The news that the United Arab Emirates was the largest donor in 2013 perhaps came as a surprise to those who expected traditional donors to make it to the top of the list — an observation that Erik Solheim, chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has noted.
Aside from being the world’s most generous donor, the UAE also saw the highest increase in foreign aid spending in 2013 — a 435 percent increase from its 2012 disbursements, based on the latest OECD data.
The Persian Gulf state has actually been providing development assistance for quite some time. Khalid Almezaini, who traced the beginnings of and analyzed the factors behind UAE assistance in his book, “The UAE and Foreign Policy: Foreign Aid, Identities and Interests,” noted that the UAE started giving aid in 1971 — when it was still a developing country.
But the UAE, one of the most strategically important states due to its abundance of oil reserves, has only become a more visible provider of foreign aid in recent years.