The Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS) in UNDP appointed Michael Haddad as its goodwill ambassador for climate action in September 2019.
Haddad's work with UNDP-RBAS focuses on advancing and accelerating climate action across the Arab region and around the world. His main instrument in this endeavour is his ability to walk – his steps.
At age six, Haddad survived an accident that left him paralyzed, with 75 per cent of his motor function lost. He was told that he would never walk again – a verdict he was not ready to accept complacently.
He found ways to balance and stand and later devised his own “step-to-gait” method of movement, which he later improved using a high-tech exoskeleton to stabilize his chest and legs.
His performance has inspired medical and engineering research by two leading universities in his hometown of Beirut, Lebanon, which promises breakthrough innovations that may help countless others with similar physical disabilities.
A dedicated environmental advocate
Haddad has served as Climate Change Champion for UNDP in Lebanon in 2016-2017 after he had completed three record-setting feats to raise awareness of key environmental challenges in Lebanon:
- In 2013, he completed a 60,000-step “Cedar Walk” in Bsharre to mobilize action for reforestation of Lebanon’s cedar woods;
- In 2014, he scaled Beirut’s iconic Raouche Rock to highlight the escalating problem of sea pollution and its threat to marine life; and
- In 2015, he snowshoed the Black Summit, the highest peak in Lebanon and the Levant area to draw attention to the adverse impacts of global warming.
Polar Walk for Climate Action
Upon his appointment as a goodwill ambassador for UNDP-RBAS, Haddad announced his polar walk for climate action (PoWCA) -- challenging athletic endeavour to walk 100 kilometres across the North Pole.
The purpose of this polar walk is to bring attention to one of the gravest consequences of climate change-the fast melting polar ice sheet and to call for action to address this global emergency.
He immediately put his attention to finalizing work on an improved exoskeleton that would enhance his walking abilities, an especially tailored thermal suit that will allow him to endure polar weather and arduous physical and mental training necessary to perform the walk – the PoWCA. His target date was June 2020.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, which swept across the world by the spring of 2020, Haddad did not abandon his polar walk. He was forced to postpone it to 2021, in the hope that the pandemic would have abated by then.
Stepping Ahead of COVID 19 challenges
As his physical training for the PoWCA continues, Michael is dedicating this energy to supporting UNDP’s global response to mitigate the adverse social and economic impacts of COVID-19, especially on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, focusing first on people living with disabilities in the Arab region.
In October 2020, he is embarking on a series of Stepping Ahead of COVID 19 (SAC) challenges, involving a combination of walks and more technically challenging stair climbing feats to call for support to people whose lives and livelihoods have been affected because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The challenges will focus initially on people with disabilities for whom COVID-19 intensified existing inequalities and produced new threats.
Haddad aims to raise funds from institutional and private sector donors to support a wide range of social and economic responses. His initial focus on disability-inclusive recovery will progressively expand to prioritizing sustainable recovery pathways, including green job-creation, and renewable solutions that are well informed by climate risk and opportunity.
to support people with disabilities in Lebanon
Acting locally —in the Arab region— first before taking his advocacy to a global level, Haddad’s SAC challenges are grounded in UNDP’s COVID-19 response 2.0, which advocates for turning the greatest reversal of human development that the world has seen because of the pandemic into a momentum to “build forward better,” towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.