On February 8th, 2019 Gulf International Form was honored to host United Nations Humanitarian Envoy H.E Ambassador Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Al-Meraikhi for a conversation, “Gulf Humanitarian Efforts in a Turbulent Region.” GIF was equally honored that the conversation was moderated by Mr. Paul Glastris, current Editor-In-Chief of Washington Monthly and former senior speech writer to President Bill Clinton. The conversation was wide-ranging in scope and generally discussed the United Nations’ efforts to alleviate suffering in crisis-afflicted areas across the globe, and the role of Gulf-sourced aid in sponsoring those projects.
The conversation began by discussing conflicts that are in the immediate backyard of the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Responding to an update on the situation in Yemen, Dr. Al-Meraikhi emphasized the work of the United Nations, saying that through programs such as UNHCR and UNICEF, the United Nations is providing the Yemeni people with food, health and education programs. However, Dr. Al-Meraikhi expressed frustration at how the situation in Yemen has hindered the UN’s ability to transport and deliver the humanitarian aid that is earmarked for the country. While he acknowledged that much of this aid is provided by the Gulf states, he pointed out that simply providing aid is only one aspect, and that this aid must be accompanied by strong efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict.
In regards to Syria Dr. Al-Meraikhi reemphasized that many people remain in suffering due to the civil war that began in the country nearly nine years ago. Therefore, the region and the refugee crisis that has sprung from it has resulted in a 15-nation coalition that supports humanitarian efforts, a group that includes some Gulf states. Dr. Al-Meraikhi expressed his belief that these nations must do all they can to empathize with the strife experienced every day by displaced Syrians, a strife that he says is also shared by nations responding to accommodating these influxes of people. Perhaps as a shimmer of optimism, Dr. Al-Meraikhi pointed to urban refugee camps that have been established in Istanbul as a replicable model for providing refugees with holistic services.
As it relates to Gulf aid specifically, Dr. Al-Meraikhi briefly commented on the region’s distinct aid structure that emerged in the 60’s (not shockingly in tandem with the region’s oil-profit boom). Each nation has subsequently emerged with its own “aid niche,” with some nations predisposed to providing shelters, while others have a predilection for health, education etc. When seeking to procure aid from the Gulf region, Dr. Al-Meraikhi says he lines up a country’s “donating specialty” with whatever aid request he happens to be pushing. High overhead costs and a monstrous bureaucracy remain the two most significant hurdles to procuring aid, an issue that’s legacy has complicated Gulf-sourced aid. However, Dr. Al-Meraikhi stressed that the UN has modernized itself over the past decade and has used new technologies and innovations as a mean to overcome these institutionalized struggles.
In closing, Dr. Al-Meraikhi argued that perhaps more than aid directed at corporal needs, the most important thing for refugees are programs that allow displaced persons to retain their sense of dignity. On example of this is a partnership with Mastercard, that allows refugees to make purchases and build good-credit in spite of their circumstances, thusly granting them efficacy. Although only one example, Dr. Al-Meraikhi sees this as evidence that the private-sector, in addition to wealthy nations such as those in the Gulf, can alleviate struggling for people worldwide.