How Can Saudi Arabia Realize, Maximize its Humanitarian Assistance Potential?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks (seated center) with King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (seated right) at the opening reception of the G-20 summit on June 26, 2010, in Toronto, Canada. Two experts urge the United Nations and other multinational organizations to engage Saudi Arabia as an equal partner by giving it a “better say” in political issues as well as increase their transparency and speed up the disbursements of Saudi Arabia's aid to encourage the Middle Eastern country to channel more funds through their coffers. Photo by: Mark Garten / United Nations

Saudi Arabia is steadily rising among the ranks of the world’s most generous countries. However, it lacks a well-articulated and coherent humanitarian aid policy that prevents it and the entire humanitarian community from fully realizing and maximizing its increasingly important role in addressing international humanitarian crises, two experts say.

Saudi Arabia has a strong potential to become a key player, even a leader, in international humanitarian assistance, Khalid Al-Yahya and Nathalie Fustier say in a research paper published by the Global Public Policy Institute. They argue that Saudi Arabia needs to revamp its current humanitarian aid system, which they describe as “inherently fragmented and incoherent” because “multiple organizations work in the same location and deliver the same goods without knowing what others do.”

Other challenges the authors identified are the country’s lack of professional and permanent humanitarian capacity and staff and of accountability and reporting mechanisms to track its contributions and the effects of its aid.

How can Saudi Arabia address these problems? Al-Yahya and Fustier suggest five ways:

- Drafting and implementing a clear and comprehensive humanitarian aid policy and improving its policymaking process and evaluation.- Enhancing coordination and cooperation with multilateral organizations. - Strengthening and formalizing the role of its National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad. - Establishing a more professional and sophisticated humanitarian aid bureaucracy. - Improving the communication of its aid at the international level.

Western donors and multinational organizations, such as the United Nations, also need to do their part, Al-Yahya and Fustier say.

They are urging the United Nations and other multinational organizations to engage Saudi Arabia as an equal partner by giving it a “better say” in political issues. Multilateral groups should also work toward a deeper engagement with Saudi Arabian advisers, royalty, ambassadors, business community and key relief organizations as well as increase the number of Saudi nationals in their ranks and establish permanent presence in the country.

It is also important for multilateral organizations to increase their transparency and speed up the disbursements of Saudi Arabia’s aid to encourage the Middle Eastern country to channel more funds through their coffers, Al-Yahya and Fustier add.

Meantime, Western donors should “give Saudi Arabia the recognition and visibility it deserves in international media and conferences,” revise their perceptions of the motives and nature of Saudi humanitarian aid, and launch “informed and rational debate” about the Muslim charity sector, the authors add.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.