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United Arab Emirates foreign aid a growing success story based on humanitarian principles

posted on 13/12/2013: 1776 views



The devastating typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) has shocked the world by illustrating horrifying images of its aftermath in the Philippines.

This super typhoon reminds the international public once again of the necessity and urgency of foreign aid. This brings us to the robust role the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plays in international humanitarian assistance. The UAE is a rich country and considers its foreign aid an important pillar of its foreign policy. The UAE sided with the large donors in light of the Philippines' misfortune. A quick response of a US$10 million assistance package for the Philippines, which was later followed by additional packages, highlighted the long-term commitment by the UAE to its disaster-relief program.

This generous initiative placed the UAE among the top ten donor countries to the Philippines. Such levels of aid in light of the disaster are impressive, as the total UAE assistance to the Philippines in 2012 was over US$2.7 million.

The UAE's compassionate international behavior merits a closer look at the country's foreign aid policies.16th Largest Donor Country in the World for 2012To start with, the UAE stands in the top 20 donor countries in the world for 2012. This achievement has not been coincidental, but as a matter of fact, a result of managed growth of the Emirates' foreign aid which last year reached out to 137 countries.

In March 2013 the Ministry of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD), formerly the UAE Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid was established, and by this move the UAE Government recognized the importance of consolidating its foreign aid to become the tip of the humanitarian spear.



Over the years, there has been a constant growth in UAE foreign assistance to the world. In 2012, the total foreign aid disbursements reached US$1.59 billion, while the official assistance aid was estimated at US$1.24 billion (based on OECD Development Assistant Committee (DAC) standards). Approximately half of the whole sum was given by the UAE Government, followed by other donors such as the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, UAE Red Crescent Authority, and others.

Foreign assistance is given in accordance with UAE diplomacy, for the purpose of promoting values, and in response to requests for developmental aid and emergency scenarios. Aid is categorized in three parts: The largest would be development aid (86.95 percent), followed by humanitarian (6.94 percent) and then charity (6.11 percent).

Becoming a large donor country means adopting international rules and standards in order to claim a place in the humanitarian club of countries. The UAE's yearly reports delivered to OECD DAC confirm the UAE's commitment towards declared values in transparency and accountability, as well as the strategic objective to engage with international development organizations. As a reminder, the OECD DAC praised the first report sent in 2010 for demonstrating transparent behavior.

The OECD DAC noted that the UAE became "the first country outside the DAC's membership to report in such detail". The latest 2012 report went a step further and provided a breakdown of the foreign aid in accordance to the OECD DAC standards. Such types of reporting are important for the comparative international standing of the UAE among other countries, as the UN has declared a desired percentage of the Gross National Income (GNI) which the donor countries should dedicate to foreign aid. Only few countries reached the ambitious 0.7 percent of their GNI.

Many others aim at reaching this minimum. For example, the UK, which has donated 0.56 percent of its GNI in 2012, has a declared goal of reaching 0.7 percent in 2013. The UAE, with its constant increase over the years, national organizational restructuring, and by improving its strategy is well on its way to reach the UN threshold, too.

Great Potential for Further Growth One area for improving the better management of foreign aid is dedicating part of the UAE's federal budget towards this cause. Projecting a share of the budget will pave the way for creating a national strategy to plan future allocations of UAE's foreign aid. The type of assistance given by the Emirates over the last three years has been changing. The three main categories - direct project implementation, bilateral assistance to governments and contributions to national NGOs and civil society institutions - varied in size and in percentage of the total aid given by the UAE.

These different experiences in how the aid is provided, the evaluation of the results and the future projections should be used to develop a long term strategy. It is expected that the future direction of the foreign aid will seek to have a multilateral approach, rather than the bilateral one which has been dominant in the recent years. The strategy will have to envision clear goals, set standards, and unify the image of the UAE's foreign aid assistance program, where it is worth noting that the UAE appears to be on a solid path forward in this regard.

When projecting a unified image, a national brand (e.g. UAE Aid) is needed. The brand will serve as an umbrella logo for all the aid going out of the country, and will demonstrate that all donors are harmonized. Additionally, the national foreign aid brand will further advance the already developed nation branding strategy of the UAE. Having a vision for the country's foreign aid goals will also help the donors identify mutual interests and contribute to the achievement of those goals.

Equally important is that this strategy will maintain and improve the transparency and accountability of the UAE's foreign aid. As mentioned earlier, transparency is vital for the international standing of every donor-county. Ultimately, by understanding the goals of the UAE's structured foreign aid, the benefactors can have pragmatic expectations, plan their developmental projects accordingly and rely on a long term commitment. But securing money and deciding where to donate it is only one part of the process. There is a growing need for evaluating the effectiveness of the delivered aid through rigorous auditing.

Through monitoring and evaluation, the government can increase the impact of projects sponsored by UAE foreign aid. That is not an easy process and it is a constant worry for the whole international development community in the sphere of humanitarian operations. The Paris Declaration of 2005 recognized the problem and the document focused on improving aid effectiveness by setting guiding principles for all stakeholders. Three years later, the Accra Agenda for Action concluded that the efforts were not enough and there is a dire need to deepen the cooperation and accelerate the advancement towards achieving what was previously agreed in Paris.

The same actors met again in Busan in 2011 to reevaluate the process, to better understand the new complexities and, yet again, discuss aid effectiveness. The global ongoing search for finding the right way for improving the results of development aid implies that the UAE's aid program will also struggle with creating maximum impact. The UAE should strive towards fast adoption of all principles laid out by OECD, and be innovative in designing its own national methods on monitoring and evaluation.

Why the UAE should Care about its Image as a Generous International Donor The foreign aid of the UAE has the ability to shape the image of the country, and communicate to the neighbors and the wider region by sending positive messages of friendship and partnership. An obvious shift in the recent year is the shifting nature of politics in the Middle East. The effects of the Arab Spring decreased Egyptian regional influence, and left Syria entirely focused on its internal civil war. This leaves enough space for other countries, like the UAE, to increase their regional influence and fill part of the void through billions of dollars in foreign aid packages in order to stabilize the region.

The foreign aid of the UAE is helping the country's efforts to project benevolent behavior and friendly intentions when exercising its influence in the region.

The UAE's foreign aid, in the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, aims "to contribute to achieving stability and provide a dignified life for all peoples, regardless of their race or religion". The latest MICAD report and the aid provided so far in 2013 support this statement. In fact, the future work of MICAD is critical to the UAE's foreign policy in enhancing human security throughout the region and the world. – By Aleksandar Mitreski, Non Resident Analyst, INEGMA - Emirates News Agency, WAM

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