Development and humanitarian assistance is a crucial aspect of the UAE's foreign policy. The philosophy behind this is two-fold: first, it is dictated by an Islamic belief that helping those in need is a primary duty; and second, that part of the country’s wealth from oil and gas should be devoted to assisting less fortunate countries and individuals. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, expressed this very clearly when he declared: 'We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.'
Sheikh Zayed's successor H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has continued on the same path based on his conviction that: 'Humanitarian diplomacy is one of the main pillars of our foreign policy, and our country will continue to support international efforts to respond to disasters and answer the call for relief.'
The UAE's foreign aid is coordinated by the Ministry of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD). MICAD produces an annual audited report that gives a comprehensive analysis of UAE development, humanitarian and charity assistance.
According to MICAD, in 2013 total aid from the UAE amounted to US$5.89 billion (Dh21.63 billion). Much of this funding comes under the definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA) as stipulated by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD DAC).
Net ODA in 2013 was estimated at US$5.42 billion, moving the UAE into first place globally in terms of development assistance as a percentage of gross national income (GNI). In other words, the UAE provided 1.33% of its GNI as ODA in 2013, exceeding the UN target of 0.7% for donor countries.
Nearly 40 government and nongovernment organisations as well as private individuals in the UAE distributed foreign aid to 145 countries in 2013: 82.57 per cent of this aid was supplied by the UAE Government, Abu Dhabi Department of Finance providing the vast majority of the assistance, largely in the form of bilateral assistance to Egypt. Organisations such as Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, the Khalifa Foundation, UAE Red Crescent Authority, Dubai Cares and the Sharjah Charity Association provided the remainder.
Egypt was the largest single-country recipient of foreign aid from the UAE in 2013: ten UAE donor organisations disbursed a total of Dh16.99 billion (US$4.63 billion) for 54 projects to assist in financial, infrastructural and social development in that country.
Pakistan has been among the top five recipients of UAE foreign aid for four consecutive years. During this period, the UAE Pakistan Aid Project, initiated by UAE President, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has provided millions of dollars for infrastructure and health-related projects, including roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. in addition, UAE-assisted vaccination programmes in Pakistan, operated in conjunction with the World Health Organisation, have succeeded in immunising nearly 30 million children to date.
In 2013 the UAE also reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to support Afghanistan. UAE assistance with demining projects in this war-torn country has cleared the way for the construction and restoration of farms, roads, schools, clinics, irrigation channels, and other infrastructure facilities. The provision of solar energy to rural villages has also assisted greatly in modernisation. Some 20,000 Imams have been trained to promote the principles of Islam based on moderation and tolerance and considerable assistance (US$10.1 million) was given to support the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) campaigns in the country. With a multi-year funding commitment of Dh55 million (US$15 million), first signalled in January 2010, the Khalifa Foundation has also built a strategic partnership with the Government of Afghanistan and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to address chronic malnutrition in the most vulnerable segments of the Afghan population, especially children under five, pregnant women and new mothers.
Overall in 2013, the Khalifa Foundation disbursed Dh776.8 million (US$211.5 million) for development, humanitarian and charitable projects in 64 countries, as well as for one multi-country project.
Much of the aid emanating from the UAE is geared towards supporting the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by world leaders in 2000 for fulfillment by the end of 2015. The eight strategic tasks framed by the MDGs were identified by the international community as critical to an accelerated and sustained effort to rid the world of poverty.
The UAE works with partner countries and international organisations to meet international MDG targets thereby contributing to improved food supply in poor countries, greater environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation, as well as better water management and improved health.
The MDGs that are the top priority for the UAE are: MDG 8 – developing global partnership for development; MDG 1 – eradication of poverty and hunger; and MDG 7 – ensuring environmental sustainability. Between 2011 and 2013, the UAE contributed Dh35.19 billion (US$9.58 billion) towards foreign aid around the world. Of this, 77.5 per cent or Dh27.28 billion (US$7.43 billion) supported the attainment of specific MDGs in 119 countries.
The UAE is also taking part in the process to develop new goals (Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs) beyond 2015.
Projects directly supporting MDG 2, which aims to achieve universal primary education, include construction by the UAE Government of 100 schools in Egypt and the funding of schools in Pakistan, Tunisia and Sudan, amongst others. Dubai Cares' primary education programmes integrate four key components: school infrastructure; school health and nutrition; water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and qualithy of education. In 2013, Dubai Cares supported programmes worth a combined total of Dh39.6 million (US$10.8 million) in 16 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, working with local and international NGOs to disburse individual grants. Dubai Cares also forged a partnership with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), reinforcing Dubai Cares' commitment to making primary education accessible to children in the developing world.
MDG 4 and 6 focus on global health issues and combatting disease. In April 2013, H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, pledged a donation of Dh440 million (US$120 million) to support efforts by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) to increase access to immunisation in developing countries, with a view to eradicating polio by 2018. Other significant projects include vaccination programmes in Pakistan, the global malaria programme sponsored by Abu Dhabi Health Authority and the global campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease, sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance.
The UAE strives to be a leader in global efforts to limit the impact of climate change. It is not surprising, therefore, that renewable energy projects feature strongly in the UAE's pursuance of MDG 7. In 2013 Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) committed Dh624.4 million (US$170 million) for the development of solar-energy systems in seven countries. Masdar was the implementing partner on one project funded by the Department of Finance in Egypt; one project funded by the Crown Prince's Court in Morocco; and five projects funded by Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
ADFD also works in close cooperation with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi. Through IRENA, ADFD has pledged to provide development loans worth Dh1.285 billion (US$350 million) in seven cycles of Dh183.6 million (US$50 million) each for financing renewable energy projects in IRENA member countries. In 2014, the second phase of funding, ADFD agreed to provide loans totalling Dh209 million (US57 million) at minimal interest rates to five projects in Cuba, Mauritania, St.Vincent & the Grenadines, Iran and Argentina .
Renewable energy is just one facet of ADFD's multi-layered development assistance programme: since inception, ADFD has provided more than Dh61 billion of financing to 415 projects in 69 countries around the world, including Dh20.7 billion in long-term loans, and Dh41 billion in government grants. ADFD's funding strategy focuses on sectors that are critical to the economic and social development of developing countries, such as agriculture, electricity, water, housing, transportation, industry, as well as social and health services.
Refugee support is a major component of UAE humanitarian assistance and in the past five years the UAE has given Dh2.6 billion (US$708 million) to the world's refugees, with Pakistan, Syria, Jordan and Yemen among its biggest recipients. Much of the aid to refugees has been provided through the auspices of the UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA), the fourth-largest donor of UAE foreign aid.
Significant assistance is being provided to refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq, in particular to Syrian refugees now living in Jordan and Lebanon. Sheikha Lubna, Minister of International Cooperation and Development reported at the 'Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation – Supporting Stability in the Region' that through government assistance, grants from the UAE's own humanitarian foundations and through UN agencies, Dh378 million (US$10 million) had been provided to displaced people from Syria. In Jordan, the UAE RCA established a special camp at Mrajeeb Al Fhood capable of accommodating 10,000 people, which provides not only water, food and shelter, but also health care and access to education for all children.
Health care, particularly mental health services, reproductive health consultations and treatment for individuals suffering from acute malnutrition, is a primary focus of UAE-funding for Syrian refugees at Al Zaartari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan. Assistance has also been provided in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to refugees who have fled from territories attacked by the Da'esh terrorist organisation.
It has not only been the fighting in Syria and Iraq that has prompted the need for humanitarian assistance and other forms of assistance in the Middle East region, however. The heavy fighting between Israeli forces and the Hamas administration in Gaza in July and August 2014 caused extensive loss of life as well as massive destruction of Gaza's infrastructure. In July 2014 President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan instructed the allocation of Dh92 million (US$25 million) in emergency humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza, while in October 2014 a donation of US$200 million towards the cost of reconstruction was announced at the Gaza Donor Conference in Cairo, Egypt.
Many of the RCA's humanitarian, health and educational projects in Palestine are executed in partnership with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA.
In addition to its work with refugees, RCA assists with development projects in a number of countries, including Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, Senegal, Bosnia, Uganda, Benin, Thailand, Chad, Ghana, Lebanon, Libya and Mauritania, covering health, education, social services and the provision of water supplies. And it is instrumental in providing humanitarian assistance following natural disasters, throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceana.
Through its considerable efforts, the RCA has earned the distinction of being one of the top-ten member organisations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in terms of the amount of relief assistance provided.
Over and beyond its own activities, the UAE is an international centre for the distribution of humanitarian relief. International Humanitarian City, a free zone in Dubai, is the world's busiest logistics hub for humanitarian relief, hosting nine UN agencies, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and 44 NGOs and commercial entities. These organisations have chosen the UAE as a site for their warehouse facilities, which enables them to carry out their operations more efficiently throughout Asia and Africa, given the geographical location of the UAE and the infrastructure that it offers to support urgent and complex emergency relief missions. Additionally, IHC has also developed a facility to assist with fund-raising for its member organisations.
The UAE Government also works in cooperation and partnership with a number of multilateral aid-giving institutions, including the International Development Agency, the OPEC Fund for International Development, the Arab Gulf Fund for the United Nations, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Abu-Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund and the Islamic Development Bank.