UAE gives Dh9bn in foreign aid

Biggest recipient last year was Yemen, at Dh2.8bn, with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Palestinian Territories among main beneficiaries.

ABU DHABI // The Government and Emirati donor organisations gave nearly Dh9 billion (US$2.45bn) in foreign aid in 2009, according to the country's first report detailing donations. The biggest recipient last year was Yemen, with more than Dh2.8bn in assistance. Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories were also among the main beneficiaries.

The figures were disclosed in the first UAE Foreign Aid Report presented by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at a ceremony in the capital yesterday. Sheikh Mohammed said the funds were given for projects to help "the poor and the weak", and the amount demonstrated "the generous giving traditions that are well established in our country and deeply rooted in Islam and the Arab culture".

The report, the first in what is planned to be an annual series, was released by the Office for the Co-ordination of Foreign Aid (OCFA), which is led by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, who was also at yesterday's ceremony. Hazza al Qahtani, the director general of the OCFA, said: "The report confirms the UAE as a serious international donor. Before, the information was scattered. Now the story has been changed, and OCFA tracks every aid flow, issues reports and coordinates between the donors."

The report includes breakdowns of aid by region, organisation and sector. Most of the assistance was given in the form of grants to humanitarian and development projects in 92 countries. Eighty per cent of the funds were directed towards development projects, with humanitarian programmes accounting for 18 per cent. Eighty-seven per cent of the funds went to countries in Asia, and around 10 per cent, or Dh911 million, to projects in Africa.

The total figure is close to 1 per cent of gross national income, well above the UN target of 0.7 per cent. However, separate aid data to be submitted to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development next month will be lower because of what the report describes as "stricter definitions" of development assistance. The Middle East was the sub-region that received the most assistance, with the UAE contributing more than Dh4.6bn.

One of the more surprising revelations is that more than Dh154m was given to the United States, most of it last September by the Government of Abu Dhabi for a children's hospital in Washington, DC. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) is the largest UAE donor organisation, giving more than half the total amount of UAE aid - Dh4.9bn in grants and loans. The UAE Government was the second-largest donor, contributing more than Dh3bn. The report highlights what it describes as four "significant commitments" made by the Government and administered by the ADFD: Dh2.2bn to Yemen, Dh991m to Pakistan, Dh918m to Afghanistan and Dh110m to the Seychelles. These donations will be disbursed over several years. Rashid Khalikov, director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, said the UAE's donation of more than Dh1.5bn to strictly humanitarian initiatives was "impressive". While Gulf states have traditionally been "very generous", it is something that has not always been acknowledged, he said. "First and foremost, it is important to recognise the generosity of the Gulf countries and people," he said. "Also, it is important for the UAE to talk about its foreign aid, so the international community has a better understanding." Margot Ellis, the deputy commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), who was also among the UN officials attending the launch, said the initiative to disclose the amount of foreign aid coming from the UAE was a step towards greater transparency. "The idea is to convey that the Emirates is part of the global community and shares in the responsibility for those in need," she said. Sheikh Mohammed pointed out that the UAE's philanthropic efforts were begun by the late Sheikh Zayed, whose wife Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak is also known for her humanitarian work. Yesterday she was named Person of the Year for Support to the Foreign Aid Sector, an award given for the first time by OCFA.