Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2024

World Food Day

Michael Haddad

“If I, with the help of my team, can do the impossible and walk, governments together can take on the challenge of climate change.”


Imagine lifting 100kg of body weight with your arms. And now imagine doing it 12 000 times in below-zero temperatures.  

That’s the reality of Michael Haddad’s 2022 arctic walk to the Svalbard seed vault – the world’s “doomsday” depository of plant species on earth –  to raise awareness about disappearing biodiversity. 

Next year, he will go again, to walk 100km across the island drawing attention to arctic melt – some 300 000 body lifts.  

What makes Michael’s walks special is that he has no function of his legs. Paralyzed from the waist down since he was six, he uses an exoskeleton – a type of full-body brace – and crutches to move.  

Michael, who is Lebanese, even pioneered a new category at the Paralympics with it. He’s also an extreme sportsman who uses athletic challenges to draw attention to the effects of climate change, especially in the Middle East and in particular on people with disabilities.  

“Climate change is not affecting all of us equally. And when it comes to people that will be affected more, people with disabilities are on top.”  

For one, he says, their needs are not always taken into account in emergency plans. It’s also often not easy for them to migrate, and because many people with disabilities are economically marginalized, they struggle to bounce back from shocks.  

“We are the most water-scarce region in the world. At the same time, we also have the highest percentage of people with disabilities,” Michael stresses.  

“In some countries in the Middle East, due to conflict, people with disabilities are beyond 40 percent of the population. Can you imagine?”  In comparison, the world average is about 15 percent, he says. 

Beyond water scarcity, seawater penetrating agricultural water is a growing problem, he says, in particular around the Nile, traditionally a breadbasket area in the region.  

As part of his challenges, Michael, who is a Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme, often invites decision-makers into dialogue. His end goal, he says, is always to spark action – from governments, from business leaders and other power brokers. 

“I want to show that nothing is impossible. If I, with the help of my team, can do the impossible and walk, governments together can take on the challenge of climate change.”