The UAE’s Foreign AidMany know the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and natural gas. One of its most popular cities, Dubai, is home to some of the world’s most extravagant and expensive buildings, while artificial islands shaped like palm trees dot its coast. Putting its riches to a good cause, the UAE’s foreign aid program is remarkably well-funded and successful.

5 Facts About the UAE’s Foreign Aid

  1. The UAE’s foreign aid program is one of the largest in the world. In 1970, the U.N. first agreed on its percentage target for official development aid (ODA): 0.7% of gross national income (GNI). Since 1970, growing numbers of developed countries have officially committed to this target. However, most fail to meet it each year. For example, the United States, while the biggest donor in terms of dollar amount, only donated 0.17% of its GNI in 2020, making it one of the lowest contributors in terms of the U.N. ODA agreement. In contrast, since 2013, the UAE has remained one of the highest-ranking ODA donors and has consistently surpassed the 0.7% of GNI target. In 2018, the UAE devoted 0.93% of its GNI to foreign aid.
  2. The UAE’s foreign aid program was private until 2009. Surprisingly, the UAE’s very public devotion to foreign aid only began around a decade ago when it began to submit detailed foreign aid data to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Since then, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the president and prime minister, have been very vocal and open about foreign aid. This openness has led some to suspect that the UAE intends to improve its global image through its interest in foreign aid.
  3. Most of the UAE’s foreign aid goes to other Middle Eastern and Arab countries. While the UAE has sent foreign aid to hundreds of nations in total, the majority of its foreign aid goes to nearby countries. The UAE makes significant donations to developmental projects and humanitarian aid in countries experiencing violence and natural disasters. In 2015, the majority of the UAE’s humanitarian aid went to refugees in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. These countries, along with Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are consistent recipients of UAE aid. In 2019, UAE foreign aid dropped below the 0.7% of GNI target for the first time since 2012. The preliminary data for 2020 shows foreign aid accounting for 0.48% of the UAE’s GNI. These lower levels of aid may be due to the UAE’s need to devote resources to the fight against COVID-19 within its own borders. The vast majority of the UAE’s aid in 2020 went toward COVID-19 related medical and food aid. In total, 47 countries around the world received COVID-19 aid from the UAE in 2020.
  4. The UAE’s foreign aid likely has some political motivation. After 2013, the UAE’s foreign aid portfolio became less diverse and more focused on a small selection of countries. The UAE claims that its aid “has only humanitarian objectives.” However, there are often clear correlations between the UAE’s political interests and its top aid recipients. For example, in 2013, the UAE’s foreign aid to Egypt massively increased. The country likely increased it in order to support the military coup in Egypt at the time. Additionally, despite Yemen’s pressing need for aid, it did not receive significant aid from the UAE until 2015.
  5. The UAE’s foreign aid officially goes toward “reducing poverty and improving quality of life.” Despite the UAE’s somewhat political motivations, its foreign aid program is both impactful and extensive. Among its top goals for foreign aid, the UAE lists “humanitarian assistance, elimination of poverty, support for children, transportation, infrastructure, government support and empowerment of women.” Much of the country’s foreign aid goes to development projects aimed at long-lasting infrastructure improvements in countries such as Egypt and Afghanistan. It also goes toward aiding refugees in Syria and Yemen or to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The UAE hosts several large charity aid programs such as the Emirates Airlines Foundation, which has supported various humanitarian aid projects in 18 countries for nearly two decades. One of these projects include the Emirates Friendship Hospital Ship, a mobile hospital currently located in Bangladesh. The vessel provides mobile medical assistance to those in need.

Looking Ahead

Given its clear commitment to increasing levels of valuable foreign aid, the UAE continues as one of the world leaders in aid. Wealthier countries of the world need to follow suit and contribute more to helping struggling nations around the world.

– Anneke Taylor
Photo: Flickr