Abu Dhabi: What does a company producing insect protein-based food in Europe have in common with an organisation providing free medical surgeries in the Amazons? They are both among 10 winners of the Dh3 million Zayed Sustainability Prize 2023, each trying in its own way to provide impactful solutions that help the planet and its communities.
The Prize, which recognises and supports inspiring global initiatives in health, food, energy, water, and education, announced its latest batch of winners at a rousing ceremony in the capital early this week. UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, presented the awards alongside a group of world leaders at the official opening of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.
Following the ceremony, the award winners — which include two non-profit organisations, two small and medium enterprises, and six high schools — spoke to Gulf News about the impact of the award, and their plans for the future.
Health category winner, Associação Expedicionários da Saúde (EDS) was recognised for its efforts to provide medical and surgical care to isolated, indigenous communities who live in the Amazons at its Mobile Hospital Complex.
Expressing his delight at the Prize, Dr Ricardo Ferreira, orthopaedic surgeon by profession and founding doctor of Associação Expedicionários da Saúde (EDS), told Gulf News that the $600,000 (Dh2.2 million) prize money was less important than the visibility brought by the Prize.
“We are a non-governmental organisation that takes care of individuals living in remote locations across the Amazon rainforest. These are highly isolated communities, and over the years, we’ve managed to set up a hospital to serve them. The Prize gives us so much visibility, and help us earn more allies. The kind of allies we want are people who are focused on a better world,” Dr Ferreira told Gulf News.
An avid hiker, Dr Ferreira noticed over two decades ago the need for simple surgeries that could greatly improve the lives of indigenous peoples. Cataracts were leaving many people blind, while hernias that could easily be repaired were preventing others from being able to carry weights.
“We started with four medical professionals who lugged 100 kilograms of medical equipment to help the Amazon communities,” he said.
Since then, the initiative has provided 10,000 free surgeries, and treated 70,000 patients.
According to the doctor, cataract removal and hernia repairs are the most common procedures, and the volunteering medical professionals — who trek out to the mobile hospital four times a year — carry as much as 25 tons of medical equipment with them. The expeditions also fit indigenous amputee children with free prosthetics, and provided oxygen concentrators at more than 240 infirmaries during the pandemic. Apart from basic surgeries, EDS also helps secure complicated care when required for indigenous peoples.
“There was certainly resistance at the beginning, but that has long since changed. We do 70 surgeries a day. People come in blind and can see the next day. These indigenous peoples are at the core of the Amazonian sustainability,” Dr Ferreira said.
He looked back on the recent case of a 26-year-old woman who had been blind for five years because of her cataracts.
“After surgery, she saw her one-year-old and three-year-old children for the first time,” Dr Ferreira said with a smile that highlighted the importance of EDS’ work.
Another initiative that is assisting rural communities is LEDARS (Local Environment Development and Agricultural Research Society), a non-profit organisation based in Bangladesh that secured the Prize in the Water category.
“Coastal communities in Bangladesh are very vulnerable to environmental events, especially because of the weak infrastructure in the areas and the frequency of flooding and tidal surges. I launched LEDARS in 1998, and we began helping the communities in 2003,” said Mohon Kumar Mondol, the organisation’s founder and executive director.
Communities often find themselves without access to drinking water or water for farming. LEDARS has therefore supported the supply and installation of 5,250 bio-sands-filters, 65 pond-sand-filters, and 185 rainwater harvesting systems.
“Without these filters, women often have to walk four to five kilometres to collect drinking water. And this challenge has seen many families move out of these communities, leaving a dwindling population,” Mondol explained.
The efforts have provided safe drinking water for more than 15,000 families. In addition, nearly 70 protective ponds that LEDARS helped establish are supporting rice and vegetable cultivation in lands that were previously barren due to high water salinity.
“We never expected to win this prize because we are a small organisation that supports remote communities. It is a huge honour, and I salute the leadership of the UAE for this recognition,” Mondol said.
NeuroTech Jordan is another Prize winner that has come to the aid of a vulnerable community, namely Syrian refugees in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. The SME has provided electricity to more than 10,000 refugees since its establishment in 2019.
Heba Asad, co-founder and chief executive officer, said artificial intelligence-enabled smart controllers had helped ensure power for essential needs in the camp, and by saving energy in low-priority areas, were ensuring round-the-clock power supply to the Azraq camp’s hospital. Patients now can use a personal nebuliser, a medical device used during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for people with a chronic breathing illness.
“We didn’t expect to win a global prize like this, and we hope to help many more people with these funds. In addition, we are aiming to create jobs for beneficiaries within our growing organisation,” Asad said.
In the Food category, French company Ynsect was awarded for developing insect protein and natural insect fertilisers at Europe’s first insect factory. At its demonstration plant, the company processes two insect species — monitor and buffalo mealworms — into food ingredients for plants, fish, farmed animals, and goals. Jean Rappe, the company’s chief industrial development officer, said the goal is to eventually sell insect protein for human consumption.
“We farm the insects, then process them into powders that can be added to pet food, aquafeed, and even burgers and power bars for human consumption. Insects are a sustainable source of protein, and with the need for greater food security amid population growth across the world, we hope to provide this protein source for various uses. In fact, insects are already consumed in Latin American and Southeast Asian communities, and once people know its merits — like cholesterol reduction and improved digestion — I believe resistance to consuming insect protein should convert to excitement,” Rappe said.
The company will soon begin industrial-scale production in its Paris facility.
“The Zayed Prize gives tremendous visibility and serious credibility, and we would like to thank the UAE leadership for the recognition,” Rappe said.
Global High Schools
Initiatives at six high schools were also highlighted, with each winner receiving $100,000 (Dh367,000) to support further sustainability efforts.
Gifted Students School, a state school in Niniveh, Iraq, was recognised for its plans to develop a hydroponic greenhouse that will also provide food for the community.
Grade 11 students at the school — Mohammad Ali, 16 and Abdurrahman Omar, 16 — said a pilot project had successfully grown aubergines in a six square metre facility.
“We are delighted to have won, and will use the prize money to expand the greenhouse to a 500-square-metre unit. The food that we grow will be used for school lunches, but also provided to the local community in Musa, which has been hard hit by the war,” they said.
South Asia Winner
Dhaka Residential Model College, a state school in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was the South Asia winner.
Students Ahnaf Ilman, 15 and Talha Zubair, 19 said the project will introduce natural microorganisms into the soil at farms in order to reduce the seed germination times.
“These microorganisms are naturally present in the soil, so there will be no risks. Using our Prize money, we will start our pilot project, and aim to eventually reach more than 2,000 farms. We are immensely grateful to the UAE for supporting our project,” Ilman added.
United World Colleges — Arusha Campus, a state school in Tanzania, was awarded for proposing a solution to reduce the fluoride concentration in the community’s drinking water sources.
Senra Aggarwal, Roos Postema and Lim Yeu Kin explained that the school will create and distribute biochar filters to local households and schools in a bid to prevent fluorosis.
“A lot of Arusha’s water has fluoride levels above WHO permissible levels. Our project will help filter one million litres of water for 10,000 households. We are humbled to receive this Prize, and for receiving this platform to highlight our efforts,” they said.
Air quality monitoring
Fundacion Bios Terrae — ICAM Ubate, a private school in Colombia, was The Americas region winner for its air quality monitoring programme that will employ the efforts of teachers and students. The project also aims to reforest five hectares of moorland to decrease water shortage risks in the community.
Romain-Rolland Gymnasium, a state school in Germany, was the winner in the Europe and Central Asia region. The school aims to have its students build a solar-powered hydrogen fuel cell, thus educating students about sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel energy. The drive is expected to boost renewable energy use at the school from two per cent to 10 per cent.
Kamil Muslim College, a state school in Fiji, was the East Asia and Pacific winner. Its proposed project aims to provide 100 per cent solar energy to the school, collect rainwater through a harvesting system, generate biogas for school canteen cooking, and even provide food for needy students.