Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE are continuing their efforts to mitigate humanitarian crises and address development challenges around the world. Backed by federal- and emirate-level government funding, as well as increasing private sector engagement, the UAE’s global foreign aid has risen considerably over the past five years, taking the form of aid sent to crisis-stricken regions and general economic support to least developed countries (LDCs). At home, the UAE has balanced these commitments with the rollout of domestic social development initiatives to underserved groups.
Setting the Bar
For five years in a row the UAE’s official development aid (ODA) as a proportion of GNI has exceeded the UN target of 0.7%, averaging 1.24% in 2013-17. In 2017 the country’s ODA allocation increased by 18.1% to Dh19.32bn ($5.3bn). That year, development assistance comprised over 90% of the ODA total, with the rest being humanitarian aid. In recent years, support for development initiatives through grants – particularly to LDCs – has become the focus. Grants, unlike loans, do not require repayment, and these comprised 54% of ODA in 2017.
There are over 40 donor entities that are supporting the UAE’s development and humanitarian efforts. According to the “UAE Foreign Aid Report 2016”, published in January 2018 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the central government was the largest donor, contributing 48% of Dh22.23bn ($6.1bn) in foreign aid. Second was the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, an entity affiliated with the Abu Dhabi government, with 41%. Other groups like the Emirates Red Crescent and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation contributed 4% and 3%, respectively.
Africa (57%) and Asia (34%) receive the bulk of the UAE’s ODA, mostly through development assistance. In 2016, 55% of the UAE’s ODA went to general budget support, with Egypt receiving more than $2.4bn, or some 73%, of this specific funding allocation. Other funding categories include urban development and management, which received 4%, and medical services, with 2%.
The UAE’s total grant-based assistance for LDCs in 2016 exceeded $1.9bn, of which Libya was one of the primary recipients. Since 2013 Jordan has been among several non-LDCs that have received significant grants, including more than $336m to build roads and renewable energy infrastructure. Emergency food aid comprises most of the humanitarian assistance budget, of which Jordan and Libya each received a 9% share in 2016, followed by Syria with 8%.
The UAE is working on initiatives at home, with 51% of the Dh51.4bn ($14bn) federal 2018 budget for “social development and social benefits”. Programmes and legislation aim to enhance the role of women in society, support people of determination, and protect families and the elderly, among other goals. “There are significant opportunities to partner with the private sector to deliver services and support projects aimed at empowering people of determination within their community,” Abdullah Al Humaidan, secretary-general of Zayed Higher Organisation, told OBG. “These synergies, for instance, can be seen in private sector stakeholders providing employment opportunities in industrial jobs for people of determination, among many other examples.”
Many initiatives at the government level are carried out by the Department of Community Development, established in June 2018. This body is looking to partner with the private sector in Abu Dhabi and across the UAE – particularly in highly skilled areas such as health and technology – to meet its local development mandate. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, chairman of the Department of Community Development, told OBG that the body’s objective is “to create an ecosystem that is conducive to the formation of non-profits, volunteer organisations and social businesses focused on overcoming major community social challenges”.
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