Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 April 2020

Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum: coronavirus, refugees and locusts on the agenda

NGOs and UN bodies will discuss global issues in the Saudi capital on Sunday

Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends the International Humanitarian Forum in Riyadh in 2018. Reuters
Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends the International Humanitarian Forum in Riyadh in 2018. Reuters

Refugee crises, coronavirus and locust plagues are all on the agenda for heads of the world’s biggest NGOs meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum will bring together humanitarian organisations and UN bodies to discuss pressing issues on the world aid agenda and ways of improving aid operations.

"The forum will review humanitarian initiatives to reflect the latest developments on the ground in order to improve the level of provided services and assistance to natural-disaster and conflict victims," said Dr Aqeel Al Ghamdi, chairman of the forum’s supervisory board.

Leaders of the World Food Programme, World Health Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration are expected to attend, along with 1300 delegates from governments, private sector and NGOs, despite Saudi Arabia halting tourist and religious visits to the kingdom over coronavirus fears.

Tourists from China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan were banned from travel to the kingdom, and the holy site of Makkah closed off on Thursday.

Cases of the disease, which originated in Wuhan, China, surpassed 85,000 worldwide over the weekend, World Health Organisation figures show.

The rapid spread of coronavirus will be on the agenda at the two-day forum, the second iteration of the meeting, in a session on communicable diseases.

The forum, which will discuss mass migration, comes as Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country would no longer prevent refugees from trying to reach Europe on Saturday. Just hours later, hundreds of desperate people, including children, arrived at border crossings with Greece.

A military escalation in north-west Syria’s Idlib province has forced almost a million Syrian civilians to flee fighting between advancing Syrian government forces backed by Russia and rebel fighters supported by Turkey.

“We can’t handle a new wave of migration,” Mr Erdogan said Saturday, adding his country would not stand in the way of refugees and migrants already in the country who hope to head to Europe.

“We will not close the gates to refugees,” he said. “The European Union has to keep its promises. We are not obliged to look after and feed so many refugees.”

Another issue likely to be discussed is the locust swarms plaguing the Gulf and North Africa. Host Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Yemen have seen millions of locusts sweeping through over the last few weeks and countries in the Horn of Africa are suffering the largest outbreak in decades.

Kenya is seeing its largest outbreak in 70 years, and Somalia and Ethiopia say they have not faced swarms that size in 25 years.

The forum is hosted by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre alongside the UN.

Updated: March 1, 2020 12:08 PM

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