x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UN praises generosity of UAE firms

The UN has praised firms from the UAE and across the region for increasingly funding aid efforts.

New York // The UN has praised firms from the UAE and across the region for increasingly funding aid efforts, saying a burst of activity shows corporate philanthropy is taking hold in the Middle East. The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has lauded a US$150,000 (Dh550,942) sum from the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, or Taqa, and $100,000 from HSBC Middle East, both first-time offerings made this year.

The donations to the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) compare well against global donors such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Western Union, and will finance relief work after natural disasters, an official said. "Rarely a week goes by without us providing resources for emergency assistance and we need to make sure that the CERF never runs dry," said Sir John Holmes, the head of OCHA. "That is why the UN calls upon countries, companies, foundations and private individuals to support CERF as generously as they can."

The UN fund typically receives contributions from member states, rather than the private sector. Peter Barker-Homek, who stepped down as the chief executive of Taqa last week, said he was initially motivated to spend corporate cash easing Palestinian suffering, but then decided that "pooling resources" with other donors and providing relief globally made more sense. "We first gave to CERF because we wanted to support relief operations in Gaza, but we have since realised that with CERF, our donation went much further than Gaza," Mr Barker-Homek said.

"Not only have we helped Palestinians, but we have also helped people caught up in conflicts and disasters in 24 other countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen." OCHA praised the fact that "private sector leaders in the Middle East are stepping up to help the United Nations". Others in the UN system have noted growing interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) across the region.

Georg Kell, the executive director of a CSR initiative, the UN Global Compact, has described a "small revolution" in which growing numbers of UAE and Middle East firms have joined his programme. A total of 20 UAE-based firms signed up to the voluntary scheme last year, with 30 firms now on the list, including Taqa, the drinks maker Masafi, and developers such as Sama Dubai and Arabtec. They are among the 130 companies across the MENA region that have joined, including 41 new participants over the past 12 months, said Matthias Stausberg, a spokesman for the global compact.

"There has been much progress in the development of CSR policies and practices in the Middle East in recent years," he said. "Of course, much remains to be done but there is good evidence CSR is becoming a strategic and operational priority for many business leaders across the region." OCHA released the donation figures as Sir John left for a four-day mission to Yemen, where about 150,000 people have been displaced by fighting between government troops and al Houthi rebels over the past five years.

While calling on the government and rebels to help deliver aid to civilians, he also called on donors to fund an emergency $23.7 million appeal, which has received only about 16 per cent of funding. Governments from the Gulf are under mounting pressure to finance relief efforts for their cash-strapped neighbour, although only one country from the region, Saudi Arabia, has so far stepped forward, with a $1m donation.

@Email:jreinl@thenational.ae