly is something we call thought leadership, which I will go on to.

Disaster relief is essentially helping people who have been impacted by natural or manmade disasters. Natural disasters are all the ones that we sadly see too often on our TV screens; hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and droughts. Manmade disasters are again conflict, we’ve mentioned, and refugee crisis that happen following conflict in many parts of the world. So, this is one area where we are helping, and you can imagine the disaster hit victims, men, women, children. Again, the overarching theme of your programme today is poverty and its impact. Sadly, those people that are suffering in poverty, those people are the poorest of society, and unfortunately in many cases are the ones worst affected by disasters. One of the examples is shelter. So shelter is one area that is impacted by disasters and the poorest of society generally will be living in very poorly built houses, poorly built shacks, poorly built shanty towns, and when an earthquake hits or hurricane hits, they are the first to be impacted and they are impacted the worst. Haiti is a prime example. The earthquake in Haiti in 2010 where Humanity First responded with a strong medical team. Again, hurricane Matthew in 2016 that hit Haiti, and Haiti is a poor country at the best of times. Sadly, the poorest, particularly in the Western part of Haiti, were affected massively by that hurricane, and it’s those people that we reach out to, and try to provide shelter, emergency food, emergency health provision, and access to clean water.

The second area is development work. This is within a non-disaster setting. This is to ensure that poor communities across the world have access to the basic essentials: education, health, or the ability to grow their own food in farming communities. Sadly, within Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of South America we see all too often, many communities that lack access to these basics. So, Humanity First looks to provide educational institutes, primary, secondary, and then further education for men, women, and children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, in fact those primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds. Health is probably the major area where people suffer, particularly in low income countries. So, we provide a lot of health institutes, primary care centres, hospitals (we have a lot of hospitals throughout Africa, a flagship hospital in Guatemala South America was opened two years ago). So, this is one area of development work.

The third area where we try to assist people is not one that people commonly associate with a charity or NGO; it’s thought leadership. That’s essentially engaging with policy makers and thinkers across the globe to drive the humanitarian agenda. By driving the humanitarian agenda to ensure there is equity and justice within humanitarian work and to ensure that the factors that create those crises, are dealt with by government and by society. And this is driven by the guidance of His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who is the moral guide and compass for Humanity First in all it does. And under his guidance we have approached varying thought leaders across the world to highlight some of the areas that actually create humanitarian need, and we have had a lot pf prominent speakers recently highlighting a lot of this work. His Holiness himself has spoken quite extensively at various peace conferences. Also, at the opening of the Nasir Hospital in Guatemala, he spoke very frankly and candidly about justice within the humanitarian sector and the need for there to be justice to enable all these issues to be tackled. I hope that’s given you some detail into areas that we cover, the populations that we try to address, and the various sectors we try to cover.

ADA: That was really interesting, thank you Dr. Aziz Hafiz. And, as you know, a disastrous pandemic is actually still affecting the whole world, including the UK. Many people criticized the way this was handled by the different governments throughout the world. More specifically, can you give us an overview of what Humanity First has been doing to help those most affected by the pandemic? I am pretty sure, you must have been busier than usual right?

AH: Of course, yes. This has been Humanity First’s busiest time I feel in its history. And as you said, the coronavirus pandemic has really left the whole world reeling sadly. And as we speak today, at the end of August 2020, over twenty-two million cases across the world and over three quarters of a million deaths attributable to this terrible virus. And again sadly, the poorest in society are impacted the most, but having said that, we know that many of our Western countries have also been ravaged quite heavily by this virus. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. In terms of Humanity First’s efforts, we have been working across all continents, covering over seventy-five countries since the crisis started. In that work, covering the areas that I mentioned earlier, so health, food security and education as well. So, we have helped serve over ten million meals across all continents, and this not only includes Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, it also includes Western countries. In the United States, we all know the huge economic impact and the misery that sadly the impact of this virus has caused, particularly on the poor. We have been able to provide over 250,000 items of personal protective equipment, particularly within Africa, where the need is huge in pre-existing institutions. Within that, we have helped support over 150 hospitals with our volunteers. And our volunteers together, over 3500 volunteers, have collectively put in over 850,000 volunteer hours, and by that they have helped over three quarters of a million beneficiaries across the world. So, this is the area of impact where Humanity First has tried to deliver.

You mentioned at the beginning the issue of criticism of the response of varying governments across the world. As a charity and as an NGO, we are apolitical, and we are not aligned with any particular political grouping. But having said that, we are there to provide support across all areas; and to make a comment on the situation that we have with the pandemic, it’s not an easy situation. I speak as a humanitarian, obviously I speak in the capacity of serving as the Chairman of a disaster relief NGO, but governments and bodies that are tasked with dealing with such disasters do not have an easy task, and we know that. As a charity, we know that there are decisions that we have to make that are extremely difficult. Yes, we have to work on need, but within that need there are other factors of financial ability, availability of resources, availability of manpower, and access to particular locations. So, in a similar vein, governments across the world have been facing and are facing this challenge and this dilemma of how to fight this virus from a health point of view (in terms of its health impact), and at the same time how to fight this virus from its economic impact. The two are huge and the two are very much interlinked. Yes, there are countless number of deaths around the world that we are seeing. The treatment for those, the lockdowns, the social distancing measures, etc, also have unintended consequences, those being economic primarily. The world is in a terrible economic crisis at the moment. So I do have some sympathy with the decisions that governments have to make, but all we would say as an NGO is that we would respectfully advise all governments that, in their decision making, they ensure that the humanitarian imperative is foremost in their attempts to save as many lives as possible. I hope that answers your question.

ADA: Regarding the first food bank in Mirfield that Humanity First UK has recently opened, can you tell us how this was achieved first of all, and typically what happens now that it is up and running?

AH: Yes, so when I referred to the over ten million meals across the globe that Humanity First has provided, one of those areas of work have been the Humanity First foodbank here in the United Kingdom. So, this has come on the back of our food security work that we do across the world, and also on the back of a very successful foodbank that Humanity First Canada has been running in Toronto for the last ten years. So essentially the foodbank is there to try to cater to food poverty within the United Kingdom. Food poverty is a huge issue affecting a fairly significant amount of our population which has worsened due to the Covid-19 crisis. Essentially what we have is a premise in Mirfield in West Yorkshire where we link with the local councils and other organisations including the supermarkets and the public to collate donations of food and essential items. What we then do is that our teams, which are run entirely by volunteers, then work to divide all the supplies and prepare packs of essential food items for a family that will last them for a week. Then we also receive referrals from organisations that either have people that have no access to food or very limited access to food. And then what we do is, we provide those food parcels to them. We receive referrals from medical associations, from charities, from churches, etc.

So, this is how the food bank works, it takes referrals from all these organisations. We set up quite a unique referral system. We try to make things as easy as possible for the referral agency. One of the things that we have learnt in our due diligence research before we set up this food bank was that many organisations that know of people that require food, unfortunately because of the bureaucratic processes involved in them sending the referrals across, sadly miss a lot of those things. So we’ve set up an electronic system which actually allows GP surgeries, pharmacies, charities, and other organisations to essentially, literally within thirty seconds,  input on a secure system that we have that will provide them an instant electronic code, and they give that code to the client, and the client then brings that code to us, and we know that they have come from a bona fide organisation. That’s essentially how we work. Again, in terms of other areas of working, clearly there are a lot of governance issues surrounding food banks, to ensure that you are catering to the most vulnerable, to ensure that you have safeguarding procedures, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of not only your own staff, your own volunteers, but also the clients that come to visit. So, there is a lot of work that goes on in the background; to create standard operating procedures, safety net procedures in line with regulations within the local authority, as well as national rules and regulations set by the government.

ADA: Can you just share a small experience that you and your team have had, more specifically regarding this food bank?

AH: So, with the food bank there are sadly very painful experiences in terms of the clients that we see. One of the most painful experiences has been where you hear of families that come to receive their food parcels, and many of them with children. And their children, here in the UK, as we speak right now, have not had anything to eat, not had a full meal in the last three days, and their only hope is the food bank. So, these experiences are quite painful on one hand, and on the other hand, they make you very grateful that we are able, in some small way, to actually alleviate some of that suffering. But food poverty is a major issue in the UK, and the clients that we are seeing day in day out, each day they bring a different story of the huge challenges that they face, and many of them are economic. So, when there is not enough money to put food on the table, many clients tell of the decisions that they have to make with the limited funds that they have; should I pay the rent this month or should I buy food for my children? Should I buy them clothes for their school, or should I put food on the table? So, these are decisions that families are being forced to make that no family in this day and age should have to make, but sadly the circumstances are such that they are having to make those decisions. These are the cases that we are seeing all too often unfortunately, in our line of work.

ADA: Moving on, so if I understand correctly, you and your team must have been to many places all around the UK to provide support during these tough times. I was just wondering, what has been the reaction of the general public when you introduce yourself as a charity with a Muslim background?

AH: Ok, that’s definitely a very interesting question. So, before I answer that, some background. As I mentioned in one of your previous questions, that Humanity First although created by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, it is formed on the basis and ethos of serving irrespective of faith, irrespective of nationality, of race, of colour, or of creed. That is based on the principles of justice and equity, as outlined by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community itself. So, I would start by reaffirming that.

In terms of the impact and the reaction of the general public when we carry out our work, naturally when people see Humanity First, when they see the work we are doing, the question is asked as to your background; what is the charity and what is it that you do? And we give an introduction as to what Humanity First is and the range of work that we do. And within that introduction, naturally our foundations are there; that we are a charity formed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and we have volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community working within the charity, as well as volunteers from many, many other backgrounds as well, people of faith and people of no faith as well. Although a large majority of our volunteer workforce comes from members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spread across over two hundred countries of the world.

The reaction is very varied. As you would expect, in most areas where people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and irrespective of who is providing that assistance, there is a reaction of great gratitude and thankfulness, by people and by communities. In certain areas there may be, for whatever reason, certain prejudices held against either people of faith or people of the Muslim faith in particular, particularly in the climate of Islamophobia and also in the climate of Daesh within the Middle East that has sort of sadly ravaged society with its illegitimate and evil barbaric acts in the name of faith. As a result of that, there are a number of misconceptions that people may have. So, in certain sections of society, in certain areas, there is an element of surprise I would say that `you are from a Muslim background carrying out such works.’ At the same time there is a huge sense of relief in similar communities and similar groups of people that we are trying to help, where they feel that they have been exposed to the true humanitarian message, the true humanitarian concept of the Islamic faith. And as we said right at the outset of this interview, Humanity First as a charity of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is there to serve the creation of The Almighty irrespective of what background they may come from. So, in summary, the reaction of the public is generally excellent, it’s a reaction of appreciation for our humble efforts. And where we are serving in a community that may have some preconceived ideas or notions about either charities or people from an Islamic background, I think we would like to say that we have played a small part in allaying some of those fears.

ADA: It seems like you and your teams meet on a daily basis a lot of different people from various backgrounds and situations. Is there any experience or story that really stands out for you that you would like to share with us?

AH: Oh, you ask a million-dollar question. Yes, there are countless experiences from across the world. So many to mention. Let me see if I can try to give you a glimpse of a few from across the world. Let me start in the United Kingdom where we are at the moment. So, a number of years ago, we were assisting within Central London, providing some basic health awareness and some health messaging for people that were homeless and living on the streets, within Central London. Again, people from all backgrounds, some people who had very well-to-do jobs and circumstances had very sadly conspired against them; spiraling of debt, marital discord, divorce, alcoholism and drugs and crime, a vicious circle that sadly made them end up living on the street. And I remember personally one gentleman living under a bridge in London, sadly he had fallen into crime and alcoholism. With me I had a number of youngsters, young volunteers as well, and there were some children also volunteering with their parents. As we went to provide some soup for this man, tears were on his face. I can even now see his frail white overgrown beard and his face showing his years. And the tears flowed, and he took the cup of soup from the young child and he said something. He said ‘Why would somebody like you come and help somebody like me? I smell, I look filthy, I brought things upon myself.’ But the pathos and sadness and the tragedy in his face was memorable to this day. This was many, many years ago and to this day I remember that. That’s an example of some of the real-life tragedies that we see in a humanitarian setting.

And if I take you across to other parts of the world. In West Africa we have a lot of operations, both development operations and emergency disaster relief operations as I mentioned earlier. We had a medical team in West Africa earlier on this year, and I mentioned this I think in a previous interview with another organisation, that we were serving in an area that was hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the nearest health facility. And when I say, ‘the nearest health facility,’ that was a hospital with extremely limited facility. This medical outreach camp was providing medical services for people in the surrounding areas that had not seen a doctor for nearly ten years. The medical emergency supplies that our team had were also essential supplies. We didn’t have a full-fledged state of the art hospital in the jungle. We just had basic emergency supplies. And two-year-old young girl by the name of Naila was a patient at the clinic and she presented with, in medical terminology, what we call septic shock. The infection was widespread in the body, and as a result of that infection, the body’s major systems were beginning to shut down. Her chances of survival were almost nil. In fact, they were nil because there was nothing else there that could be done. The treatment that she needed was intravenous antibiotics and potentially intensive care in a hospital setting, which sadly didn’t even exist for hundreds of miles. Even if she was able to manage the four to five hours journey to the capital, the facilities there would not have been adequate to have dealt with this. She was on the verge of expiring, and at the time there was nothing else humanly available to help. So, at that time, the team turned to its most precious weapon, its most precious tool, the most precious medicine that it had, which was the power of prayer. We prayed strongly to The Almighty that ‘We are in a situation where we cannot do anything for this child, we beg Your assistance, we beg Your intervention, to at least cater for this child.’ She was given some oral antibiotics that we had, but from a medical point of view, without going into the medical details, it was very clear that the chances of that actually physically doing anything was not possible, as it was way under what she required. After a few hours her condition did deteriorate, and it was apparent that she would be breathing her last. And comfort was offered to her parents and they wanted to take her home to their village, so that she could pass away with some dignity at home. Obviously, the team was very busy seeing over 250 cases a day, so it continued working. And after a few hours, we checked with our local lead there, that ‘Can we please check with the family, how is the child?’, hoping that there was some dignity in her final hours. And the message returned that she was actually up and playing in the garden. To our shock and surprise, we assumed that clearly, they had got the wrong patient. We asked again multiple times that can you please clarify that we have got the correct patient because clearly that could not be possible. But it was very clear that they were speaking about the same young girl that we had attempted to treat a few hours earlier. And indeed, the parents reported that she was happily actively playing, her high fever had settled, her respiratory rate that was extremely high had calmed down. So, I mean, we were left in awe and wonder and in absolute gratitude to The Almighty, witnessing such a miracle. So that’s one example of how Humanity First has been helped in its work. I will refer back to a quote that the fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, his Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who stated in one of the conferences held by Humanity First I believe in 2018, where when referring to the impact that the volunteers of Humanity First had, he stated that not only is their impact based on their physical abilities, on their own knowledge and skills, but that impact is magnified hugely because of the divine intervention that they beseech, and the deep request that they cry at the throne of The Almighty for help and assistance in their work, and he stated that it’s that assistance that magnifies their humble abilities. I will say with full conviction that this was an example of such magnification of our abilities.

If we move on now to another part of the world. In the Middle East, our teams were in Iraq in 2018 and Iraq, as many of your listeners and readers will know, sadly has suffered from many years of instability following the 2003 Gulf War. And it suffered instability due a long insurgency, and obviously the impact of Daesh that it had on the population and a huge amount of internally displaced people as well as refugees from the civil war in Syria. So, in that context Humanity First was there with a small, sort of rapid deployment team that was looking to work with other colleagues and partners, especially within the UN, to assist humanitarian needs, particularly in the areas of education and health. And within one setting, we were looking to actually provide some funding for a particular sanitation project in one of the internally displaced people camps within Northern Iraq. The project was a sanitation project for a camp with 4,500 people, and the sanitation facilities were terrible to say the least. And this was a contract by a major international organisation that was coming to an end, and the contract was valued approximately to 40,000 US dollars and we were asked whether there was anything we could do to assist. And frankly speaking, our financial capacity at that time for that particular project would not permit an assistance of that amount, looking at all our needs within Iraq and across the world. However, we would say, by the grace of God Almighty, that we were able to provide the same sanitation project for the 4,500 people and I remember clearly, I remember signing the contract for 4,800 US dollars to provide exactly the same service that was being provided at 40,000 dollars. This reminds me again, his Holiness mentioned in an Eid sermon, again I believe back in 2018, where when mentioning humanitarian service across the world, he very kindly referred to Humanity First and he stated that our volunteers within Humanity First serve in all parts of the world and work that is done costing hundreds of thousands, they are able to do in thousands.And what we saw with our own eyes in Iraq, was a real-life example of getting value for money, ensuring that every pound and every dollar that we receive is utilised to the maximum effect for the end beneficiary. And that is achieved by the fact that our experienced logisticians and physicians and disaster responders all work on a voluntary basis, and do not charge Humanity First for their services.

So, I’ve tried to give you a whistle-stop tour across the world, so we’ve started in the UK, we’ve looked at parts of Africa, Middle East, and if I can go onto South Asia. In 2015, Nepal was hit by a terrible earthquake, in April/May 2015. Probably one of the most severe earthquakes in a long, long time to hit Nepal. We had a strong medical team with doctors and nurses from across the NHS in the United Kingdom that volunteered their time for no monetary reward, that went out, it was a strong team of about fifteen to seventeen medical personnel and served in the Gorkha region of Nepal and they saw a whole range of injuries. Following that trip, there was another emergency team that had gone out and it was due to visit an area of Nepal, and the area was called Sindhulpalchok. The team there had a meeting with one of the government officials, the Home Ministers Office. The meeting was very early on in the morning, and for a host of reasons, obviously the country’s been ravaged by an earthquake, there were multiple delays in arriving there and then there were delays after we arrived, and I remember there was a subtle frustration being felt, naturally where we are used to strong time keeping where we live in the UK, and time keeping wasn’t the best. So, there was a degree of frustration that we had been delayed by many, many hours. Anyways, as we left that meeting, we were leaving Kathmandu the capital, in a vehicle I was sat behind with my colleagues on either side. As we were driving through, approximately I believe four or five hours behind schedule to our end destination, suddenly the car started shaking. The car started shaking quite violently, an experience that I have never felt before in my life. I have to confess it wasn’t clearly apparent to me what was actually happening. But what was happening was that we were hit by the second earthquake that had hit Nepal a week or two after the first earthquake. Again, by God’s grace, we were not injured, and we had survived that quake. But what was really inspiring for us was that, I think the earthquake hit, and I remember well it was approximately 1 pm local time, and on the radio the announcement had come that the earthquake had hit and destroyed a large part of the village where we were going. We realised that had we been on time, had we not faced those delays that to us were frustrating at the time, but in hindsight we would say that it was God’s plan to save us and assist us, we would have been in that village at the point the earthquake had struck and there really would not have been any chance of survival. So, these are real-life incidents that our team members and our volunteers across the world, from the UK to Asia to Africa to South America, have experienced in their service of Humanity First. These experiences not only reinforce their desire to serve, they also help reinforce those from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that are serving Humanity First. It reinforces their faith and it reinforces their ideals, and what drives them to actually serve. I hope I have not gone over in my summary of what you asked.

ADA: These are such wonderful experiences, thank you very much for sharing them with us. So moving on Dr. Hafiz, while preparing this interview I came across an interesting as well as worrying figure actually. According to the Institute of Public Policy Research, poverty in the UK is on the rise with estimated 1.1 million more people falling into it due to Covid-19 by 2021. Poverty is also a multidimensional phenomenon and has multiple facets. What does in your view, poverty mean in the fifth largest economy in the world? What kind of poverty have you and your teams on the ground encountered in UK?

AH: Ok, it’s a very far reaching question that you ask. So, in the fifth largest economy in the world, it does pain you to think about the conditions that we find ourselves in certain parts. Indeed, the IPPR research that was published in June of this year I believe, and you mentioned the figure of over a million people are estimated to be falling into poverty. That research also stated that it included over 200,000 children it believes will fall into poverty as compared to the rate prior to Covid-19 hitting us. So, what does poverty means for us here in the United Kingdom? If we go back and give some context, back in the late 90’s, the then government had actually made a pledge to end child poverty by 2020, and they set up a child poverty commission under the Child Poverty Act of 2010 which enshrined certain targets into law to enable them to be achieved by 2020. Over varying iterations of this commission, over varying governments, it is now called the ‘Social Mobility Commission’ and it looks at the state of the nation, its social mobility, poverty, it covers a whole host of areas. For varying reasons, those targets are now not in law. We’ve reached 2020, and 2020 has shown us as you’ve said by the IPPR research that there is a huge contingent of people who are suffering, particularly the children. I mean, 200,000 children in poverty is not a small amount. And 200,000 children in poverty in the fifth largest economy, as you elude to in your question, is a painful figure. It’s a figure that I, living in the UK, am not proud of, but it’s a figure that has multiple causes. A number of issues; unemployment, poor wages, debt, social deprivation, housing crisis, there are so many factors that lead people into poverty. And on top of all these factors, Covid-19 has now come and literally has smashed these into insignificance because it has compounded the problems multiple fold. I mean, we talk about food bank usage earlier, and the independent food aid network in a study showed that there was over a 170% increase in the use of food banks across the UK. So yes, sadly this is what poverty means currently in the UK, it’s real, it’s very much there and it’s something that we see day in day out. It’s something we, Humanity First, see on a daily basis, particularly with our food bank and food security work, and also with our social and psychosocial support with the vulnerable across society. So yes, you’re right, it is a very poor state of affairs unfortunately that we find ourselves in.

ADA: And Dr. Hafiz, as you mentioned earlier, even before the health and economic crisis, the food situation was already dire in some parts of the world. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, the African continent is at the forefront of this silent and daily tragedy. This, once again, revealed the bankruptcy of the current economic system. Is poverty a fatality or is it possible to “end it” as implied by a famous author named Jeffrey D. Sachs?

AH: Yes, that’s a very interesting question. So, in Jeffrey Sachs’s famous work in 2005 ‘The End of Poverty’, where, obviously he is a very world-renowned economist and highly regarded, he wrote at some length about the issues of agriculture, land usage, utilisation of global humanitarian aid across the world, and he wrote about how it would be possible to end poverty. Again, I am not an economist I am a humanitarian, and I would bow to the greater wisdom of Jeffrey Sachs as an economist, but in our experience across Africa, across South America, my opinion and the opinion of Humanity First is that the overarching number one way to end poverty is that there needs to be an element of absolute justice across economic factors, across agriculture, across the way states work with each other, and this is highlighted by His Holiness innumerable times over the last decade in all sorts of addresses, about economic justice at the international level, at the national level, and at the regional level. We all know that the African continent is a wealth of natural resources, yet these natural resources are being raped by external economic organisations, for want of a different word, coupled with corrupt local leadership. So sadly, I personally feel that until we have an element of absolute justice in our dealings, we cannot end poverty just by well-intended schemes and well-intended initiatives. There has to be an element of justice in all those schemes, in all those initiatives, across the board from local level up to the international level.

ADA: Thank you very much, Respected Dr. Sahib. I don’t think I have anything to add. Thank you very much again, on behalf of the Review of Religions we really appreciate the time you gave us and your participation for this program.

AH: You’re most welcome. Thank you very much for having me on and God bless you.

ADA: Thank you very much for listening. If you need more information, please go to our website, you can also follow us on Twitter and on our Instagram page. Assalamo alaikum  Wa Rehmatullah Wa Barakatahu.