Gates Foundation to increase humanitarian spending on refugees

A Syrian girl washes her face with water from a big tank outside her family’s home in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo by: S. Baldwin / UNHCR / CC BY-NC-ND

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will increase its involvement in humanitarian relief to refugees in the Middle East and North Africa Region, foundation officials have confirmed to Devex.

Over the next two years, the foundation will increase its funding toward humanitarian response in the region, having committed approximately $20 million to conflict-affected areas in the Middle East since 2013, the foundation’s head of Middle East relations, Hassan Al-Damluji, told Devex.* He said the likely areas of increased investment will include water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, as well as cash or fiduciary payments.

“We have agreed that we’re going to do even more … over the next couple of years because of the great need that’s there, and because of the belief that there’s one or two areas where we can be impactful,” Al-Damluji told Devex in an interview.

Al-Damluji declined to provide an exact figure for the spending increase but said the amount would be “dependent on need” in the region, which is currently hosting 10 million refugees and internally displaced people due to the Syrian crisis alone. These account for about 17 percent of the more than 60 million people currently displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The foundation’s focus on the WASH sector could draw in many Gates-backed technological advances, particularly in urban areas, where refugees are increasingly displaced. Many of the foundation’s current WASH interventions focus on urban and periurban environments, for example a challenge to create a sustainable, sewerless toilet and support to entrepreneurs in sanitation and waste removal.

“The situation of the displaced people in the Middle East is becoming a long-term situation, in which people are often living outside of camps in the urban setting, so some of the issues and therefore some of the solutions could be similar to more stable urban or periurban environments where we’re working,” Al-Damluji said.

In Lebanon for example, home to more than a million Syrian refugees, “people are living outside of camps and may not have access to sanitation facilities.” The foundation is “looking at how we can scale up our work to bring innovations that we might be funding elsewhere to those situations,” he added.

Al-Damluji also pointed to current partnerships in the region as being catalytic for the foundation’s future work with refugees.

Speaking of the needs, he told Devex, “With regards to displaced people, sanitation’s a big one, vaccination, maternal health, also mobile money or, fiduciary payments, because where displaced people are receiving cash transfers, there’s a lot more governance of that and control of making sure it goes to the right people when it could be done digitally.”

* Update, Dec. 14, 2016: This article has been updated to emphasize that the Gates Foundation’s existing investment in the refugee response in the Middle East region is $20 million.

*Update, Dec. 14, 2016: This article has been updated to reflect that no new humanitarian or refugee funding will be channeled through the Lives and Livelihoods Fund.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.