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.'
Over 40 government, semi and nongovernment organisations and private individuals in the UAE contribute to this policy of humanitarian diplomacy providing billions of dollars in foreign aid annually. At least half of this aid is supplied by government, almost a quarter by Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, and a significant proportion by the Khalifa Foundation and the UAE Red Crescent Authority. Organisations such as Dubai Cares and the Sharjah Charity Association provide much of the remainder.
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, funds including grants and loans are distributed to over 140 countries and territories. 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).
UAE aid in 2013 amounted to US$5.4 billion (Dh19.84 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 1.34% of its GNI as ODA in 2013, exceeding the UN target of 0.7% for donor countries.
Funds are spent on a range of projects: UAE contributions provide transformative access to education and vital healthcare services, support research, innovation and essential infrastructure development, including water and energy projects, and provide life-giving disaster relief during emergencies.
In Pakistan, for example, the UAE Pakistan Aid Project, initiated by the President, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has provided millions of dollars for rebuilding and infrastructure projects, many of which have enormous impact on the lives of people in these areas. UAE support for demining projects in Afghanistan has also benefitted thousands by clearing the way for the construction and restoration of farms, roads, schools, clinics, irrigation channels, and other infrastructure facilities.
Much of the aid emanating from the UAE is geared towards supporting the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by low-income countries. These goals were set by world leaders in 2000 to re-invigorate the campaign to end poverty and make the world a better place for all. The UAE achieved most of the MDGs internally long before the target date of 2015, and as well as supporting less fortunate countries it is also taking part in the process to develop new goals beyond 2015.
Under MDG 1, UN Member States agreed to work towards the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and a considerable portion of the UAE's assistance across a wide range of aid organisations is geared towards the achievement of this goal.
Dubai Cares programmes focus on health, nutrition, hygiene, quality education and gender equality in schools in Asia, Africa and Europe, directly supporting MDG 2, which aims to achieve universal primary education, and the UN Secretary General's 5-year Global Education First Initiative.
A number of UAE donors support a range of initiatives to help achieve reduction in child mortality (MDG 4) and the elimination of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG 6).
In this context, the UAE has joined global efforts to support major health initiatives such as the elimination of Guinea Worm disease in Africa, and eradication of polio worldwide. H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has donated 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. Significantly, between June and September 2014, more than 13.2 million Pakistani children were inoculated against polio, in collaboration with the Pakistani Government and the World Health Organisation.
The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has also pledged Dh91.8 million (US$25 million) to Roll Back Malaria, an international partnership dedicated to fighting this disease and MICAD and the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) are partnering to implement a US$5 million project to fight the Ebola virus in the three West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Several of the UAE's aid projects suppor MDG 7, which aims to achieve environmental stability, and MDG 8, promting global partnerships for development. Believing that the provision of renewable energy is an important and effective form of development aid, bringing enormous environmental, economic and social benefits to communities, ADFD is committed to supporting renewable energy projects in cooperation with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi. Concessional finance of up to US$350 million is available over seven cycles. Projects approved for funding to date include solar, hydropower, biomass, wind energy and hybrid developments in Ecuador, Mali, Maldives, Mauritania, Samoa and Sierra Leone.
ADFD and MASDAR have funded and initiated renewable energy projects in a number of countries, including Afghanistan and Mauritania. Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji and Vanuatu have also benefitted from Masdar's expertise and ADFD finance under the US$50 million UAE-Pacific Partnerships Fund which has delivered 2.8 MW of renewable energy capacity.
In addition, a range of of donors have provided funds for water and sanitation projects in over 40 low- and middle-income countries and territories.
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.
A significant proportion of aid in in 2014 was provided to refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq, in particular to Syrian refugees now living in Jordan and Lebanon. In Jordan, the UAE RCA established a special camp at Mrajeeb Al Fhood to accommodate over 10,000 people, which provides not only food and shelter, but also healthcare and access to education for all children. Here, as elsewhere, close coordination is maintained with international relief agencies and other international organisations. Other assistance was provided in the Kurdistan region of the country to Iraqis who fled the country after the rapid advance of the Da'esh terrorist organisation during the summer of 2014.
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 in Syria, with other projects, including the provision of food security, health care, water supplies and sewerage projects, education and shelter for 420,000 Syrian refugees at Al Zaartari And Azraq Refugee Camps in Jordan. A UAE field hospital has also been established at Mafraq, Jordan, which can provide medical services to over 8,000 people a day. This figure has increased as aid from the UAE flows in to help refugees withstand severe winter conditions in the Levant.
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 during 2014, however. The heavy fighting between Israeli forces and the Hamas administration in Gaza in July and August 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 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 refugee relief agency, UNRWA.
In addition to its work with refugees, RCA also 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 and social services in addition to the provision of water supplies.
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 in Dubai is the world's busiest logistics hub for humanitarian relief, hosting nine UN agencies 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.
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.