Saudi, UAE donations ‘continue to save people from hunger,’ says World Food Programme GCC representative

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Updated 31 October 2022

Saudi, UAE donations ‘continue to save people from hunger,’ says World Food Programme GCC representative

  • Mageed Yahia acknowledges impact of Gulf contributions in the context of Yemen during appearance on “Frankly Speaking”
  • He says the WFP needs “an additional $9 billion because our projection for 2022 alone is $24 billion”

DUBAI: Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been praised by the World Food Programme’s regional representative for contributions “that have saved lives and continue to save lives, by making possible the distribution of nutritious food to children, mothers, lactating mothers and expectant mothers.”

Appearing on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ weekly current affairs talk show, Mageed Yahia, WFP representative to the GCC region, cited war-torn Yemen as an example where Saudi Arabia and the UAE “came together to rescue our programs” in 2018 and prevent starvation.

“The biggest impact of that contribution, which was ($1) billion to the UN agencies operating in Yemen, was averting famine. And that was really impactful in that since then the contribution from the Saudis has continued, and continues until now. Again, the impact of that is saving lives.”

Yahia’s comments appear to contradict those made by WFP Executive Director David Beasley during his recent visit to Iceland, where he publicly scolded the Gulf states and China for “not stepping up” in the fight against the global food crisis.

‘Reaching zero hunger by 2030 is possible,’ says WFP regional representative Mageed Yahia, ‘if all the world pulls together.’ (AN Photo)

Claiming that the “Gulf states with massive oil profits right now” are “not stepping up,” Beasley was quoted by the UN’s official website as telling Icelandic TV: “Iceland is not a big country but it is punching above its weight. It is a great role model for other countries to follow.”

Beasley’s characterization of the two Gulf countries also flies in the face of the WFP’s own summary of 2021 global contributions (as of June 21, 2022), which show Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the seventh and 12th biggest donors, respectively. In fact, on a per capita basis, the two states come out as the WFP’s top two donors globally.

As recently as November last year, the WFP welcomed “a timely and generous contribution” of $16.8 million from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) to assist Syrian refugees in Jordan and to support nutrition programs for women and children in Pakistan.

The Saudi contribution was made as the WFP struggled to secure funds to continue support to some 465,000 vulnerable refugees in Jordan — most of them from Syria — and assist more than 66,000 of the most vulnerable children and women in Pakistan.

Yahia acknowledged the manifold benefits of Gulf aid to Yemen through the WFP. “The impact of that is that we’re keeping people alive there,” he said.

“The Saudi contribution helps us, of course, in this life-saving agenda, but also in the nutrition agenda when giving specialized nutritious food to children, to mothers, lactating mothers and pregnant mothers. Because if you don’t do that today, tomorrow you will have a negative effect of that, (in terms of) school-feeding that we are providing.

He added: “We are providing school meals both in the north and in the south. And that’s a development activity that we’re doing. It is important what the Saudis and the Emiratis are doing with us in Yemen to help keep people alive, saving their lives and (allowing the continuation of education).

“This is something very important for the children there.”

Asked how many lives have possibly felt the impact of the joint Saudi-UAE aid support, Yahia said: “We’re talking about 40 million people in Yemen. That’s maybe half of the population, or more than half of the population.”

Global food prices rose rapidly earlier this year as the war in Ukraine disrupted the supply and distribution of grain and fertilizer. This followed hot on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had exposed the vulnerability of global supply chains.

As a result, many observers have concluded that it is highly unlikely the UN will achieve its Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating hunger by the end of the decade. Yahia still holds out hope.

“The good news first is that reaching zero hunger in 2030 is possible. It’s something doable if all the world comes together. If there is the political will, we can do it. But we have been going in reverse for the last five years,” he said.

“We saw good progress in 2015 when the number of hungry people decreased, but then it started to increase. Conflict is the main driver of hunger around the world. Now we see it in Yemen, we see it in Syria, in Afghanistan, in South Sudan and in the Sahel.

“Second is the climate. Food production, to a large extent, depends on climate. So if there is any change there, then food production is a problem. You have the situation now in the Horn of Africa, where in Somalia around 3 to 4 million people are displaced because of drought.”

Contributions by Gulf states were praised by World Food Programme regional representative for averting famine, and safeguarding children and mothers in Yemen. (AN Photo)

Yahia took pains to explain a conundrum of the global food crisis: “In many cases, hunger is not the result of scarcity but rather a matter of affordability. Food is available everywhere. The world produces more than is consumed. But some communities, 800 million people, cannot afford this food.”

According to the regional director, in countries of the Middle East and North Africa that are largely reliant on imports of food and fertilizers — particularly in such crisis-hit nations as Lebanon, Syria and Yemen — the spiraling cost of these commodities has increased rates of hunger and malnutrition.

“You look at the currency devaluation in Lebanon. It’s huge. You look at inflation — food price inflation there is huge,” Yahia said. “Lebanon in itself depends to a large extent on food imports. At the same time, Lebanon is a host to 1 million Syrian refugees. So all these things are coming together.”

In the case of Yemen, the distribution of aid is also routinely disrupted by the Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls swathes of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. Yahia says that gaining access to vulnerable populations is half the battle.

“Like in any conflict, one of the major issues that we face when we work in conflict areas is access to the population,” he said. “And that, of course, takes maybe 50 percent of our efforts to negotiate access to this population.

“Second is the number of people that depend on our food assistance. And now because of funding, because of prolonged conflict, we are taking really tough decisions in Yemen by reducing our rations.”

He warned that the reduction in the amount of food the WFP is able to distribute in Yemen is also the result of a decline in the amount of financial assistance provided by donor countries, combined with the sheer scale of need in multiple crisis zones across the globe.

With multiple overlapping crises blighting vast areas of the developing world, WFP is short of the funding required to support existing projects Yahia told Katie Jensen on Frankly Speaking. (AN Photo)

“It’s mainly due to the protracted nature of the crisis, but also of crises coming up in different parts of the world that may be competing with the situation in Yemen,” Yahia said. “But, at the end of the day, we need to keep Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, all these places in the headlines so that people do not forget about the situation there.”

One way the WFP aims to address supply chain disruptions, mitigate shortages of funding, and improve the accessibility and affordability of food is to encourage production closer to the point of need.

“You have 80 percent of the food in Africa produced by smallholder farmers, but unfortunately some of them end up as beneficiaries of our assistance,” he said. “Why? Because of losses that they make, because they don’t have access to markets. There is no logistics supply chain and storage facilities are not adequate. So more than half of their harvest is lost.”

In order to support local farmers, the WFP counts on donor countries. However, according to Yahia, with multiple overlapping crises blighting vast swathes of the developing world, the agency is short of the funding required to support existing projects.

“We need an additional $9 billion because our projection for 2022 alone is $24 billion,” he said. “So far we have raised around $9 billion. We know we will not be able to reach our projected requirements, but if we don’t get it, then next year, with the availability crisis looming, we will need more than that.

Yahia added: “In the short term, you need to help these communities. You need to save their lives. Unfortunately, because of the conflicts, because of climate, which is a real threat to full food security because of the economy, this number continues to grow.”




Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

Updated 30 min 18 sec ago

Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

  • Kuwaiti Emir also tasks the new prime minister to form a government

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has appointed Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister, state news agency KUNA reported on Monday.

The Kuwaiti ruler also tasked the new prime minister to form a government.

The Kuwaiti ruler last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, after elections were held to choose new members of the National Assembly.

He also instructed the cabinet to act as caretakers until the formation of a new government.

Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

Updated 15 April 2024

Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

  • Opposition leader: ‘Jewish terrorist violence’ against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank ‘out of control’
  • ‘If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us’

JERUSALEM: Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of leading to a “total loss of Israeli deterrence” in the wake of an unprecedented Iranian attack.
In a scathing criticism posted on X, former premier Lapid also said that under Netanyahu, “Jewish terrorist violence” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was “out of control.”
Netanyahu, who returned to power in late 2022 at the helm of a coalition with far-right parties, has brought “heaps of destruction from Beeri to Kiryat Shmona,” Lapid said, calling for early elections.
Beeri, a kibbutz community near the Gaza border, came under attack when Hamas militants stormed the area on October 7, triggering the ongoing war, while the northern town of Kiryat Shmona has suffered during months of cross-border fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Lapid’s remarks came two days after Iran — which backs both Hamas and Hezbollah — launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for a deadly strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Israel, the United States and other allies intercepted nearly all launches in the late Saturday aerial attack — the first direct Iranian military action against arch foe Israel.
Netanyahu’s cabinet has weighed Israel’s response to the Iranian attack, but the prime minister has not made any public comments.
In the West Bank, where violence has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars over the weekend, killing at least two people, after an Israeli teen was “murdered in a suspected terrorist attack,” according to the Israeli military.
Pointing to surging “terrorist” settler attacks, Lapid said: “If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us.”
The government, which includes hard-line settlers, has prioritized Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Netanyahu has faced in recent months mass protests over the fate of hostages held in Gaza and pressure from a resurgent anti-government movement.
The prime minister’s Likud party responded to Lapid in a statement stressing Netanyahu’s part in “the global campaign” to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons — which Tehran denies it is seeking.

UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

Updated 15 April 2024

UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

  • Meetings held between Foreign Office, Rapid Support Forces in bid to end fighting, increase aid supply
  • News criticized by some experts as RSF accused of crimes against humanity

London: The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has revealed that it has held talks with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has been accused of committing ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.

The Guardian reported on Monday that a freedom of information request to the FCDO revealed that the UK government had opened diplomatic channels with the RSF, including a meeting on March 6.

The FCDO told the newspaper that the talks were aimed at increasing humanitarian aid flow and access in Sudan, as well as ending the fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

The RSF has been engaged in a civil war in Sudan for the past year, and has been accused of crimes against humanity by the US, including massacres, mass rape, looting and ethnic cleansing. The UN said the RSF’s activities in Geneina in West Darfur have left 15,000 people dead.

The war has claimed the lives of many thousands of Sudanese civilians, with around 8 million displaced by the fighting.

The UK’s willingness to meet with the RSF has drawn condemnation for what some say is a policy that could normalize a paramilitary group accused of crimes against humanity.

Dr. Sharath Srinivasan, co-director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University, told The Guardian that although talking to potentially unsavory groups is perceived as necessary in some diplomatic circles, “talking to the guys with the guns has been part of the perpetuation of violence and authoritarianism in Sudan for the last two, three decades.”

He added: “When (the RSF are) committing untold levels of targeted violence against ethnic groups, and women and children, at a scale that is absolutely horrific and was, even 20 years ago, (the UK is) putting a lot of moral credibility and decency on the line.”

Ahmed Soliman, a senior research fellow at international affairs think tank Chatham House, said the talks are justifiable as part of efforts to end the war and alleviate civilian suffering.

“How is aid going to get into western Sudan unless you engage with the Rapid Support Forces? They control 95 percent of Darfur,” he added.

“This is the dirty reality of the war. It shouldn’t negate engaging with civilians, but it has to be part of trying to ensure that there is a solution, both to ending the war in the near term, and then providing assistance for civilians.”

However, Maddy Crowther, co-director of the Waging Peace human rights group, described the talks as “a terrible move,” saying negotiating with the RSF could prove futile.

“These talks also assume that the RSF are good-faith actors,” she said. “Chatting to the RSF has never resulted in the outcomes that the UK says it wants to achieve in Sudan. I have no sense of why that would change at the moment.”

She added that “for the Sudanese, it will be experienced as a real slap in the face,” and that the diaspora will interpret the news as a “complete abuse of trust that people have placed in the UK and other powers to negotiate or advocate on their behalf.”

An FCDO spokesperson told The Guardian: “The UK continues to pursue all diplomatic avenues to end the violence — to prevent further atrocities from occurring, to press both parties into a permanent ceasefire, to allow unrestricted humanitarian access, to protect civilians, and to commit to a sustained and meaningful peace process.

“The SAF and RSF have dragged Sudan into an unjustified war, with an utter disregard for the Sudanese people. We will do all we can to ensure that they are both held accountable.”

Israel presses on in Gaza as death toll reaches 33,797

Updated 15 April 2024

Israel presses on in Gaza as death toll reaches 33,797

  • Fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge
  • On Monday death toll in Gaza reached 33,797 during more than six months of war

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israel struck war-battered Gaza overnight, Hamas and witnesses said Monday, as world leaders urged de-escalation awaiting Israel’s reaction to Iran’s unprecedented attack that heightened fears of wider conflict.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Monday that at least 33,797 people have been killed in the territory during more than six months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 68 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 76,465 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.
World powers have urged restraint after Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday, though the Israeli military has said nearly all were intercepted.
The Israeli military said it would not be distracted from its war against Tehran-backed Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian armed group’s October 7 attack.
“Even while under attack from Iran, we have not lost sight... of our critical mission in Gaza to rescue our hostages from the hands of Iran’s proxy Hamas,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late Sunday.
As mediators eye a deal to halt the fighting, fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza,” Hagari said of the roughly 130 people, including 34 presumed dead, who Israel says remain in the hands of Palestinian militants since the Hamas attack.
“We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” the military spokesman told a briefing.
The army said it was calling up “two reserve brigades for operational activities,” about a week after withdrawing most ground troops from Gaza.
The Hamas government media office said Israeli aircraft and tanks launched “dozens” of strikes overnight on central Gaza, reporting several casualties.
Witnesses told AFP that strikes hit the Nuseirat refugee camp, with clashes also reported in other areas of central and northern Gaza.
Hamas’s attack that sparked the fighting resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday following the Iranian attack, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the region was “on the brink” of war.
“Neither the region nor the world can afford more war,” the UN chief said.
“Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate.”
More than six months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Rumours of a reopened Israeli checkpoint on the coastal road from the territory’s south to Gaza City sent thousands of Palestinians heading north on Sunday, despite Israel denying it was open.
Attempting the journey back to northern Gaza, displaced resident Basma Salman said, “even if it (my house) was destroyed, I want to go there. I couldn’t stay in the south.”
“It’s overcrowded. We couldn’t even take a fresh breath of air there. It was completely terrible.”
In Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, civil defense teams said they had retrieved at least 18 bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Responding late Saturday to the latest truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it insists on “a permanent ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
Israel’s Mossad spy agency called this a “rejection” of the proposal, accusing Hamas of “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran.”
But the United States said mediation efforts continue.
“We’re not considering diplomacy dead there,” said the National Security Council’s Kirby.
“There’s a new deal on the table... It is a good deal” that would see some hostages released, fighting halted and more humanitarian relief into Gaza, he said.

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

Updated 15 April 2024

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

  • Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence

Stockholm: The highest-ranking Syrian military official to be tried in Europe on Monday appeared before a Stockholm court accused of war crimes during Syria’s civil war.
Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence.
The war between President Bashar Assad’s regime and armed opposition groups, including Islamic State, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.
Wieslander said Hamo had contributed — through “advice and action” — to the Syrian army’s warfare, which “systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality.”
“The warfare was thus indiscriminate,” Wieslander told the court.
The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.
The prosecutor said the Syrian army’s “widespread air and ground attacks” caused damage “at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved.”
In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.
Hamo’s lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.
“In any case he has not had the intent toward the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others,” Kilman said.
Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions “as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders.”
Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.
Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.
“The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties,” Aida Samani, senior legal adviser at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.
“The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity.”
This trial will be the first in Europe “to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army,” according to Samani, who added that it “will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court.”
Hamo is the highest-ranking military official to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.
In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat Assad, an uncle of President Bashar Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, it remains unlikely Rifaat Assad — who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile — will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.
Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.
In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.
Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army’s elite Fourth Division and two generals.
In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.