17 Sep 2013

Fourth annual conference on effective partnership and information sharing for better humanitarian action

Kuwait, 17th September 2013 - Compassion for those in need is a beautiful emotion.  But translating compassion into effective humanitarian aid is anything but simple.  The tragic events that have decimated Syria in recent months illustrate just how hard that task can be. My compliments to the Emir of Kuwait His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for his strong commitment to humanitarian aid and to His Highness Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kuwait, for convening this Fourth Annual Conference on Effective Partnership and Information Sharing for Better Humanitarian Action. 

With able leaders like His Highness Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain and others from the Gulf Cooperation Council, IICO, Direct Aid and OCHA involved, I am sure the discussion and debate will be lively and well informed. The world of humanitarian aid is daunting -- fractured, complex and often driven by the political and cultural priorities of donors.  Just in the Gulf Region there are hundreds of NGOs, religious groups, businesses, and foundations who help people whose lives have been torn apart by conflicts and disasters.  Bringing greater coherence to their efforts is essential.  It is remarkable that at a broader international level Lady Amos and her staff at OCHA have already done so much to bring together aid providers from different cultural and religious backgrounds.  This is an incredibly delicate and challenging job.

How can we all do better?  First, the United Nations and traditional donors must take greater advantage of the local knowledge and expertise of Arab aid providers.  Our societies are not structured in the same way as the West's and imposing largely Western, standardized approaches to aid in the Middle East may not succeed.  The tremendous losses of food and other assets the United Nations experienced in Somalia several years ago might have been avoided had the Red Crescent, for example, been given the operational lead at the outset. Coordination mechanisms that give the logistical lead to agencies with more local experience would surely improve the efficiency of aid. Second, we must all give more. I am proud to say that UAE humanitarian aid has grown rapidly along with our friends in Kuwait and the other members of the GCC. 

Last year, under the wise leadership of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, foreign aid (by the UAE) climbed to $2.1 billion reaching 128 countries all over the globe. We are better coordinating that aid with the GCC, OCHA, the OECD and the traditional aid community. Of course there are obstacles -- few aid agencies like to be "coordinated" and many want to strike out on their own and be innovative. NGOs also need a degree of independence to garner the publicity essential in obtaining new contributions. It is clear we will all need to work together to ensure that the rising tide of Arab aid has the best possible impact. In Dubai we are proud to have the International Humanitarian City or IHC. It provides a stage for humanitarian actors to plan and coordinate their aid deliveries effectively and build working partnerships.  My husband, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, created the IHC to make Dubai's unparalleled logistics infrastructure available to aid providers allowing faster shipments via both sea and air.

The IHC is now the largest aid depot in the world and a staging ground for operations by UNHCR, the World Food Programme, the Red Cross and Red Crescent plus dozens of NGOs -- especially in assistance to Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Africa and Syria. As a Jordanian, one humanitarian issue that resonates for me is the impact of conflict and refugees movements on local populations. No other country has faced the repeated and massive movements of refugees Jordan has since World War II. The United Nations needs to do more to systematically help host countries overwhelmed by large movements of refugees. Addressing the local impacts of refugees should not just be an afterthought.  The economic disruptions caused by mass movements of people can be devastating and on occasion the host communities are even more vulnerable than the refugees themselves. In the Middle East, our humanitarian crises are nearly always political in origin. And the response to these crises is inevitably as political as the crises themselves. Each government has its own perspective. We know our neighborhood and who we trust in it. External pressure on Arab donors to redirect aid by the United Nations or other major donors is counterproductive and can even undermine the building of long-term partnerships.

Finally, if we are to work together effectively, we must learn from recent complex emergencies like Libya and we must extend the scope of humanitarian aid, engaging the private sector and drawing more on the talents and energy of our youth. Compassion is not enough. We must reach out and touch the lives of families who suffer -- in Syria, East Africa, Afghanistan.  Only then will our compassion have true value. Thank you.