I remember when the food crisis was at a peak throughout the world, during March/April-2008, Ms. Josette Sheeran – the WFP Executive Director (UN World Food Program) – had painted a gloomy picture then about the World body’s inability to handle the food aid worldwide, especially in the disaster-prone areas, owing to the credit crunch faced by the UN agencies. At that time, they had estimated a shortfall of $0.5 billion, which had resulted owing to tremendous rise in the commodity prices and the weakening of US dollar. This figure had then jumped to $0.75 billion within a few weeks.
There were frantic appeals by the UN agencies, WFP and FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) including the World Bank President Robert Zoellick and the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for “putting the money where the mouth was” – implying to come to the rescue of the poor and hungry. But the response to the appeal at that time was “too little too late.” As per the UN reports, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (under the bold leadership of the Custodian of the two holy mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud) came forward with a generous aid of $0.5 billion. It was considered timely and very significant contribution, as only $460 million were pooled, so far then, through scant donations from other 31 countries.
The UN secretary General warmly welcomed this generous and compassionate offer from the King and termed it as a “landmark” contribution. As a result of this, the gap in the available fund was plugged. This also allowed an additional $214 million available to WFP for other emergency food needs.
In my opinion, this was a great gesture of kindness, care and compassion demonstrated by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. This contribution from the Kingdom was considered very timely and was commended in international forum also. The UN publications also lauded this compassionate gesture by the Kingdom. Needless to underscore here, this made me feel proud of the King and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Admittedly, I must mention here that this generous show of compassion by Saudi Arabia – under the apt leadership of King Abdullah – was only a tip-of-the-iceberg. On many other instances, before this and after, King Abdullah has been forthcoming in extending that generous and compassionate arm of help and assistance to many in need. Some of them are described as follows:
1. In 2005, in the aftermath of the 08 October earthquake in the northern areas of Pakistan, King Abdullah had said, “We will form a bridge for relief between Riyadh and Islamabad.” This bridge was indeed formed and all of us saw that in action at that time. First came his order of emergency aid for SR500 million. It was followed by a nation-wide fund-raising campaign to which he made a personal donation of SR10 million. Upon his appeal, the Saudi TV then organized a telethon and this telethon collected more than SR140 million. It was followed with a large relief convoy of more than 100 containers with food stuffs, blankets, and tents.
2. In 2007, WFP hailed a generous donation US$2 million from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its operation in Mauritania. This aid from the Kingdom was directed towards saving young children from the ravages of malnutrition.
3. In 2007, WFP thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a US$1 million donation to its operations in Guinea, where humanitarian needs have been accentuated as a result of the current unrest. This generous aid was a great help at a time when many people were struggling with loss of income and growing poverty rates.
4. In 2008, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) welcomed a US$5m donation by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in support of its operations for Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan. The donation came as a response to UNHCR’s humanitarian appeal issued in that year to fund the agency’s programs assisting the Iraqi refugees
5. In 2009, Saudi Arabia’s US$100 million pledge to the UN for the specific purpose of meeting the needs of some 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), in northern Pakistan, is the largest single contribution to UNHCR.
6. In 2009, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) welcomed a US$30 million aid from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to eradicate polio worldwide, making it only the second disease to be eliminated from the world.
7. In 2010, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated 15 tons of dates to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for Palestine refugees living in Lebanon. The donation came in time for the upcoming Ramadan period, when the daily fast is traditionally broken with the eating of dates.
8. In 2010, WFP welcomed a donation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of 1,098 metric tons of dates valued at US$3.6 million. According to a news release by WFP, the donation was used to assist refugees and school children in Ethiopia.
9. In 2010, during the devastating floods in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia quietly bypassed the United States as the single largest aid donor, in real terms. The Kingdom’s commitment to helping the victims of Pakistan’s devastating floods crossed US$140 million. Besides this, the Saudi military also set up a back-to-back air bridge between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that saw some 30 large cargo planes carrying hundreds of tons of relief goods transported there in no time. The King
inaugurated the fund-raising campaign by personally donating SR20 million, followed with SR10 million from Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz (the minister of defense and aviation) and SR5 million from the second deputy premier Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz – the minister of interior. Additionally, in response to an appeal from the King, the people of Saudi Arabia also
positively responded and more than US$120 million was collected in cash during the first 3-day international telethon.
Finally it was also established as a fact, by the United Nations, that Saudi Arabia was the largest international donor to humanitarian appeals, when measured as a percentage of the national economy. The Saudi kingdom gave 0.19 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to humanitarian funding, Sweden which gave 0.14 per cent of its national product and Norway with 0.13, followed in the list of top donor countries. Many small European countries, with large and generally affluent populations, were also part of the lead countries by GDP. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were also large proportional donors. The United States came in 19th on the list, having donated 0.02 per cent of GDP in 2008. These figures were released by the United Nations.
No wonder, all of these above speak volumes about Saudi Arabia and the custodian of the two holy mosques – King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud – vis-à-vis their kindness, care and compassion for all people of this world.