UAE tells rich nations they must keep aid pledges

Minister's address to UN says hard economic times are no excuse to turn backs on the needy, after Emirates gave $3bn last year

NEW YORK // The UAE continues to provide billions of dollars to tackle poverty in the developing world despite the economic downturn, and wealthy nations should not use financial austerity as a reason to renege on their commitments. That was the message Reem al Hashimi, a UAE minister of state, brought to the UN during a three-day debate on progress towards the organisation's poverty-reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals.
Two thirds of the way through their 15-year life span, the Millennium Development Goals are under threat. The UN warns that a funding shortfall of US $20 billion this year will hamper global efforts to reduce poverty, disease and inequality by the 2015 target. In a seven-minute speech, Ms al Hashimi said financial turmoil had not caused the UAE to fall back on its poverty-reduction efforts and urged wealthy nations not to withdraw their commitments to achieving the goals.
"The UAE reaffirms its commitment to strengthen the international partnership to expedite the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, and we call for the intensification of the international efforts to deal with the underlying causes and challenges that hinder the achievement of the goals on time, and to find effective solutions for them," she said on Monday night. Launched at the Millennium Summit of 2000, the Millennium Development Goals consist of eight targets designed to empower women, halve extreme poverty, overcome hunger, halt the spread of Aids and provide elementary education to all children.
The UN calls on wealthy nations to provide 0.7 per cent of their gross national income in official development assistance - a target that only five rich countries have met. Developed countries currently provide an average of 0.31 per cent of gross national income. Ms al Hashimi said: "While we recognise that the global economic and financial crisis led to the recession of the national incomes of developed donor countries, we urge those countries not to withdraw their commitments ... for developing countries, take effective steps towards alleviating or cancelling their debts, and provide them with the new technolog."
Ms al Hashimi, who also chairs the education charity Dubai Cares, told delegates that the Emirates gives a "high percentage" of its GNI to about 100 developing countries - 95 per cent as grants and the rest as loans. She highlighted the work of the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation in 45 developing and disaster-racked countries, the way Dubai Cares helps to educate four million primary schoolchildren in 14 countries, and this year's US$50 million package for Pacific islands.
The UAE's combined figure of humanitarian aid and assistance was $3bn last year, Ms al Hashimi said. "The UAE succeeded in containing the aftermath of the economic crises so as not to impact our achievements in the development process and fall back in our commitments and foreign aid contributions for development," she said. "Our successes in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on the national level allowed us to enhance our contributions in the global partnership to assist developing countries achieve the development goals as soon as possible."
Emirati aid figures have been a source of controversy. The UAE's Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid calculates overseas assistance in 2009 at about one per cent of gross national income. The World Bank describes a high of 12 per cent in 1973 and a 2007 figure of 0.24 per cent. The UN's three-day summit on Millennium Development Goals progress will hear from the US president Barack Obama, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, the Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao and some 140 other heads of state and government.
The summit began with a warning from the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon that "we should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor". The UN says the world will manage to halve global poverty and hunger by 2015, but warns that other targets will probably not be met. Success in tackling poverty is largely credited to rising incomes in emerging economies such as China and India.