x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Aid groups gear up to offer help within 48 hours of disaster

Aid groups are developing ways to work together on disaster relief programmes.

ABU DHABI // Aid groups are developing ways to work together on disaster relief programmes. Previously, there has been little co-ordination between the country's various humanitarian organisations, leading to a risk that they could duplicate efforts. "Unifying our teamwork is better than individual work," said Hazza al Qahtani, the director general of the Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office (FACO), at a workshop in the capital yesterday.

"We need to be quicker, more efficient and systematic, especially to try to eliminate any duplication of efforts." The FACO is finalising plans for field support teams, which will be deployed as soon as a crisis occurs to assess the immediate needs of the area. The teams will soon be able to be dispatched within two days of a disaster striking. Once on the ground, they will work closely with local authorities and other organisations before communicating the needs back to the UAE.

"Our plan is that the UAE's intervention will not be late, because, of course, responding sooner is better for the affected population," Mr al Qahtani said. Abdullah al Mahmoud, head of the Red Crescent Authority's higher committee for emergencies and disaster management, said more co-ordination between organisations was vital. Other organisations taking part in the workshop included Dubai Cares, the Armed Forces and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. The discussions were led by the FACO, organisers of the event, and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Between them, the participants identified access to information, transportation and communication channels during emergencies as areas that needed attention. Last month, at the FACO's first workshop, it announced plans to calculate how much the UAE has given in humanitarian aid. Local donors and humanitarian organisations were asked to provide details of all foreign aid activities, which will be entered into the office's database within the next two months. However, while some groups have already responded, others have yet to complete the task.

"I am really encouraging the other organisations and calling on them to help speed up the process in order for us to complete our annual report to be distributed to all stakeholders," said Mr al Qahtani, adding that they planned to have the information processed by the end of the year. The database would record how much the UAE had given to regions and individual countries, and the organisations the aid came from. The types of donations and nature of the projects would also be available. The total for the amount of aid given by the UAE since 1971 is expected to be in the billions.

"This project is very important because the UAE - the Government and the people - have given billions, but this is not necessarily mentioned," said Mr al Mahmoud. The FACO was established by Cabinet decree in August last year and is chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region and chairman of the RCA. zconstantine@thenational.ae