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  • » 01/08/2005, 00.00

    SAUDI ARABIA – ASIA

    Tsunami: Little aid from Arab countries



    Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Many Arab media commentators are harshly critical of the governments of rich Arab states because of their stingy response to the tsunami catastrophe. Although their development was largely made possible by an influx of millions of Asian workers, they have thus far donated US$ 113 million in aid out of a total of US$ 3.7 billion pledged by the international community.

    A telethon in Saudi Arabia that ended yesterday morning raised US$ 83 million in private donations. During the televised fund-raising event, scholars repeatedly told viewers that "Islam promotes charity" and that "it was the duty of every Muslim to help the poor and the needy".

    Saudi watchers have been critical of the government which, despite being the largest oil-exporter, reaping the benefit of high oil prices and employing thousands of Asian workers, has not been terribly generous in its aid to tsunami-stricken countries.

    Stung, government officials have baulked at the criticism stating that US$ 30 million plus tons of food, medicines and other aid are "generous" in terms of the country's population and economy.

    Neighbouring rich United Arab Emirates have donated "only" US$ 20 million, Qatar, 25, and Bahrain, 2, this despite the fact that these countries' workforces are largely made up of Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians and Sri Lankans, who are often exploited to a point that comes close to slavery.

    Mohamed Ali al-Harfy, an editorial writer with the Saudi daily al-Watan, said: "The sum is very weak compared to the size of the catastrophe and the riches of Gulf countries. There is no convincing answer as to why they haven't donated more".

    King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and other dignitaries of the kingdom donated about US$ 10 million to the telethon. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a rich billionaire, donated money, tents and clothing worth US$ 19 million.

    However, economists point out that a better cash flow due to higher oil prices does not necessarily mean more disposable income for governments like that of Saudi Arabia which said it would put the revenue towards reducing its 3 billion public debt and financing development projects to create much-needed jobs for Saudis. In fact, unemployment in the kingdom is currently high and the authorities are facing a terrorist campaign by Islamic fundamentalists tied to al-Qaeda.

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