Egeland forges closer links with Gulf

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland sees new beginnings from his visit to the Gulf region in getting local NGOs to work with UN agencies.

Talking to IRIN during his first visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Egeland said that too often humanitarian aid was associated with the West, adding that Gulf countries gave 94 per cent of their assistance directly to countries needing it.

“I think it will actually help for coordination and effectiveness if the Gulf governments and their various charities can join us as equals,” he said.

Egeland said that he had had positive response from his talks over the weekend with senior Saudi and UAE officials. “What they have said was that they want their assistance to be part of the total coordinated global effort.”

Separately in a speech in Dubai Egeland said the Gulf region was among the most generous in the world, with the people of Saudi Arabia, for example, giving US$200 million to victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan where dozens of Arab NGOs are working. They are “excellent at providing water and sanitation, very effective and quick.”

He said Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait contributed towards the US $25 million released in the past few days for the drought in the Horn of Africa, part of which will go to Somalia, a country which Egeland described as “so often neglected, so often forgotten.”

“All the important work that the Gulf countries and their various charities are doing is not well enough recognized, in particular in the West,” he said.

Egeland told IRIN that he likens global generosity to ‘a bit of a lottery, where some win and some lose.”

“The Tsunami victims, the Kurds in northern Iraq, the Kosovars and the people in Afghanistan might ‘win’…Darfur was also very well resourced in 2005, whereas this year we now suddenly see less money for Darfur and too little money for Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.

A new fund - the Central Emergency Response Fund – has now been set up to make it easy to respond quickly to emergencies.

This year, Egeland said, the new fund started well with 40 donors giving OCHA US $256 million, making humanitarian assistance more predictable.

“Both the Saudi and UAE governments have said they would want to contribute and I really would urge them to do so because if South Africa, Nigeria, South Korea, Grenada and Kazakhstan can give, so can they,” said Egeland.