Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs
Determining how much Arab countries have contributed or pledged in aid to Haiti is a challenging feat. This is not unusual for someone who works the Middle East beat. The great majority of Arab governments and leaders are slow to react to events – natural disasters included. Most Arabs react quietly, some might say inefficiently, and others would argue it’s out of modesty that they don’t “brag” about their giving.
More than nine days after the devastating quake, it is fair to conclude that with the exception of a few Arab nations, there is not much to be proud of in terms of official Arab outreach to help the victims of the catastrophic earthquake.
Here is what we know about some Arab donations or pledges to Haiti:
Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain pledged $1 million US Dollars each in aid to be delivered in various ways through each country’s Red Crescent organization.
Jordan, which lost 3 peacekeepers in the quake, has sent two planes of aid and a medical team to set up a medical field facility in Port-au-Prince.
Qatar and Bahrain sent in planes each loaded with tons of food and medical aid.
Lebanon flew in an official delegation that distributed aid, checked on the Lebanese community in Port-au-Prince and evacuated three Lebanese, ten Syrian nationals and five Palestinians. In addition to carrying tents, food aid and water, a Telecom engineer flew back to Haiti to join his colleagues who, according to Waleed Haidar, Foreign Ministry Consul who headed the mission, “insisted on staying in Haiti to help restore mobile services which are essential to the search, rescue and rebuilding efforts.”
At the same time, the Lebanese Red Cross and the Red Crescent in the Gulf region, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in particular, have launched campaigns to collect much-needed cash for Haiti.
The United Arab Emirates has established a relief air bridge to Haiti and has already delivered tons of food and medical aid. The charity ‘Dubai Al-Attaa’ is coordinating with NGO’s such as CARE and UNICEF to provide educational assistance to 200,000 Haitian children.
In Gaza, modest individual efforts were made to collect goods and food to send to the devastated people of the earthquake-ravaged nation. This move impressed some in Arab media to highlight the effort and commend it. It is not clear how this aid will be coordinated to reach its destination.
According to the Syrian news agency, SANA, Syria plans to send a plane with 30 tons of food and medical aid to Haiti to “alleviate the suffering of Haitians.” According to the news agency, the search is on for an appropriate plane that will be able to land in Port-au-Prince’s damaged runway as a result of the quake.
Major Arab media have stepped up their coverage of Haiti as well. Al-Jazeera sent in correspondents who are constantly filing reports highlighting the plight of Haitians in the face of this devastation. Al-Arabiya is also dedicating more time this week than last week to the story drawing attention to the dire situation there.
Columnists in various newspapers have expressed their disappointment at the slow Arab response to the Haitian tragedy. An opinion piece published in Kuwait’s Alnaba and Bahrain’s Akhbar Al-Khaleej under the title “On the Arab absence in Haiti” illustrates that disappointment.
Author Radi Sammak questions the position of most Arab nations not to respond with aid and assistance at the level of other countries in the region and around the world.
He says, “After a week of the devastating earthquake and its unspeakable catastrophic aftermath which we’ve been witnessing on our TV sets, the Arab world remains far removed from the story as if it lives on a totally different planet.” Sammak then continued, “From countries as far away as Japan to Israel right in the middle of our Arabic world, seem closer to Haiti than we are.”
Bahrain’s Al-Wassat newspaper has featured a similar editorial by Reem Khalife who also highlighted how slow Arabs are in comparison to other world nations to respond to international crisis. In a separate article, Khalife reported that the question was posed to the UN representative in Bahrain, Nejib Freije.
Freiji said, “I don’t want to evaluate the speed at which Arab nations respond but instead highlight the efficiency of the civil societies in the nations that respond quickly. These highly developed civil societies allow for an honest competition and speed that gives them a good name internationally.” Freiji added, “The door is still open and the opportunity to help is still available and I hope all Arabs can heed this call.”
Something I heard about but could not confirm is that Saudi Arabia may have sent in aid to Haiti. For that, I turned to the kingdom’s news agency.
While it is obvious that the agency is reporting on what’s happening in Haiti, it did not report so far on any Saudi aid being sent or even pledged. Here are the Haiti headlines I could find on the agency’s website:
“Haiti has suffered extraordinary devastation”
“Haitians use toothpaste, herbs to block stench”
“More troops, aid go to Haiti, but hunger persists”
The agency acknowledges the U.S.-based Islamic Relief Organization’s pledges of $2.5 Million Aid to Haiti and even lists what international organizations and nations are doing for Haiti. Yet, when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s response to Haiti’s tragedy, here are the headlines:
“King Condolences UN Chief on victim of earthquake hit Haiti”
“The King Sends cable of Condolences to Haiti"s President”
In conclusion, there certainly is no such thing as “Arab aid” to Haiti. What you will find is individual countries, organizations and even citizens doing what they can to help the people of Haiti.
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