UN mulls moving more agencies to Emirates

World body has been expanding permanent presence and has several offices in Dubai.

NEW YORK // The UN could substantially increase its scale of operations from the Emirates after a terror strike in Pakistan forced the second round of staff relocations to Dubai in the past three months. In the wake of a bomb attack at the World Food Programme (WFP) offices in Islamabad in October, the UN is removing at least 20 per cent of its 250 expatriates from the turbulence in Pakistan, said a spokesman for the world body, Farhan Haq. Most are going to Dubai, he said.

The evacuation follows the relocation of some 600 staff from Afghanistan following a suicide attack in Kabul in the same month, more than 80 of whom continue to work from International Humanitarian City, Dubai's burgeoning aid hub. The UN influx, largely a response to a wave of increasingly brazen Taliban attacks, has spurred organisational planners to question whether Dubai could become a permanent base of operations for its work in the region.

"A lot of the UN agencies are considering exactly that because Dubai is a regional logistical hub, it has the availability and it also has the drive," said Kayan Jaff, the world body's resident co-ordinator to the UAE and Qatar. "The Government of Dubai is very keen on establishing these type of operational hubs that could be useful for the UN's work in turbulent areas across the region, such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan."

While Mr Haq described the moves as being temporary until the militant threat diminishes, he acknowledged the relocation of Afghanistan-based staff "was meant to be a matter of weeks, but that is now looking like months". UN envoys have held talks with Emirati officials about hosting more agencies, including a permanent office for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which aims to improve governance and fight corruption.

The UN footprint in the Emirates has grown from about 45 to 75 permanent staff over the past five years with the addition of officials from UN Development Programme and a recently opened Food and Agricultural Organisation office in Abu Dhabi. Dubai hosts the bulk of UN agencies, including the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha); Unicef, the children's agency; the UN refugee agency; the WFP and the UN Department for Safety and Security.

Mr Jaff predicted more UN agencies and aid groups and the companies that supply them will follow suit. Dubai's aid warehouses have become vital in supplying tents, blankets, water purifiers and emergency supplies to disaster zones across the region, including refugees from the ongoing conflict in north Yemen. UAE officials are reportedly encouraging greater co-operation with the world body, offering low-cost office space in areas such as International Humanitarian City, a government-built free zone under the direction of Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein.

Collaboration often takes place through Princess Haya, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who brokered the transfer of Afghan staff to Dubai with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. Although ties between the Government and the UN have steadily expanded, the relationship has also had some setbacks. Plans to house agencies and warehouses at the new Jebel Ali airport have been stalled by the emirate's construction slowdown.