x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE aid to Haiti arrives in time for rebuilding

The UAE's response to the earthquake in Haiti was slower than many other countries, but local aid agencies are now making up for lost time, according to an Insead professor. Luk Van Wassenhove, an operations-management professor at one of the world's largest business schools, has been closely following relief efforts with the help of staff at the Insead campus in Abu Dhabi. "The response in the beginning has been slow," said Prof Van Wassenhove, who is based in France. "I don't think it's surprising. You would expect the UAE to react quickly if something happened in an immediate neighbourhood because it's the same culture, religion and connected to the NGOs there."

All organisations are political, he said, and an almost non-existent Haitian community locally meant aid came later from the Emirates. "All humanitarian organisations - have their own views. It's obvious that the Muslim world would rather give to Muslims than Catholics first, but in the end, they all give." He identified one benefit to not rushing in with aid: donations coming in later could be used in rebuilding efforts.

"Maybe it was better for the UAE to do something like that and show the difference," he said. "Not like these movie stars and politicians who were there straight away." It takes roughly a week to save people trapped under rubble and treat them, a further two weeks to rehabilitate them in tents and months to clear the area and start building a new life for the victims. A return of normality can take 10 years, Prof Van Wassenhove said.

"The UAE has lots of money and competence. They can do fantastic work in the next couple of years," he said. "The press wrongly thinks the UAE doesn't help people there." Two days after the quake struck Haiti, the US topped the donor list at US$100 million (Dh367m), followed by Canada at $50m, and the UK and Australia at $10m each. Last week, after Saudi Arabia was the target of strong international criticism for its delayed response to the disaster The Los Angeles Times called the Saudis "miserly" for offering only condolences to the people of Haiti Riyadh pledged $50m, the largest donation from any Middle Eastern country, according to the kingdom's foreign ministry.

The Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office put the UAE contributions to Haiti in excess of $3.2m. Yesterday, the UAE Red Crescent Authority said it was considering launching a field hospital in Haiti, located somewhere in the suburbs of the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to a report by the state news agency, WAM. Overall, said Prof Van Wassenhove, the international response about $10 billion, according to an estimate by the Associated Press has been overwhelming.

"A lot of the money that has been given by the UAE has gone to local purchases, and that is really what you want to do. You could destroy a local economy by pumping goods from outside into the country," he said. asafdar@thenational.ae