GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Saudi Arabia Humanitarian Assistance Policy between Ambition and Reality
Paper Proposal Text :
Saudi Arabia has emerged as the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance outside the Western donors, traditionally the members of OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). In many recent international natural disasters, its contributions have exceeded those of any Western donor. For aid to the Arab and Muslim world, Saudi Arabia is the undisputed leader. Its share of financing the highest in most humanitarian and development assistance organizations dedicated to helping scores of countries in a multitude of economic and social areas. Between 1975 and 2010, total Saudi aid to developing and poor countries reached about $100 billion, which equaled 3.7 per cent of its annual gross domestic product, a ratio many orders of magnitude higher than the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of GDP and four times the average achieved by OECD-DAC countries (source for the 3.7%).
Such a stellar performance notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia’s record in international humanitarian assistance leaves much to be desired. The Kingdom’s growing roles and commitments are hardly matched by an increase in capacities. It lacks a coherent and organized humanitarian aid framework and there is no central agency to coordinate and supervise relief operations. Instead, we find a multiplicity of actors which often work in disordered fashion and at times at cross-purposes. There is a dearth of permanent and professional staff with the ability to respond swiftly and effectively to natural or man-made disasters. The modalities for monitoring and evaluation are still nascent. Yet more, there is a weak cooperation and coordination with other actors in the international network for humanitarian assistance – other donor governments, global bodies, and non-governmental organizations. Saudi Arabia has yet to put its stamp on this network. Aside from its financial contributions and assistance in kind, it is widely seen by many of these actors as a laggard, not a leader.
The present study provides a critical analysis of the norms, foreign policy priorities, modalities and operational procedures that characterize the implementation of humanitarian assistance of Saudi Arabia. More specifically, the study aims to address the following broad questions: How does Saudi Arabia see its humanitarian role? What norms, ideas and foreign policy interests build the basis for its humanitarian engagement? How does Saudi Arabia implement its humanitarian activities? What approach, thematic and regional focus has the country chosen and how does it participate in the traditional international humanitarian system? What are the enabling factors and obstacles to enhanced cooperation in international humanitarian aid efforts?
Due to the dearth of scholarly research on Saudi Arabia humanitarian aid and the lack of access to data, the authors relied on three sources of information to prepare this paper. First, we have conducted more than 40 interviews inside and outside Saudi Arabia with policy makers, academics, and international humanitarian and development practitioners. Second, we have studied existing secondary literature from various reports by international organizations and Saudi government organizations and NGOs. In the absence of a central system to formally report humanitarian contributions in Saudi Arabia, we used OCHA’s financial tracking service (FTS) to get quantitative data on Saudi aid, completed by data from interviews and media reports. This data, however, is incomplete, because Saudi Arabia does not report all its contributions to FTS.