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How a summer World Cup can help the starving

Food and water: the two essential elements that all human beings must have access to in order to live. Access to both in a way that is safe and sufficient is considered a basic human right.

As engineers we understand that, and it’s why many of us are compelled to act when disasters strike like the typhoon that has devastated the Philippines. It is why organisations like RedR exist – to put engineers in contact with the aid agencies that need their skills.

“At the moment the key needs are food, water and shelter,” said Care International’s head of emergencies this week. “People are hungry and thirsty. Getting assistance to people in rural areas is a huge issue for all of the aid agencies on the ground.”

It’s classic engineering territory.

But of course there are many, many millions of people for whom food and water shortages are a way of life. Care International last year worked in 84 countries, supporting 997 development and humanitarian aid projects to reach more than 83M people.

And it would be the first to admit that while the scenes in the Philippines are tragic – and do make sure you donate to the relief effort – far more lives are threatened elsewhere.

Take Malawi, where almost 1.5M people need food after bad harvests. Or the Horn of Africa, where several consecutive seasons of drought coupled with conflict in Somalia has affected over 13M people.

Who helps these people when the world’s media has moved on?

Well, help may be at hand from a most unlikely of sources. Because behind all the razzamataz of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup in the desert, there is a real desire to use the engineering knowledge gained to tackle issues like global hunger.

Al Wakrah

Its organising committee is desperate to put on a summer tournament because it wants to prove that its carbon-neutral stadium cooling technology works in the most extreme heat.

Because if it works for football stadiums, then it can work for other things – like food production.

The World Cup organisers are already partnering with the Qatar National Food Security Programme to determine whether the cooled training facilities it must build next to each stadium can be converted for use as cooled greenhouses.

And if it works in Qatar, the organisers see no reason why the technology cannot work in the 60 nations around the world classed as dry lands or water-stressed.

Of course, the Qataris are not talking about costs. For them, money is not an issue. But getting the technology right is the start. And as the team behind the first stadium to be delivered admitted this week, it is far from a done deal.

I for one really hope they make it work. Because the legacy the Qataris want to leave is a positive one.

Here’s to a summer 2022 World Cup!

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