Saudi aid chief says relief efforts must be quicker after disasters

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah led the kingdom’s humanitarian assistance to Turkey

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah at the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The world needs to get better at using science and data to respond quickly to natural disasters, the head of Saudi Arabia's King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre has said.

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, who planned and hosted the third Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum last week, led the kingdom’s efforts in sending humanitarian aid to Turkey following the earthquake. Saudi Arabia also sent an aid plane to Syria’s rebel-held city of Aleppo.

Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian air bridge has been providing much-needed aid after the earthquake killed more than 48,000 people in Turkey and Syria and seriously damaged 173,000 buildings in Turkey.

The tenth Saudi relief plane took off on Wednesday from Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, heading for Gaziantep Airport in Turkey with 90 tonnes of food and medical supplies on board.

Humanitarian groups have said that the international community must rethink the way aid reaches Syria after political disagreements over humanitarian corridors and access slowed efforts to get assistance to north-west Syria after the earthquake on February 6.

Dr Al Rabeeah said the global community must differentiate between individual and variable responses ahead of future natural disasters.

“I think with the change in the world and with the magnitude of advancement in the science, we are still behind,” he said.

“I think, now, we should be more capable to use the science, to use the research, to use the data, artificial intelligence, to collect the data very quickly, the priority very quickly, and to provide it to the donor countries and to also be able to respond and be proactive, quickly.

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, during a round table discussion in Riyadh on Sunday. Photo: KSrelief

“Unfortunately, in the humanitarian side, we're not on par with the science and that was the subject of discussion at the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum.

“We're asking the international humanitarian community and donor community, why don't we invest in the research in the science and evidence-based knowledge and artificial intelligence to improve our systems and data collection?”

KSRelief and other non-governmental humanitarian groups have said that the immediate aftermath will entail physical relief efforts, including medical equipment and food.

Dr Al Rabeeah said the earthquake will also require addressing the mental trauma caused by the devastation.

“I think people are more vocal about it, open about it, more accepting of it,” he said.

“The trauma is so tragic, that we will have a long-lasting consequence on the mental health especially in children. Children who lost parents, a woman who lost a spouse, a man who lost a spouse.

“These will have long-lasting mental consequences and it is actually again the duties of the specialised humanitarian responders not to forget the mental health counselling process and actually we are in KSRelief that's part of our plan for the coming weeks and months.”

Saudi relief workers arrive in Turkey. Photo: KSrelief

On top of leading Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian relief programme, and an official government role as an adviser at the Royal Court, Dr Al Rabeeah spends the rest of his time evaluating and performing life-saving operations to separate conjoined twins.

Last week, he also found the time to separate conjoined Yemeni twins after an eight-hour operation in Riyadh.

“Last Thursday was a great lesson for me to learn,” Dr Al Rabeeah told The National in Riyadh.

“I was separating conjoined twins and the planes were flying to Aleppo and to Gaziantep and our medical convoys in Africa and the others are in the Far East Asia.

“So, tens of projects are happening all at the same time. That did not deter us from working together to achieve the kingdom’s humanitarian goals.

“It’s not only multitasking, but it’s also where you delegate and trust the people. People forget that delegation is as important as leadership.”

Last Thursday, while organising the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum on top of the urgent relief efforts in Turkey and Syria, Dr Al Rabeeah led an eight-hour operation to separate conjoined Yemeni twins Salman and Abduallah.

The six-stage operation involved a 35-member team of consultants, specialists, nurses and technical staff.

The conjoined Yemeni twins successfully separated in Saudi Arabia. Photo: SPA

“I'm proud that in the Saudi conjoined twin proud programme. We have already established very good, talented teams who are, if not equal to, better than Abdullah Al Rabeeah,” he told The National.

“We have a second and the third and I can assure you even planning now a fourth line of surgeons specialised in surgeries to separate conjoined twins.”

Under the Saudi Conjoined Twins Programme, KSRelief has so far sponsored operations to separate 55 children from 23 countries.

“I'm confident in my colleagues, confident in the generations who are working with us and if you look at the last operation a few days ago, the last Salman and Abdullah, these are from Yemen and the one before them from Iraq a few weeks ago, both sets of twins you will notice that more than half of team are young generations and I'm really thrilled and proud of them,” Dr Al Rabeeah said.

Updated: March 01, 2023, 4:28 AM