x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE praised by United Nations for helping Pakistanis

The UAE earns high praise for helping displaced Pakistanis through the UN's refugee agency.

NEW YORK // The UAE has earned high praise for helping displaced Pakistanis through the UN's refugee agency. Speaking after a fact-finding mission to Pakistan's turbulent North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Sir John Holmes, the under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief co-ordinator, lauded a new agreement as "good news" for humanitarian efforts.

The deal signed between the Government and the UN High Commission for Refugees on July 6 was hailed as the most significant partnership between the agency and an Arab donor in three decades. It came after long-standing criticism from Sir John that Gulf countries provide most of their aid directly to recipient nations in private, bilateral deals, and not enough through the UN's multilateral channels.

"My view is that the more the Gulf countries can become involved in multilateral aid giving, as well as their more traditional giving through bilateral charitable channels, then the better for everybody," said Sir John. "There has been some improved co-operation of that kind. We actually sent the secretary general's special humanitarian envoy who deals with the Gulf, Abdulaziz Arrukban, to Pakistan a few weeks ago to see for himself and go back and tell people what he had seen in the hope of raising resources there.

"It is something we have been trying to encourage." The deal will help to provide everything from mosquito nets to sleeping mats and will improve conditions for the two million refugees sweltering in the summer heat of the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The refugees, who fled fighting between Pakistan's army and Taliban rebels, are set to begin returning to their homes next week, although Sir John said this could become a drawn out process because of devastation across the region.

In May, the UN appealed for US$542 million (Dh2 billion) for Pakistan, of which it has received 42 per cent, with Sir John reminding donors to "respond generously to what is a continuing and very large-scale humanitarian problem". The world body shone a spotlight on Gulf philanthropists to boost fund-raising efforts, with Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace, appearing on Middle East television to raise cash. The wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, urged donors to dig into their pockets and "revive hope, assist with shelter and meet other basic needs" in Pakistan.

Mr Arrukban, the Saudi national appointed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in 2007 to raise funds from Gulf donors, called for a Khaleeji cash injection after meeting refugees in north-western Pakistan last month. After his two-day visit to crowded camps in the Mardan region, Mr Arrukban urged the GCC's six member nations to "step forward and support their brothers through this crisis". Sir John argues that Gulf benefactors should provide more aid through the UN because relief efforts are more effective when they are provided via his office, which prevents relief supplies from being duplicated or squandered.

He has also alleged the UAE exaggerated aid figures to the world body, describing a Government claim that its gives away 3.6 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) as "highly dubious". The funding claim, made to the UN General Assembly in April 2008, was later defended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who suggested that Sir John had "different ways of measuring and calculating" aid.

The Government has not yet published how the 3.6 per cent sum was calculated, but envoys to the UN have not repeated the figure since. Last month, Obaid Humaid al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said UAE aid exceeded 0.7 per cent of GNP. jreinl@thenational.ae