Emirates' Dh163bn gift to the world since 1971

In less than 40 years since its foundation the UAE has donated, on average, more than Dh4bn a year - and that figure is rising

ABU DHABI // The UAE is estimated to have given at least Dh163 billion towards foreign aid since the country was founded in 1971. The provisional figure, covering a period of almost four decades, was announced yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

During the launch of the 2009 UAE Foreign Aid Report, Sheikh Mohammed underscored the UAE's long history as a donor, which has given support to countries including Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia. Last May, the Office of the Co-ordination of Foreign Aid (OCFA) announced plans to calculate the total amount of foreign aid provided by the UAE since 1971 and to track where the funds have been directed.

Hazza al Qahtani, the director general of the OCFA, said yesterday that he expected the multibillion-dirham figure announced by Sheikh Mohammed to increase, given that the agency was still waiting for data from various donor groups and organisations. The ultimate aim of the project, he said, was to help "streamline" the local humanitarian sector, particularly for future planning, to ensure efficient use of funds and greater transparency, in addition to highlighting the UAE's role as an international donor.

"The project as a whole will raise the profile of the UAE as an international donor, which has not been recognised properly for years," Mr al Qahtani said. OCFA officials had indicated that the report detailing the UAE's role in international aid efforts since 1971 would be released at the end of last year. Yesterday, Mr al Qahtani said the total was now expected to be released in 2011. In April, the OCFA confirmed that the UAE has poured more than Dh32bn into foreign aid between 2000 and 2008 - the first major piece of data to be released as part of the project to compile the country's historical aid data.

The issue of how much foreign aid is given by the Emirates has generated some controversy in recent years. In 2008, claims that the UAE gave away 3.6 per cent of its gross national product were called into question by Sir John Holmes, the United Nations' undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. The UN has set donor nations a target of 0.7 per cent of their gross national income (GNI) to contribute to developing countries, but very few countries actually reach that amount.

Based on the figures announced by the OCFA yesterday, in 2009 UAE foreign aid amounted to about one per cent of the UAE's gross national income. One of the bodies that tracks foreign development assistance is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to the 2009 UAE Foreign Aid Report, the UAE will be submitting separate aid data to the OECD next month, which will be lower than the almost Dh9bn outlined in the report.

Because of what the report describes as the OECD's "stricter definitions" of development assistance, the figures will differ to those in the report launched yesterday, which includes some commitments of aid that have yet to be disbursed. @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae