Editorial: Humanitarian Aid

Editorial: Humanitarian Aid
28 May 2008

The Kingdom’s emergency donation of $500 million to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) to help combat the global food crisis should scotch the myth that Middle Eastern oil producers do nothing to help the world’s poor. The one-off donation — larger than that given by all other countries combined — is obviously not going to end the crisis but it has solved the immediate problem of finding the money to feed an estimated 73 million people in 78 countries at a time when the cost of food, so far this year, has gone up by a shocking 35 percent. That is not merely our view. It is the view of the WFP’s executive director Josette Sheeran: “The Saudi donation will keep many people from dying, others from slipping into malnutrition and disease, and will even help to stave off civil unrest,” she said on Saturday. For UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the grant comes not a moment too soon, given the scale of the crisis.

Inevitably, in contrast to his praise, the diehard Islamophobes and Arab-bashers around the world bad-mouth the donation, claiming it is merely a PR gesture. That says far more about their willful ignorance of the truth and nothing about the reality of Saudi aid.

While boosted oil revenues may have decided the size of the donation, which has given the WFP a $215-million surplus on its $755-million appeal, this is not a one-off gesture. Saudi Arabia has long been a major and generous provider of foreign aid. Over the past 30 years it has given over $85 billion for international humanitarian and relief work. That equates to 4 percent of GDP, making the country the biggest giver in per capita terms in the world. Yet the myth about tight-fisted oil producers or only giving to Muslim recipients persists. Saudi Arabia gives to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Two years ago, it provided aid to help people living in rubbish dumps in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh; Cambodians are not noticeably Muslim; they are largely Buddhist. Likewise, the WFP donation is not ring-fenced for Muslims.

In part the myth is the oil producers’ own doing. The Kingdom and others do not, on the whole, make a song and a dance about their aid programs, preferring simply to get on with the job of providing aid where it is needed with a minimum of fuss and publicity. Who, outside Kuwait, for example, was aware that last month it set up a fund to help poor Muslim countries deal with the food crisis?

Saudi Arabia has done its part; it is up to others to do theirs. A glance at the WFP’s list of donors shows how pathetic donations have been. The Americans, Canadians, Japanese and most Europeans (although not all) have always been relatively generous in their giving but the donations of other wealthy countries, a few oil producers among them it has to be admitted , look downright mean. Indeed, some major oil producers do not give anything at all. That is their choice but it is both irresponsible and immoral. It is certainly not our way.

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