Shameless is the only word I can find to describe the behaviour of the rulers of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who five months ago basked in glory as praise was heaped upon them for jointly pledging well over one billion dollars in the largest ever donation to a United Nations charity appeal.
The massive sum was earmarked to help alleviate the suffering of children in the humanitarian disaster that is Yemen today (created largely by the Saudis and Emiratis, some would argue), but now we are told that the UAE has only paid $195 million while the Kingdom has thrown a more modest $121.7 million at the problem. While I understand that it can take a while to raise such massive amounts of cash for much-needed humanitarian aid, both countries have deep pockets and plenty of resources. And, perhaps, a very different sense of priority.
For instance, it didn't take them long to find $500 million to deposit at the Sudanese central bank immediately after the ousting of President Omar Al-Bashir in April, while pledging another $2.5 billion in the form of food, medicine and petroleum products. Propping up a military regime in Khartoum took on far more urgency, it seems, than putting bread in the mouths of starving children in Yemen.
Along with neighbouring Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia despise democracy so much that they have promised all sorts of support to the military junta in Khartoum in its struggle against Sudan's pro-democracy movement. The trio already have previous form in meddling relentlessly in Libyan affairs, helping to plunge the country into free fall. Now Sudan's young, pro-democracy activists suspect that the regimes in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo all played a part in last month's massacre outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, when more than 100 people were killed and over 500 others were wounded.
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Meanwhile, Yemen's war continues, as does the suffering of millions of innocent men, women and children. Back in February, the UN had asked for $4.2 billion to help the 15 million Yemenis who are in dire need, yet despite multiple meetings between humanitarian officials and leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE – including face-to-face meetings with UN humanitarian relief chief Mark Lowcock — the money has not been forthcoming.
Clearly losing patience, Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Thursday that, "Those who made the largest pledges – Yemen's neighbours in the coalition – have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised." He also pointed out that the UN appeal was only 34 per cent funded, compared with 60 per cent at this time last year.
Clearly ruffled, according to Reuters the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said that his country had paid more than $400 million to the UN and other aid organisations in 2019 already. "This year we alone… we have paid more money into Yemen than any of the donors in the world," Al-Mouallimi told reporters. That might be true, Mr Ambassador, but your country still owes the UN more than half a billion dollars which aid workers have budgeted for on the basis of your pledge, and are counting on.
The fact is that Riyadh pledged $750 million back in February and it should have been delivered in full by now. You can't tell a starving child to wait patiently for a few more months, or a critically ill patient to hang on until medical aid is delivered. Their need is both desperate and immediate.
There were more weasel words from the UAE, though, whose spokesman at the UN assured journalists that Abu Dhabi is "currently working with the UN on the modalities of the 2019 commitment to ensure maximum benefits for the Yemeni people." He even pointed out that since April 2015 the UAE has donated $5.5 billion in aid to Yemen.
Despite such claims, the World Food Programme (WFP) revealed last month that it had been forced to introduce a partial suspension of aid in Yemen, citing the failure to reach an agreement with the Houthis over the implementation of controls to prevent the diversion of food away from vulnerable people. The decision affects 850,000 people in the capital Sanaa.
According to the UN, the situation in Yemen — where the four-year-long war has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine — is the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Even their close ally the US appears to be losing patience with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. "We join the call today for all donors to step up assistance in Yemen, and to fulfil their financial commitments," US diplomat Rodney Hunter has told the UN Security Council.
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However, although the US has paid more than $288.7 million to the UN Yemen appeal, making it the largest donor for 2019 so far, Washington has no reason to be smug. That is a drop in the ocean compared to the huge profits made as Washington continues to sell billions of dollars' worth of weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to continue their war in Yemen, which is fuelling the humanitarian disaster.
As the Gulf Arab rulers sit in their counting houses, they may want to consider this: while their pledges remain unpaid, Yemen's economy is broken and people are starving to death, including children and babies. They are the victims who are paying the real cost of the Saudi-led coalition's war against the Houthi rebels.
When it comes to giving charity in order to save starving children, some of the Kings and Shaikhs in the Gulf are apparently quite capable of putting donations on the back-burner in order to wage war and sabotage pro-democracy movements in the region. That they can do so with the open support of governments in the West which preach democracy and "shared values" is something that we should, quite frankly, not allow to happen. The situation is truly shameless.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.