Saudi Arabia's humanitarian agency counting on partners to help fill UNRWA funding gap

Several western countries have paused funding to the UN agency as the Gaza war rages

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi aid agency KSrelief, says providing food and medical aid for Gaza is the priority in the run-up to Ramadan. Salim A Essaid / The National
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's top aid agency KSrelief, said Riyadh and regional and international partners were working to fill the funding gaps for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) caused by major donor cuts.

"We are counting on other partners in the region and beyond," Dr Al Rabeeah told The National at the Human Capability Initiative conference in Riyadh.

The Saudi agency provided more than $15 million in financial support to UNRWA last November and works closely with it in Gaza to help civilians, which Dr Al Rabeeah says is the aim of KSrelief and his country.

"UNRWA is the largest and most capable organisation on the ground so we will continue to support it in order to reach poor civilians who are at risk of famine and epidemic diseases," he said.

The freeze from 14 countries came after claims that a small number of the agency’s staff were involved in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which UNRWA denies.

“We also hope that the global funders will revisit their stance and to be able to continue support for UNRWA. It is in the end a UN agency and it is helping poor civilians, so supporting it means supporting those at risk in Gaza," Dr Al Rabeeah said.

KSrelief is the humanitarian arm of the kingdom for delivering aid and relief beyond its borders. As the Muslim world prepares for Ramadan, food and medical aid supplies are being prioritised.

Dr Al Rabeeah said KSrelief was in constant communication with other humanitarian groups in the Gaza Strip, because "we don't want the people to suffer the combined effects of famine and fasting” during the holy month.

In response to concerning reports of malnutrition facing vulnerable people in the enclave, especially women and children, Dr Al Rabeeah said KSrelief's priorities were to provide food and shelter for Gazans, but it was also looking at the health care of children and the protection of women and the elderly.

Reflecting on the conflict in Yemen, Dr Al Rabeeah said Saudi Arabia's stance has been to reach all governorates in the country and to help Yemenis "irrespective of their belongings and the respect of their ethnic group. Our aim is to see Yemen safe, stable and prosperous".

Previously a paediatric surgeon, Dr Al Rabeeah, who was the kingdom's health minister until May 2015, emphasised the continued need to support Yemen in fighting against epidemics.

"We have been very active and responsive to local epidemics and pandemics starting with the cholera endemic which happened in 2017, which we managed with our partners to control. We have also programs to control dengue fever, which was also successful. We have also had programs during Covid," he said.

Since it was founded, KSrelief has delivered relief to 95 countries and initiated more than 2,700 projects directly and in partnership with UN agencies, international and national NGOs, providing more than $6.4 billion in aid, it says.

The humanitarian agency has also raised an impressive amount of money through its Sahem Platform, a public relief campaign for Palestinians in Gaza.

“I'm proud to say we are approaching $170 million in donations coming from the public on Sahem," he added.

In Gaza, where Israel's war has killed more than 30,000 people, the enclave's 2.3 million residents lack access to food, water, adequate shelter and basic supplies, the UN has warned.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, has said an alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

On February 19 it estimated that one in six children aged under two in Gaza were acutely malnourished.

UNRWA's commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini has said he fears Gaza is on the “edge of a monumental disaster” that could have severe consequences for peace, security and human rights in the region.

Dr Al Rabeeah called for the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow aid into Gaza under a ceasefire.

"As a humanitarian agency, my hope and plea is to see all corridors open and for the ceasefire to start," he said.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 5:35 AM