x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UN to clarify 'unlimited' aid offer

Clarification is sought after a UAE envoy pledged an "unlimited" contribution to ease the suffering of Palestinians.

Palestinian women watch a funeral in al-Yamoun village, near the West Bank city of Jenin.
Palestinian women watch a funeral in al-Yamoun village, near the West Bank city of Jenin.

NEW YORK // United Nations aid chiefs are seeking clarification from the UAE after an Emirati envoy pledged an "unlimited financial contribution" to ease the suffering of Palestinians. Andrew Whitley, the UN Relief and Works Agency's New York director, said he doubted the offer would result in the UAE footing the entire bill for the agency's operations. "I don't believe we have a blank cheque of unlimited fund contributions from the UAE," Mr Whitley said. "If this is indeed the case, then I'm sure they would have raised it with us in another forum." The UAE has recently doubled its contribution to UNRWA's annual budget to US$1 million (Dh3.67m), after donating US$500,000 for the previous 15 years, Mr Whitley said. The new figure is still a small fraction of the agency's budget. "The UAE has been making increasing contributions to UNRWA through a variety of private channels but we believe that, considering the resources available, it still has considerable potential to do much more for the running expenses of the agency," Mr Whitley said. Karen Abu Zayd, the UNRWA commissioner-general, said she was not sure what the UAE diplomat, Rahma al Shamsi, meant by the offer of unlimited cash to finance relief efforts. "We need to know what they meant," Ms Abu Zayd said at the UN headquarters on Friday. "It is something we will be following up with them." During the debate on Wednesday, Mr Shamsi said the Government had paid money towards the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, a refugee camp that was devastated last year by fighting between Lebanese forces and Palestinian militants. The second secretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told delegates the Emirates was "one of the first countries to pay its contribution to the reconstruction plan". Ms Abu Zayd acknowledged the Government had paid an initial US$1 million towards rebuilding but she said the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are still deciding between themselves where the bulk of funding will come from. "We are waiting, really, for the meeting that the Gulf donors will have together to decide what they will contribute to the reconstruction of the camp, as well as to the [Lebanese] Government for reconstruction outside the camp," she said. Palestinians are facing a deeper humanitarian crisis than those endured after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the first intifada of 1987. The number of aid-dependent Palestinians has grown by about 30 per cent in the last decade as Israeli restrictions on movement across the West Bank and Gaza have crippled the economy. This has made the agency the largest UN operation in the Middle East, with more than 29,000 staff providing aid, health care and schooling to about 4.6 million refugees. But cash shortages might mean UNRWA has to cut back on services. The National repeatedly contacted the UAE mission to the UN to ask whether it would fulfil its offer of unlimited aid but diplomats were not available to comment. In April, a Government minister told the General Assembly that the UAE provided 3.6 per cent of its gross national product in overseas assistance - about $5.87 billion based on an estimated $163bn GNP. The figure surprised many delegates to the 192-member body because it was more than five times larger than the 0.7 per cent share of GNP that a handful of developed nations agreed upon as the benchmark of overseas development assistance. Sir John Holmes, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said the UAE had presented exaggerated and "highly dubious" figures of overseas assistance to the international community: "There doesn't seem to be those vast sums of money flowing that I have seen." The Government stood by the figure, with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, saying the dispute was likely the result of "different ways of measuring and calculating" aid sums. jreinl@thenational.ae