ABU DHABI // Joint humanitarian and economic development projects between the UAE and the UK have started taking root in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.
Alan Duncan, the UK Minister of State for International Development, said both countries were looking at project proposals in Somalia, where they have committed £2 million (Dh11.8m) to the Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative.
They are also building a major road in Afghanistan and working on educating children living in the Emirates-Jordanian refugee camp, also known as Mrejib Al Fhood, near Zarqa in Jordan.
“We are jointly building a road with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in the Helmand province in Afghanistan, which is very important for stability and economic development,” Mr Duncan said. “It will also help farmers [transport] their goods to the market.”
The 100-kilometre north-south motorway is one of the country’s main supply routes and is the main road between the southern Gerishk district and the northern Kajaki district in Helmand province.
Mr Duncan said the focus would next be put on educating refugees.
“We’re helping to pay Unicef for the education of children because we’re very worried, particularly as the Syrian crisis goes on, that some of the people suffering the most are children. If they have trauma, are made orphans or have no education, then that’s a whole generation lost to the world so we are trying to focus a lot on children as well as bigger problems.”
More than a million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, hundreds of thousands have gone into Jordan and about a quarter of a million are displaced inside Syria.
“Overall, there are about 600 million displaced people, all of whom need help,” Mr Duncan said. “So the UN appeal is still facing a shortfall but the needs of Syria at the moment require about US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a month, which is an enormous amount for the international community to find.”
Although the UK committed $750m to the Syrian crisis, the largest humanitarian project it has ever undertaken, Mr Duncan said the problem was persistent.
“More efforts need to be put towards humanitarian aid in Syria,” he said. “I think there are some countries which have not given as much as they should so I ask all countries, perhaps some European countries, to examine their conscience.”
And there is still concern over the delivery of aid to the country.
“We can deliver aid in Jordan and in Lebanon, but inside Syria, there is still a difficulty of access so we call on everybody, obviously the main people are the Syrian regime, but also some other fighters, always to allow access for humanitarian supplies. We’re very concerned that, in some places, humanitarian effort is becoming a weapon of war, so some areas are besieged and starving and this is a disgrace. Let the food get through.”
Mr Duncan said Arabian Gulf countries had been very generous with humanitarian aid.
“What we need is an end to the problem and then, you won’t need the money forever,” he said. “So we hope there will be talks in Geneva, what we call Geneva II, because the only solution is going to be a political solution. We had talks last week in London, chaired by our foreign secretary [William Hague], and we very much hope that, bit by bit, we’ll get to the point where there can be talks.”
Mr Duncan said the UAE and the UK are also working alongside one another in Yemen.
“The situation in Yemen is better than many people thought it would be,” he said. “The political transition has been smooth compared with other countries and the support now needs to be converted into an actual project.”
In the UAE, the minister has so far visited Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Khalifa Foundation. He said the partnership between the UK and the UAE was growing and was “very productive”.
“The UAE is a very important partner to the UK for development work. The UAE’s humanitarian work in the region is effective, it’s genuine and we can’t do without you.”