x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE has given tens of billions in foreign aid

All donations since 1971 are being logged, which is aimed at improving planning for future relief efforts.

ABU DHABI // The total amount of foreign aid given by the UAE since its formation is expected to run into tens of billions of dirhams, according to the federal body collating the data. "We are talking about a huge amount," said Hazza al Qahtani, director general of the Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office (FACO).

"One organisation has reported donating Dh18 billion (US$4.9bn) between 2000 and 2008 alone." In May, the FACO said it would calculate how much had been given in humanitarian aid since 1971, to help organise foreign aid better and set up a system to track future amounts given by Emirati donors, including organisations such as the Red Crescent Authority (RCA) and Dubai Cares. It is halfway through collecting information from local donors and humanitarian organisations, which is being entered into the database detailing all foreign aid activities. So far, the database contains 7,500 records.

Mr al Qahtani said he expected all the data to have been collected by the end of the year. That would be followed by a comprehensive report on the UAE's role in international humanitarian efforts since its federation. The report will detail the total amount given, by which organisation, in what sector and to which country. The types of donations and nature of the projects will also be included. Most organisations have been helpful in providing information but the FACO is still waiting for some organisations to comply.

"The problem is that there is no paved way to map the foreign aid sector here," said Mr al Qahtani. "Also, there is not enough awareness about our work." The FACO has stressed to organisations the need for accurate information, which is cross-checked with data from annual reports. "This is an ongoing process and we are working with our partners," said Mr al Qahtani. "It is not going to be done without a collective effort, and co-operation with the office and the Government."

One of the main aims, he said, was to better organise the humanitarian sector particularly for future planning, in addition to highlighting the UAE's role as a major international donor. "Collecting the data will also give us a clear picture of the trends and patterns for the past four decades," he added. "Just looking at the map will tell each organisation where the focus has been and where they have not reached."

How much the UAE donates in foreign aid has been the subject of controversy, after claims made to the United Nations in 2008 that it gave away 3.6 per cent of the gross national product. The figure was disputed by Sir John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. However, when the FACO was set up this year, Sir John praised the idea of a co-ordinating body. "We are hopeful that it will vastly improve the flow of information about the quantity and destination of assistance coming from the UAE and the level of co-ordination with the international community on key issues," he said at the time.

The UAE has become an increasingly active donor state, responding to disasters and needs around the world, including relief efforts this year for two million internally displaced people in Pakistan. A donation by the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation was described as one of the UN refugee agency's largest from the region. The FACO is chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative to the Western Region, who is also RCA chairman.

zconstantine@thenational.ae