Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

October 9, 2016

Bill Gates teams up with Gulf states to fight poverty

By Rob L. Wagner

Gulf News

9 October 2016

Jeddah: In the suburbs of Senegal’s capital city Dakar on Africa’s west coast, malaria thrives as a killer of young children and the infirm. Like many impoverished Muslim countries, Senegal is struggling to eradicate the disease, which is the third leading cause of death among its people behind strokes and respiratory infections.

Senegal, with a mortality rate that ranks the country 19th among 172 nations with 55 deaths per 100,000 people, is in desperate need of continuing preventative aid and treatment. But hope is coming in the form of an anti-poverty initiative funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, and the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The group is already financing a project in Senegal to eliminate the spread of the disease.

Announced two years ago in Jeddah by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the initiative was formally launched last week with its first meeting under the group’s umbrella organisation, the Lives and Livelihoods Fund. LLF amassed $2.5 billion in contributions and is the largest philanthropic organisation of its kind in the Middle East.

Dr Waleed Ahmad Addas, chief of the Lives and Livelihoods Fund at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, told Gulf News on Wednesday that $363 million (Dh1.3 billion) in projects have already been approved for the first five years of operation. In all, about $2.5 billion will be allocated over the next five years in 30 of the most poverty-stricken Muslim countries.

Projects have already been launched in Africa.

“We are funding Morocco with the Support to Rural Community through Integrated Development programme, Senegal malaria pre-elimination and Uganda (for) neglected tropical diseases,” Addas said.

In addition to predominately Muslim African nations, financing is also scheduled for countries primarily in the Middle East and other Islamic countries. Combating HIV/Aids and developing infrastructure to develop better access to health care and drinkable water and increase agricultural production are top priorities.

Addas said the King Salman Relief and Humanitarian Aid Centre in Saudi Arabia contributed $100 million to LLF and chaired the first meeting of the organisation’s Impact Committee. He noted that contributions by donors do not guarantee their pet projects will be selected for funding. Instead, approval, in the form of grants and concessional loans, must go through the committee.

“Project selection is done in accordance with an eligibility criterion where members reach a decision [to financing a project] by consensus,” Addas said.

Maher Al Hadrawi, executive director of the King Salman Centre, said in a statement that, “aid from the King Salman Centre will help support incomes, provide the means for dignified living, and strengthen infrastructure in 30 Islamic countries, and is an extension of the significant efforts made by the Kingdom to help those in need.”

Addas said applicants for funds must go through a vetting process to determine whether they are entitled to funding.

“Eligibility is targeted for least developed member countries and projects must have at least three basic characteristics,” he said.

“[The projects must] have relevance to the development needs of the least developed member country and aligned with objectives of the Lives and Livelihoods Fund, to be ready for implementation, and finally to maximise the expected results on the community and beneficiaries.”

The money is financed through the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) using $2 billion in IsDB financing combined with $500 million in donations. In addition to the King Salman Centre’s $100 million contribution, partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, which is contributing 20 per cent of the total up to $100 million, $100 million from the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, $50 million from the Qatar Fund for Development and $50 million from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

Hassan Al Damluji, senior programme officer for Middle East Relations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in London, told Gulf News that the Lives and Livelihoods Fund has checks and balances in place to prevent corruption, which has plagued many other anti-poverty initiatives at the local level.

“We have efficient processes in place to vet each project and ensure that each of the funds are invested in initiatives which make the most impact and which are economically, socially and environmentally feasible,” Al Damluji said. “The Lives and Livelihoods Fund will in most cases channel directly the project funds to the project contractor or service provider, to the benefit of the recipient country and its poorest people.”

“The LLF is a great example of the innovative financing mechanisms that we need in order to achieve the 2030 development agenda,” said Mohammad Al Suwaidi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. “We are proud to be a founding member of this joint regional effort and look forward to realising the funds’ full capabilities in reaching those most marginalised.”

Senegal’s citizens living in the poorest neighbourhoods of Dakar serve as a vivid reminder of the “marginalised” who are most susceptible to disease. The World Health Organisation reported that 214 million new cases of malaria were recorded in 2015 with Africa accounting for 88 per cent of all malaria cases. The LFF sees the region as a priority to aggressively pursue funding to eliminate the disease.

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