Arab and Muslim aid v the UN system – “two china elephants”

This is an edited-down version of an excellent longer piece by the IRIN humanitarian news agencySomalia Many of the crises of recent years have affected Muslim people, including the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003, the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004, the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, the attack on Gaza in late 2008, and the flooding in Pakistan in 2010. In all of these crises, Muslim and Arab donors contributed significantly. Among the aid agencies that poured into Somalia after famine was declared in July were organizations such as the Arab Federation of Doctors, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment of the United Arab Emirates, and the Deniz Feneri Association of Turkey. They came with their own style. The Saudi National Campaign for the Relief of the Somali People, a project of King Abdullah, sent planeloads of food, including jam and cheese. The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) sent 600 tons of dates. Turkey’s IHH (Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief) even ventured outside Mogadishu into territory considered a no-go zone for most international aid organizations because it is not under government control. They also came with a lot of money. In an emergency meeting in August, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), pledged US$350 million for Somalia – “numbers we dream of”, one UN aid worker in Mogadishu said – though it is still unclear how much of this is new funding. Turkey says it has collected more than $280 million for the Somali effort,  while Saudi Arabia’s contribution to UN agencies alone was $60 million, and Kuwait, a country of 3.5 million, contributed $10 million. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Office for Coordination of Foreign Aid, too, received confirmation of $62 million in contributions to the Horn of Africa emergency. Gulf countries were able to raise funds with remarkable speed and ease. In the span of three hours, a TV telethon in Qatar raised nearly 25 million riyals ($6.8 million), while aid telethons in the UAE reportedly raised an additional $50 million for the Horn of Africa. With many Western donors cutting budgets amid fears of another recession, this region has gained influence in aid, especially in countries with large Muslim populations. Both in terms of funds and action on the ground, the effort in Somalia has put Muslim and Arab donors and organizations onto centre stage. But their relationship with the broader humanitarian system has been limited at the best of times, and rocky at the worst. For example, most OIC funds for Somalia are not being channelled through multilateral mechanisms, like the UN-administered Consolidated Appeals Process. Players from the region say they are accustomed to working on their own – due to a history of mutual mistrust, a lack of awareness on both sides, and a perception by some Muslims and Arabs that they are better placed to help under certain circumstances. The UN is now actively trying to improve that relationship, but the road to cooperation and coordination faces many challenges. How did we get here? The history of mutual mistrust between the predominantly Western aid system and its counterpart in the Muslim and Arab world is long, say analysts. “These are two china elephants looking at each other,” said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, development and humanitarian worker, and author of Humanitarian Jihad: Investigation into Islamic NGOs. “They see each other; they know that they’re there; but they can’t move towards each other,” he told IRIN. Some Muslim aid workers see in the UN system a certain arrogance. “They don’t want to understand us,” one Muslim aid worker said. “They only involve us when it suits them”. Some NGOs from the Arab and Muslim world are afraid of being “swallowed up” by the UN system, one Arab aid worker said. “The UN has the experience and the upper hand when it comes to everything – information, communication, movement on the ground. There’s no question. But to give them money and let them implement activities, we have to rest assured that we’ll like what comes out in our name.” He called for a code of ethics or framework of understanding that would outline what both sides mean by certain fundamental principles and outline boundaries of action. For example, terms like women’s empowerment need to be defined, he said. “How we understand it is not how the UN understands it,” he added. Organizations from this part of the world would fear partnering with the UN if women’s empowerment is understood to mean “removing the hijab [covering a woman’s hair], destroying the family institution and throwing religion out the window.” Others do not easily differentiate between the UN Security Council, which has authorized Western interventions into Muslim countries and is seen to be unwilling to tackle the Palestinian question, and humanitarian aid agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) or the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). [caption id="attachment_7276" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Gulf dignitaries attend the opening of a meeting in Kuwait City organized by OCHA, Direct Aid and the International Islamic Charitable Organization"]Gulf dignitaries attend the opening of a meeting in Kuwait City organized by OCHA, Direct Aid and the International Islamic Charitable Organization[/caption] For these reasons, many Red Crescent societies in the region, according to one senior aid worker, sometimes try to avoid working with the UN system. “We try to coordinate with – and not be coordinated by – the UN because of neutrality issues,” he told IRIN. “The UN is not considered to be a neutral organization, especially in a conflict set-up.” But the UN and the broader humanitarian system have their reservations too. “Their awareness and subscription to commonly-understood best practice isn’t necessarily there,” one senior Western aid worker said of NGOs from the region, citing neglect of environmental impact or nutritional balance as examples. Distributing powdered milk, for example, is no good in an area where there is no clean water, while dates are not ideal in cases of malnutrition because they are high in sugar, low in nutrition, and hard to digest. There are also complaints about lack of coordination. Planeloads of food arrive from the Gulf – much of the assistance from the region comes in the form of food aid – and “we have no idea where it goes,” the Mogadishu aid worker said. Much of it is sold by its recipients on the open market because the value of some of the food, like jam and cheese, is so high. The 9/11 attacks also affected the relationship. “A lot of Western charities are still afraid of being associated with Islamic charities because of the stigma that hangs over their heads since September 11th,” the author, Ghandour, said. US laws about the financing of “terror” have further complicated the relationship between Muslim charities and the West because NGOs working in designated “terrorist” countries, like Iran and Burma, or areas controlled by organizations like militant group al-Shabab – deemed a “terrorist” organization by the US – fear being accused of complicity and so keep quiet about their activities. Financial transactions to fund work in these areas through the conventional banking system are not possible and the movement of large sums of cash could create problems with some governments. “They can’t afford to be transparent,” said Haroun Atallah, finance and service director at UK-based Islamic Relief Worldwide. “How do you expect them to be transparent if it could come back and bite them?” Part of the reluctance on the part of Muslim organizations to broadcast their actions comes from a culture that sees charity as something private and humble – that should not be paraded in front of everyone for recognition. “We do things without saying that we’re doing it. It is part of Islamic culture,” said Naeema Hassan al-Gasseer, a native of Bahrain and assistant regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Eastern Mediterranean. Similarly, many NGOs from the Muslim world do not understand the UN. Acronyms like UNHCR and WFP can be unfamiliar terms. Many aid workers from the region have never heard of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – charged with coordination of all aid in emergencies – and have no idea what its cluster system is. “We have become, as a system, so jargonized, so inward looking in terms of how our system works, that hardly anyone else understands it,” Ghandour said.]]>

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6 Responses to “Arab and Muslim aid v the UN system – “two china elephants””
  1. Alice Evans

    On a related note, there’s a new article in World Development, on new donors:
    Major DAC donors are widely criticized for weak targeting of aid, selfish aid motives, and insufficient coordination. The emergence of an increasing number of new donors may further complicate the coordination of international aid efforts. At the same time, it is open to question whether new donors (many of which were aid recipients until recently) are more altruistic and provide better targeted aid according to need and merit. Project-level data on aid by new donors, as collected by the AidData initiative, allow for empirical analyses comparing the allocation behavior of new versus old donors. We employ Probit and Tobit models and test for significant differences in the distribution of aid by new and old donors across recipient countries. We find that, on average, new donors care less for recipient need than old donors. New and old donors behave similarly in several respects, however. They disregard merit by not taking the level of corruption in recipient countries into account. Concerns that commercial self-interest distorts the allocation of aid seem to be overblown for both groups.
    Duncan: Thanks Alice. I like the use of ‘merit’ – welcome back the deserving/undeserving poor……

  2. Martha

    There is a problem with religious charities that promote ultraconservative values and promote families with many children in order to increase their members. This is in fact a way of stressing both nature and societies: it affects the balance between different religious communities and the demand for food and other goods. Although it looks like a big help at first sight, they are in fact nurturing the next famine and a generation of frustrated individuals that are likely to blame non-Muslims for their suffering.
    China and other governments understood the importance of family planning (the Sate of Kerala did a great job by investing in public education) and managed to take millions out of poverty. A charity that is not addressing such serious issues such as FGM, polygamy, and women empowerment, is not doing any help.

  3. samir sardana

    What about the Kashmir Genocide ?
    The Ruling political dispensation of India (Hindoosthan) is a front of the RSS (a quasi wanna be Nazi party).The RSS in its documented history and intellectual posits has admired and co-opted and co-owned Hitler – not merely as a Role Model – but as a Kalki Avatar – or an Avatar of Vishnoo – the Hindoo God !
    The SS part of the RSS is a lift from the Nazi SS and the “R” stands for “Rats”
    The RSS is infested by the vermins of the Brahmin/Bania/Kayastha triad – which represent the priestly and trading classes of Hindoosthan who never fought a war for their nation – but incited the same and also carried out the largest unknown genocide in History – that of the Buddhists
    The Bhagwad Gita JUSTIFIES genocide, w/o remorse,guilt and WITH DIVINE SANCTION.The Indian Military and Para Military,is a race of criminal mercenaries called Kshatriyas – who were the offspring of rapes by the Huns,Mongols,Sakas, Scythians,Persians, Parthinians,Greeks 1500-2000 years ago.They were discarded by their races and interbred and were treated as outcastes for centuries – until the Brahmins co-opted them as criminal mass murderers (around 1000 years ag Party – and who are now in Kashmir !
    Nazis are on record JUSTIFYING their actions based on the thesis of the Bhagwad Gita explained in this note.
    History Records that the Nazis were ALSO inspired by the Gita, per se,dindooohindoo
    Why the “Nazis and Hitler and Himmler”, love the Gita
    “Dindoo Hindoo Bindoo Gandoos” consider “Hitler to be a Vishnoo Avatar”
    When Krishna the Bhagvat was fed up rying to explain to “Arjuna the – why he “needed to exterminate his foes” – this was the “last attempt” in the 18th Chapter of the Gita – the logic is as under :
    Lumen Naturale 1 – There are “5 precedents to sense-perception and action”
    मूल श्लोकः
    शरीरवाङ्मनोभिर्यत्कर्म प्रारभते नरः।
    न्याय्यं वा विपरीतं वा पञ्चैते तस्य हेतवः।।18.15।।
    18.14 The locus as also the agent, the different kinds of organs, the many and distinct activities, and, the “divine is here the fifth”.
    Lumen Naturale 2 – There “5 are causes of all action” and are “independent of the mind and body dualism” of Descartes and “also the Soul “!
    मूल श्लोकः
    यस्य नाहंकृतो भावो बुद्धिर्यस्य न लिप्यते।
    हत्वापि स इमाँल्लोकान्न हन्ति न निबध्यते।।18.17।।
    18.15 For whatever action a man undertakes by his body, speech and mind, whether right or wrong,i.e., enjoined or forbidden by the Sastras, “the following five”, are its causes:
    Lumen Naturale Heart – Hence,you can “kill,murder and rape” – provided it is done with “no ego and no feelings “- for it is the “Act of the Divine” ! Just like the Nazis ! “Heil Krishna,the Bhagwat “!
    मूल श्लोकः
    अधिष्ठानं तथा कर्ता करणं च पृथग्विधम्।
    विविधाश्च पृथक्चेष्टा दैवं चैवात्र पञ्चमम्।।18.14।।
    18.17 He who has not the “feeling of egoism”, whose intellect is not tainted, he does not kill, nor does he become bound-“even by killing these creatures” !