DUBAI: The creation of a joint development fund with France to help Lebanon is the latest in a series of announcements signaling an increase in Saudi aid to countries in the Middle East and North Africa pushed further deep in debt by conflicts and crises.
The fund, unveiled in April, made an initial pledge of $30 million to support food security in Lebanon and the country’s crippled health sector, according to a statement from the French embassy.
The funds will also be used for humanitarian projects that will provide emergency aid to the country’s most vulnerable communities and help improve access to primary health care in the northern city of Tripoli.
Before Lebanon, it is Mauritania, a desert country in northwestern Africa with only 0.5% of arable land, which has received significant aid from the Kingdom.
In April, Saudi Arabia converted its $300 million deposit with Mauritania’s central bank into a soft loan as part of efforts to develop the country’s economy and encourage regional and international investment.
Across the African continent, Saudi Arabia has provided more than $7 billion to development, humanitarian and charitable projects, spanning food security, health and education, according to the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, the Kingdom’s main aid agency.
Since its inception in 2015, KSrelief has built on the Kingdom’s long history of helping developing countries.
In late May, the agency provided $3.2 million worth of humanitarian aid to the Philippines, including $1.7 million worth of medical supplies to help fight COVID-19.
An additional $1.5 million is earmarked to help the Philippine Department of Health mitigate the impact of Typhoon Rai, alongside health relief and emergency works for the southern city of Marawi.
During Ramadan, he provided cash assistance to more than 900 people in 19 countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen and Chad, through the Saudi Arabian Ramadan Eta’am initiative.
KSrelief distributed 500 Ramadan food baskets to Afghan families in the Char Asiab district of Kabul and 887 food baskets to households in the Chadian town of Massenya, benefiting 5,322 people.
The agency has also implemented more than 40 humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, targeting food security, health, education, water and sanitation.
Meanwhile, in Yemen’s war-scarred Marib governorate, KSrelief provided more than 72 tons of food, helping 4,080 people.
According to KSrelief, Yemen received the largest share of aid spending at $4 billion, covering everything from health services, nutrition, housing and education to sanitation, communications emergency and logistics.
In early April, KSrelief announced a nutrition project for children under 5, as well as pregnant and lactating women, in the Yemeni governorates of Lahij, Taiz, Aden, Hodeidah, Hajjah, Marib and Hadramout.
In late March, he announced a $7 million contribution to support education programs in Yemen run by the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF. The donation aims to improve access to quality education for 578,000 children.
In January, KSrelief signed an agreement with IOM, the UN migration agency, to provide 150,000 Yemenis with shelter, hygiene services, sanitation facilities and drinking water.
During a recent conference at the Islamic University of Madinah, Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, general supervisor of KSrelief, said that Saudi foreign aid between 1996 and 2021 amounted to 94.6 billion dollars, distributed to 165 country.
KSrelief continued the work spearheaded by the Saudi Fund for Development, established in 1974. But Saudi Arabia’s charitable initiatives go back even further.
“Since its founding, the Kingdom has been keen to help countries affected by the crisis,” Samer Al-Jetaily, spokesperson for KSrelief, told Arab News. “He spared no effort to help people in need around the world. Its commitment to providing relief and assistance is based on its noble humanitarian values.
According to Al-Jetaily, KSrelief has implemented some 1,997 humanitarian projects in 84 countries worth $5.7 billion, focusing on areas ranging from education, health and food security. shelter, sanitation and protection.
KSrelief is the only authority in Saudi Arabia authorized to receive and provide cash and in-kind assistance to people abroad, to regulate and supervise external charitable work, to license charitable institutions internationally and to establish the structure for other humanitarian work.
The Kingdom’s humanitarian efforts have grown alongside major changes in the way citizens donate to charity.
The country’s digital transformation has led to the creation of regulated donation services, including KSrelief, Ehsan, Shefaa and the National Donation Platform, all developed and overseen by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.
Ehsan, launched in 2021, allows philanthropists and donors to choose from a selection of charitable causes, ranging from social and economic issues to health, education and the environment.
By focusing on individual values and specific societal issues, the platform aims to encourage a greater sense of social responsibility among public and private sector organisations, while promoting a culture of transparency in charitable giving.
Last year, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman made several donations through Ehsan that pushed the platform’s total figure past the SR 1 billion mark.
Since its launch, Ehsan has received over SR1.4 billion ($373.2 million) in donations, which have been distributed to over 4.3 million beneficiaries.
The national donation platform also connects donors with people in need across the Kingdom, while ensuring a reliable and secure digital donation process overseen by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.
To date, more than 3.5 million people, including orphans, the sick, the elderly and people living in substandard housing, have benefited from money offered through the platform.
These official, regulated platforms were designed to ensure that donations reach those who really need them and to prevent funds from falling into the hands of fraudsters and even terrorist groups seeking to exploit the generosity of the public.
“The Kingdom hopes that the assistance it provides will help ensure that all people can live safe, healthy and dignified lives,” Al-Jetaily told Arab News.
“Aid provided globally is impartial, based solely on the needs of its recipients.”
As many Arab countries struggle to weather the economic blows of the pandemic, as well as the inflationary impact of war in Ukraine on food and fuel prices, charitable donations are needed more than ever.
Lebanon is a good example. While many countries have been reluctant to provide aid until its government implements much-needed economic reforms, Saudi Arabia and France have opted to establish the joint development fund to help the Lebanese people.
Initially, the money from the fund will be shared between the French Development Agency and KSrelief, according to official sources.
Since 2019, Lebanon has been in the grip of the worst financial crisis in its history, which has been further aggravated by the economic pressure of the pandemic and the country’s political paralysis.
For many Lebanese, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, which killed 218 people, injured 7,000, caused $15 billion in property damage and left approximately 300,000 homeless people.
Deteriorating socio-economic conditions have sent thousands of young Lebanese, including many of the country’s top health professionals and educators, abroad in search of safety and opportunity.
Those Lebanese who choose to stay are forced to endure shortages of basic necessities, crumbling infrastructure, power outages and mass unemployment.