Friday, May 23, 2008

Saudi Arabia Finally Gives to WFP: Is This the Image Islam Wants to Project?

"WFP completes $755 million appeal with Saudi pledge"
World Food Programme (May 23, 2008)

"Rome, 23 May 2008 - The World Food Programme has met its extraordinary call for US$755 million to compensate for the increased costs of food and fuel with a US$500 million donation from The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, received yesterday and announced today.

" 'We turned to the world to help the hungry and the world has been generous, said Executive Director Josette Sheeran. 'This is an example of what humanitarians around the world can do when we come together to address problems that affect us all.' ... "

" 'The Saudi donation will keep many people from dying, others from slipping into malnutrition and disease, and will even help to stave off civil unrest,' Sheeran said.

"The half-billion dollar contribution puts the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the large-scale, high-level, multilateral UN action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions to the high food and fuel price crisis which is sweeping the globe. Rising food costs have left in their wake increased levels of hunger and poverty – and in some cases - provoking riots and destabilising governments."

How Noble! How Generous! How Late!

I'm not a huge fan of the United Nations, and don't regard that organization as the only way to help people around the world.

That said, many people do see the United Nations as important, and regard support of United Nations programs as a measure of compassion and social responsibility. Which would make America and Japan the most socially responsible countries on the planet. America bankrolls 22% of the United Nations budget, Japan gives 19.47%, and every other nation gives less. (That's $1.42 a year per citizen for America, $3.94 for Japan: and that's for another post, maybe.)

Although I regard support of the United Nations as a measure of a government's compassion and social responsibility, I don't regard it as the only measure. It's quite possible to send aid and comfort to needy people, without working through the United Nation's bureaucracy.

However, supporting the United Nations and its programs does seem important to maintaining an image of being a caring nation.

That's why it was so odd that Saudi Arabia had given nothing to the United Nation's World Food Program, or WFP, in response to an urgent appeal this April. As of May 18, 2008, Saudi Arabia, whose king is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, had given exactly nothing. Nothing, that is, until an upstart news network defied tradition and published articles about Saudi and OPEC behavior ("A Gulf in Giving: Oil-Rich States Starve the World Food Program" (May 9, 2008), "OPEC Stands Silent While Oil Prices Spark Food Riots In Neighboring Egypt" (May 14, 2008), FoxNEWS).

The WFP, along with programs like the UN Development Program and the UN Children's Fund, get their money by "voluntary funding," which means that member states choose which programs they fund - and which they don't.

The United States decided to give $362,700,000 USD to WFP through May 4. Then, after the appeal for more funds, the American administration chose to spend an additional $250,000,000 USD. That's a total of $612,700,000 - but who's counting?

The World Food Program website lists contributing governments by year, including 2008 (as of May 18, 2008, as I'm writing this) and 2007. The lists make interesting reading, I think.

As I said before, throwing money at the United Nations isn't the only way to help people. But, it is one way to help: and a way that many people around the world recognize.

I think it's interesting that OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries, collectively, gave $1,500,000 last year. That's one minute and 10 seconds of OPEC's oil revenue during 2007.

It's even more interesting that Saudi Arabia, the quintessential Islamic country, gave nothing this year to the World Food Program. Not, that is, until an upstart news network showed remarkable lack of deference, broke tradition, and published a report on Saudi Arabia's behavior.

I don't blame the WFP for being so effusively grateful to Saudi Arabia in their press release. They're dependent on wealthy nations for support, and it isn't wise for organizations - or people - to be other than conventionally grateful for whatever you get.

I do think that Saudi Arabia and OPEC have a curious policy regarding the WFP and their reputations as caring, giving, countries.

Maybe Saudi Arabia had cash flow problems.

Sources:

4 comments:

Connie said...

A Medal for Brass: A brazen publicity stunt from the House of Saud.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Connie,

Thanks for the link. I'd missed that ersatz Catholic medal that 'the Vatican' 'awarded' to a Saudi prince.

(I know: but I speak American English, and when I'm referring to that city-state on the Italian peninsula, I say, or write "the Vatican." It's the Holy See, of course, for official purposes.)

I'm inclined to agree: the House of Saud does seem to have a firm, if crude and dated, grasp of the importance of public relations.

They have not yet, it seems, come to realize that Information Age technologies and emerging news services which do not have a 'proper' attitude let people see around the publicity.

American Interests.blog said...

That was a good read Brian and like you, I found those links ranking donor nations interesting. The U.N. as sole world savior for such problems? Definitely not, what annoys is mainstream naive ness that views the U.N. as some kind of self-funded organization that's separate from the large economies namely, the U.S.

As for the Saudi’s, it seems they need to be courted differently…

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

American Interests.blog,

Thanks for the comment, and the good words.

American news media has, traditionally, had a rather forgiving attitude toward the United Nations. A newcomer, Fox News, has rather consistently been the first news service to report embarrassments like the oil-for-food scandal.

I think it is partly this willingness to air facts that aren't complimentary to the United Nations that have earned Fox News the scorn and ridicule of many.

Quite a number of my online acquaintances 'know' that Fox News is politically conservative, and a tool of the Republican party.

In the small Minnesota town where I live, I've learned that Fox News is presumed to be politically liberal.

In each case, my guess is that the people detect a lack of allegiance to their own views, and assume that the news service must therefore be a member of the opposing camp.

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