Charities must keep eye on goal, forum hears

An expert on donation assistance to foreign countries said the UAE must be more focused and consistent in its efforts to provide aid to other nations, in order to be more effective.

Talaat Abdel-Malek, OECD chair of the working party on aid effectiveness, participates in a roundtable discussion on Abu Dhabi development.
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DUBAI // Humanitarian organisations in the UAE must always keep in mind their goal is to help people for more than the short term, an aid expert said yesterday.

"I know that the UAE has been generous but it is important to focus on developmental assistance, not short-term aid," said Talat Abdel-Malek, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) chair of the working party on aid effectiveness.

"They need to stay the course and have a medium-term, shared vision with recipients."

Mr Abdel-Malek was speaking on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion on development effectiveness at the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

His comments follow an annual OECD report that showed UAE has slipped 12 places, to 26th, from its 2009 ranking as the 14th-most generous country in the world.

The statistics, revealed last month, were based on the Government's report on its aid disbursements.

Mr Abdel-Malek said organisations had to stay focused, ask questions and be vigilant about how effective their aid is.

"Don't help everybody everywhere," he said. "Don't be a jack of all trades.

"Focus on certain things you have experience in, pay attention to monitoring impact … there is a responsibility as well as a right to ask questions [such as] 'Where did the money go?'"

Mr Abdel-Malek was in the capital to discuss the outcomes of an aid conference in Busan, Korea last December, which representatives of several nations including the UAE attended.

He said the Emirates had a long way to go as a donor country.

"They [the UAE] need to pay more attention to the impact of its aid," he said, adding that an "analytical" approach was needed for requests from countries seeking financial assistance.

Mr Abdel-Malek said he been told UAE aid teams had visited 19 African countries in 11 days last year.

"They need to have teams to spend a bit more time to understand the social, economic and political contexts," he said.

"This will allow them to understand the real needs."

In 2010, the UAE gave more than Dh2.8billion in foreign aid, and pledged another Dh2.8bn for future disbursement.

But in 2009, it allotted more than Dh9.7bn in donations. Of that, Dh4.6bn was spent, while Dh5.1bn was committed for future disbursement.

This earned the UAE its place as the 14th most-generous international provider of aid.

"The lower overall figure for disbursements in 2010 reflects an established pattern in UAE aid flows, in which disbursements for major projects or programmes do not always follow an annual cycle," said the Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid (Ocfa), the Government agency that tracks and documents overseas aid, after releasing its disbursement report last year.

"The figures for commitments were affected by three very large commitments made in the second half of 2009 for Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which will be disbursed over several years."

The agency said it was working towards more aid effectiveness.

"By sharing the outcomes from Busan with UAE aid players, Ocfa hopes to help to improve the overall impact of the UAE's development programmes worldwide," said Hazza Al Qahtani, the director general of the agency."At Busan, there was a clear call for the inclusion in international aid forums of new aid actors that are playing an increasingly large role in the international aid landscape.

"This roundtable discussion focuses on ways in which UAE aid players can streamline their activities and forge international partnerships for progress towards true development effectiveness."

Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the acting director general of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, said: "We are facing lots of challenges, but we are looking forward to overcoming them.

"… by cooperating and coordinating together, we will achieve the millennium development goals which are adopted by the United Nations, especially eliminating poverty."