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Volume 30, Number 6November/December 1979

In This Issue

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Arab Aid

How It’s Spent

Written by John Lawton
Photographed by Tor Eigeland
Additional photographs by Burnett H. Moody

In more than 60 countries on five continents, Arab aid is funding the construction of roads and railways, dams and airports, power plants and factories and innumerable other projects that create, or strengthen, the economic sinews of those countries and continents. As in Saudi Arabia, which is simultaneously building its own industrial base and financing huge new projects around the world (See Aramco World, January-February 1976), the emphasis is on "infrastructure," an economic term meaning the basic elements on which the economy of every country is founded.

In developed countries, investors who plan to build factories or establish businesses automatically assume that they will find ports, railways, roads, water, gas, electricity, telephones, telexes and the other facilities they need in order to function; these facilities, over the years, have been gradually provided, usually by governments, and paid for from taxes.

In the less developed countries, however, investors cannot count on finding such facilities. Since the investors can rarely afford to provide them themselves, and since the governments rarely have adequate funds or mechanisms to do so, the investors go elsewhere. As Dr. Hassan Salim, research and planning director of the Abu Dhabi Fund, put it, "Adequate infrastructure is an essential prerequisite for the economic development of any nation."

Foreign aid, consequently, is vital, particularly foreign aid that is focused on practical infrastructure projects - and most Arab aid is. Unlike the post-war aid programs, the Arabs' approach is solid and pragmatic, and prestige projects are definitely out. "We don't like them, we don't get involved in them," says Dr. Abdlatif Al Hamad, director general of the Kuwait Fund, one of the Arab world's leading aid organizations. Instead, he says, Arab money goes directly into projects that will enable the recipient countries to develop themselves.

Some examples:

AIRPORTS linking the remote Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, or the tiny land-locked enclave of Lesotho in South Africa, with the outside world, are being built or extended with Arab aid. So too are air terminals in Gambia, Tunisia and Guinea-Bissau, to increase tourist trade.

BRIDGES are being bankrolled by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in Tunisia and Taiwan. The 1.4-mile Sino-Saudi Friendship Bridge is part of a north-south freeway that by 1990 will serve 80 percent of the population and 90 percent of the industries of Taiwan.

COFFEE PLANTATIONS in Burundi, one of the world's least-developed nations, are being mechanized with Kuwaiti aid. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi loans are funding construction of a canning factory in Tunisia and a clinker grinding plant in Guinea.

DAMS in a dozen developing countries are being built with Arab aid. Among them are the Song Loulou hydroelectric project in Cameroon, the Nagarjuna Dam in India, the Kpong hydroelectric project in Ghana and the Selingue Dam in Mali.

ELECTRIFICATION of rural areas and irrigation works in Thailand and Bangladesh are being aided by Kuwait. The projects will provide 300 Thai villages with power and will water 160,000 acres of Bangladesh farm land.

FERTILIZER PLANTS in Pakistan and elsewhere are being financed by Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, while Abu Dhabi is helping purchase equipment for modernization of the Maldive Islands' and Sri Lanka's fishing fleets.

GRAIN SILOS to store 57,000 tons of emergency food in drought-prone Niger are being built with Saudi loans. The Saudis are also helping finance construction of grain silos in Yemen.

HOSPITALS, HOTELS AND HOMES are being built with Arab aid in Egypt, Niger, Mali, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. The Saudi Fund is providing $50 million to Egypt alone for reconstruction of the war-ravaged cities of Ismailia and Suez. (See Aramco World, September-October 1977)

IRRIGATION NETWORKS are being laid in Bangladesh, Senegal and The Sudan with Saudi and Kuwaiti loans. The Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, meanwhile, is financing the emigration of Somalis from drought-stricken areas of Africa and their resettlement on irrigated farms.

LIVESTOCK development - to double Senegal's meat production - is being financed by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, and by Kuwait. The Kuwaitis are also helping set up 140 cattle ranches in Uganda and four dairy farms in Katmandu.

MINES in Jordan and Morocco - which depend heavily on phosphates for export earnings - are being expanded with Kuwaiti aid, while Abu Dhabi finances construction of a three-tower, 20-story marketing center in Casablanca.

NATURAL GAS utilization in Oman is being realized with assistance from Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and the Arab Fund, who are co-financing a 200-mile pipeline to transport gas from Yibal to Muscat.

PORTS in Algeria, Korea, Morocco, Papua-New Guinea, Tunisia and Yemen are being built or enlarged with Arab aid, and power plants financed in part by the Islamic Development Bank are under construction in India, Indonesia, Jordan, Somalia, Syria and other Arab countries.

ROAD AND RAILWAY construction around the world is also heavily backed by Arab states: on the islands of Cape Verde and Cyprus and in Cameroon, the Congo, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia and Spain. Reopening the Suez Canal was the first project financed by the Saudi Fund. (See Aramco World, September-October 1975)

SUGAR FACTORIES in Afghanistan and Tanzania, with a total annual capacity of 83,000 tons, are being funded by Kuwait. Kuwait is also participating in a sugar cane cultivation project in Vietnam and a sewage purification scheme in Malta.

TEXTILE PLANT construction and expansion in Mauritania and Tanzania are being aided by Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. They are also helping Tunisia develop a modern Mediterranean tourist complex to boost foreign currency earnings.

UNIVERSITY of Technology in Malaysia is using laboratory equipment - some of it American-made - purchased with Saudi aid. The Saudis are also contributing toward establishing new universities in Niger and Uganda.

WATER is being piped to homes in Cairo, Damascus and Sanaa with Arab Fund support. And Saudi Arabia has loaned Jordan $120 million to boost the water supply in Amman.

In addition to infrastructure and industrial projects, Arab money is also supporting projects of a purely social nature. The Kuwait Fund, for example, is backing a World Health Organization campaign against disease in Upper Volta, and Saudi Arabia has contributed $55 million for fiscal year 1979-80 to the United Nations World Food Program campaign against hunger.

This article appeared on pages 10-11 of the November/December 1979 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 1979 images.