KARACHI: Saudi Arabia has one of the largest humanitarian aid budgets in the world. Pakistan has benefited enormously from the Saudi largesse in the shape of financial aid, supply of oil on deferred payments and aid during crises.
The Saudis provided a grant of $10 million during the 2005 earthquake, $170 million during the 2010/11 floods, and a $1.5 billion grant when Pakistan faced an economic crisis in 2014. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Pakistan has received more aid from Saudi Arabia than any country outside the Arab world since the 1960s.
Apart from financial aid to the governments, the oil-rich kingdom has also spent millions of dollars across Pakistan in the past few years as part of humanitarian efforts aimed at alleviating human suffering and ensuring that all people are given the opportunity to live healthy lives, according to a report by King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSHARC).
The study details that Riyadh has helped Islamabad in a number of fields. These include relief efforts in disaster areas, housing projects for the poor, development of basic healthcare units in rural regions, construction of schools and skill centres for children, as well as social uplift projects like building of mosques.
The Saudis have spent nearly $38 million on disaster relief efforts in Pakistan, mostly in the areas devastated by natural calamities, such as earthquake and flood. Moreover the kingdom has spent more than $55 million to construct housing facilities in the dirt-poor regions of the country.
The Saudi aid for healthcare projects and water improvement plants has been estimated at $5 million, while $6 million has been spent to build schools and skill centres. Also, a whopping $713,118 has gone to the building of mosques.
The brotherly ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia go back decades. The bilateral relationship between the two countries has strengthened on the back of cooperation in key economic and military matters in recent times.
Riyadh has also been in the headlines in Islamabad as reports suggest that the Saudis are planning to invest billions of dollars in Pakistan to help boost the flagging economy of the South Asian nation. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in Pakistan on a two-day visit to finalise these deals.
Described as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries without any official treaty” by the former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the bilateral ties have seen decades of cooperation during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the first Gulf War and post-9/11 defence diplomacy.
Although military agreements and oil pacts between the two countries get a lot of attention in the media, it is worth noting that little is known about Saudi investments in Pakistan. Data about Saudi humanitarian efforts in the country is especially hard to come by. Therefore, rumours about the scale of Saudi charities in Pakistan are rife and lead to many misunderstandings and false conjunctures.
The report by KSHARC provides a comprehensive breakdown of multiple humanitarian efforts that have been initiated by the Saudis across Pakistan in the past few years.
For the earthquake victims in Pakistan, aid has come from Saudi Arabia in the form of medicine and relief goods, food bags, dates, flour bags, tents and blankets, among other things. The relief goods are collectively worth more than $17.4 million
The Saudi public has also donated generously for this cause.
In addition, the Saudis have also contributed to flood relief in Pakistan since the devastating floods of 2010 crippled a large portion of the country. The report indicates that Riyadh sent dates and milk, relief good containers, set up camps, distributed meat, food boxes, as well as maternity kits to needy people for flood relief.
The collective cost of these endeavours was around $20.629 million. Many charity items were donated by the Saudi public for this cause too.
Apart from relief activities, the Saudis have also been at the forefront of social development of the poor in Pakistan. In this regard, numerous housing, health, education and religious projects are underway in the country.
According to the KSHARC report, housing projects in rural areas of all four provinces of the country have been completed. A total of $55.35 million have been spent building new living quarters for people all over Pakistan. Details of the housing projects are also provided below for the readers. Most of this spending seems to be concentrated in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
The numbers from the study further reveal that the construction of a total of 11,271 houses had been envisioned by the Saudi government, and most of these have been completed and handed over to the people in need. Some 90,308 people have so far benefited from this program.
Of the total spending on housing, $9.56 million (17%) has gone to Sindh, $1.745 million (3%) in Punjab, while $44.35 million (80%) in K-P and Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). No housing projects were initiated in Balochistan.
The Saudis have provided $5.18 million for healthcare relief efforts, which include building of basic healthcare centres as well as the setting up of water cleaning plants
As many as 889,227 people are expected to benefit from these projects, the report contends. Of the total spending in the health sector, approximately $2.72 million was spent in K-P and AJK.
In Punjab, the total spending on health amounts to $1.03 million, almost 20% of the total spent on health. In Balochistan and Sindh, these two numbers are approximately $716,666.
Riyadh has provided $6.07 million for building schools and basic skill centres in mostly rural establishments across Pakistan. The schools are expected to benefit almost 12,556 students.
If we look at the amount spent on education by breaking it down on the provincial level, the numbers are quite interesting. For example, the total amount spent in K-P and AJK is $5.46 million, almost 90% to the Saudi total spent in this sector. This is because these two regions are among the most impoverished. For Punjab, these two figures amount to approximately $606,323 and 10%.
In terms of the students who will benefit, almost 66% are from K-P and AJK, while the rest are from Punjab. In Sindh and Balochistan, the report findings of KSHARC indicate that no schools or educational projects have been undertaken by the Saudis, and no aid provided in this regard.
A handsome amount of nearly $703,118 has gone to the building of mosques inside Pakistan with Saudi charity. The collaboration in this sector is in line with the historic relationship between the two nations.
A closer look at the numbers is also indicative of the Saudi efforts to spread religious literacy in poverty-stricken areas of the country. Of the six mosques that have been constructed, four are in Balochistan. Also, a total of 3,022 people will benefit from these facilities.
Of the total money spent on constructing new mosques, almost 76% is concentrated in Balochistan. Punjab takes up 24% of the spending, while K-P and Sindh have not received any aid toward building of mosques, reveals the report.