Aid chief outlines role of UAE on world stage

Head of Oxfam Great Britain discusses growing significance of Emirates as major player in development and disaster zones.

DUBAI // The UAE continues to assume a more prominent role in foreign aid and development, the head of Oxfam Great Britain says.

Dame Barbara Stocking yesterday highlighted the role of the Emirates on the international humanitarian and development stage during her visit to the country.

"The UAE is clearly growing in its role in the international community, including in international development," the chief executive of Oxfam GB said.

"It is quite exciting because there is a sense that people have been giving quite a lot of money for a long time, but it's not been really recognised by the rest of the world.

"Now, we're reaching the point where the UAE wants to take its place on the stage and that's great."

The UAE is estimated to have given at least Dh163 billion towards foreign aid since the country was founded in 1971. The Government's Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid (OCFA) is in the midst of compiling data from all UAE donor and aid agencies to calculate the exact amount given by the country over the last four decades.

The Gulf region as a whole was also assuming a more important position in the "donor world", Dame Barbara said, with countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar increasingly active. Dame Barbara, who will travel on to Qatar as part of her visit to the region, was meeting with partner organisations such as the UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA), government bodies including OCFA and investment firms during her stay in the Emirates.

In addition to the RCA, Oxfam GB has worked with Emirati organisations such as Dubai Cares on education projects in places including Niger, Pakistan and Mali. The Khalifa Foundation also contributed a "significant grant" for the organisation's work in Afghanistan, which went towards community development projects and agricultural support - a focus of Oxfam's work globally.

"The biggest area of Oxfam's long-term development work is in rural development and agriculture," Dame Barbara said. "That is a very key issue at the moment ... because of concerns about food scarcity in the future."

Oxfam has worked in Pakistan for more than two decades. Past aid work has included the earthquake in 2005 and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from the Swat Valley last year.

The organisation was now focusing on the "overwhelming" aftermath of the country's devastating floods. Oxfam is providing water and sanitation to 1.5 million people, and as winter approaches, the organisation and other agencies are increasingly concerned about those who remain displaced.

"Then, we're worried about next year because with the amount of agriculture that has been lost this year, there are going to be huge problems in just feeding those vast numbers of people next year," she said. "It's a big work for all of us."

Other focus areas for Oxfam include Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Dame Barbara has travelled to Yemen's Hadramout region, where the organisation is focusing on areas including women's rights and health issues.

"Yemen always comes up in discussions with partners here in the UAE because people are genuinely very interested about the issue of poverty in the Yemen and I think are very keen to help," she said.

The organisation also continues to work throughout the West Bank and Gaza, where the Israeli-imposed siege continues to impede humanitarian work and impact the daily lives of the 1.5 million people living in the strip.

"What you've got is poor people who are finding it almost impossible to live at the basic level, with no means of making money, no economic activity and no ability to reconstruct what's there," Dame Barbara said. "It is a truly dire situation."

Oxfam is a UK-based international aid agency that works on issues from climate change to health, education and gender equality. There are 14 member organisations, working in 85 countries. Oxfam Great Britain works in 62 countries, according to Dame Barbara.

"People are very empathetic with what's happening in other countries and the suffering of people, but its really about knowing what you can do and how it can be done in a sensible way," she said.

Oxfam report targets investors

Investment firms around the world are being urged by the aid agency Oxfam to play a more active role in poverty alleviation and promoting sustainable development in poor countries.

An Oxfam report released yesterday in Dubai urged investment companies to engage in more ethical investments. Dame Barbara Stocking, the chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain, was on hand at the launch of the report, entitled Better Returns in a Better World.

Research for the report took two years and aimed to identify the role that “institutional investors” might play in ending poverty and promoting development.

“The key message to investors is that they can actually make a contribution to poverty and development, and many of them want to do so,” Dame Barbara said yesterday. “Particularly in the western world, there is quite a lot of consumer pressure about what companies are doing that doesn’t seem very ethical. Therefore, there is an issue for investors … There is a moral case, but there is also a very strong business case.”

While some investors are becoming more interested in more ethical investments, she said the onus was also on NGOs, international organisations and governments to articulate the standards and how to invest responsibly.

Dame Barbara met with members of Dubai’s investment community last night during the launch of the report, which is being publicised around the world following its official launch in London earlier this month.