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by: Vessy Nick

  Decades of economic growth have turned the United Arab Emirates into a hub for tourism, commerce and business in the Gulf region as well as into one of the most prosperous states in the Middle East. New responsibilities have arrived with the rise of prosperity and the country has in the recent years emerged as one of the most generous donors at the forefront of humanitarian operations in the Middle East region.

  The UAE Red Crescent Authority is a major channel through which the country is helping the world’s needy populations. Al Shindagah Magazine caught up with Mohammed Abdullah Alhaj Al Zarooni, the recently appointed Manager of the Dubai branch of the UAE Red Crescent, who spared a few moments within his busy schedule to talk about his plans for the organisation.

  The UAE Red Crescent is a member of the world’s largest group of humanitarian non-governmental organisations – the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, which includes societies in 178 countries with almost a hundred million employees and volunteers. The organisation focuses on providing healthcare and disaster management in areas affected by warfare or natural disasters and promotes volunteering as a key humanitarian principle.

  Mohammed Al Zarooni seems to know so much about the UAE Red Crescent and talks with such conviction about it that it is hard to believe he joined the organisation only four months ago. It has not been an easy time for him and his team, who have spent the last two months helping alleviate the devastation after one of the most dramatic natural disasters, the tsunami tidal waves which killed some 300,000 people in South East Asia.   

  The disaster wiped out entire communities across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives and helping hands have been extended from many countries in the world, including the UAE.

  “On the first day of the disaster, we were given by the government US$2 million to donate to the affected countries as to dedicated United Nations programmes,” said Al Zarooni. Days later the UAE contribution towards the badly-hit region reached US$20 million. One week after the disaster the UAE Red Crescent sent 75 tonnes of supplies to Sri Lanka. The organisation also sent delegations to Indonesia and Sri Lanka to assess the situation and draw plans for the way ahead in the affected communities. Back in January, the delegation distributed around 170 tonnes of different relief items in cooperation with Sri Lankan Red Cross.

  The way ahead, according to Al Zarooni lies in reconstruction. After days of tragedy and chaos, after the dead have been mourned and the hungry fed, the focus is on re-development. “We need to build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure and buy boats for the fishermen,” Al Zarooni says.

  The UAE Red Crescent is doing just this. Some Dhs15 million has been allocated for re-development in three villages in the Ampara region of Sri Lanka, where the organisation will be overseeing the construction of 300 houses as well as the reconstruction of four hospitals, six schools and two orphanages, while fishermen in the affected region will be given more than 100 boats, which will give them back their livelihood. A similar project with a budget of Dhs25 million will run in Indonesia.

  Helping populations affected by natural disasters such as the tsunami in South East Asia is only one of the many projects managed by the UAE Red Crescent. The organisation also manages and funds the construction of mosques, hospitals and schools in impoverished countries, distribution of aid to needy peoples and seasonal projects that help poor Muslims at holy times such as Ramadan and Eid.  

  In the two decades since it was created, the organisation has launched humanitarian initiatives in more than 95 countries with the total value of its projects reaching more than Dhs.1 billion. Only in 2003, the total cost of overseas projects reached more that Dhs.292 million, with Dhs.56 million going to projects and relief operations in Palestine.

  The UAE Red Crescent has 11 overseas branches - in Gaza and Jenin in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Thailand, Indonesia, Somalia, Yemen, Albania, Kosovo and Sudan. This network is complemented by another 42 offices in UAE embassies throughout the world.

  The organisation seems to have come a long way since 1983, when it was founded. The UAE Red Crescent currently has a network of ten branches in all regions of the country, employs more than 100 people and has twice the number of volunteers. In 2002, a presidential decree turned the society into the UAE Red Crescent Authority of today, underlying the government’s commitment to humanitarian causes.

  The UAE Red Crescent is active within the country as well, providing help to needy people and families without discrimination. In 2003, the total cost of programs executed by the organisation throughout the UAE was over Dhs.47 million. This included providing financial support to over twelve thousand needy families, providing free medical assistance and supporting the educational requirements of needy students, caring for prisoners and supporting various activities carried out by the country’s punishment institutions.

 Orphans and disabled people are also among recipients of aid distributed by the UAE Red Crescent and so are poor Muslims, whom the organisation provides with the treasured chance to perform their Haj pilgrimage. The organisation is very active during the Ramadan and Eid, when it gives the needy the chance to break their fast and gives out clothes and family parcels.   

  With so many ongoing projects, the UAE Red Crescent can accommodate volunteers of diverse backgrounds and interests and Al Zarooni is inviting everyone to volunteer and do their share of good. “I’d like to see more volunteers joining in,” he says.

  Corporate sponsors are also welcome, especially as the organisation is looking for a company to finance the building of their new Dubai headquarters. The plans for the new facility have been drafted already and a plot of land has been given to the organisation for free by the Dubai government. All it will take for the project to be complete is a socially responsible developer. 


  The movement is composed of several bodies – the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is based in Geneva and which leads the movement; the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is represents all Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in the world and was established to coordinate international relief activities and promote humanitarian campaigns; and of the 178 national societies throughout the world.

  The movement goes back to 1895, when Henry Dunant witnessed the Battle of Solferino, where some 14,000 people died or were wounded. Stunned by the carnage, Dunant stayed in a nearby town for three days, helping the wounded soldiers. Seven years later, Dunant published “A Memory of Solferino” in which he described the need to create an international network of volunteer agencies providing medical relief in times of war. 

  A year after Dunant's book appeared, the Swiss government sponsored an international conference of 14 countries in Geneva. They agreed on October 29, 1863, to form the International Red Cross. Almost one year later, on August 22, 1864 another international conference was summoned and it adopted the first Geneva Convention, which became the basis for the ICRC.

  On May 5, 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies was founded. The League of Red Cross Societies changed its name in 1986 to the "International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent" in recognition of its Muslim Red Crescent branches.

  Dunant’s efforts in setting up the ICRC brought him the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. The ICRC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize again in 1917 and 1944, to recognise its activities in the two World Wars, and jointly with the IFRCS in 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Movement.

The ICRC has seven fundamental principles. These include:

Humanity- to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being; to prevent and alleviate all human suffering.

Impartiality - no discrimination on grounds of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

Neutrality - the Movement does not take sides in hostilities, nor engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Independence - a national society may work alongside its own national governments, but must maintain its autonomy.

Voluntary service - relief is provided with no desire for gain or profit.

Unity - each country may only have one national society which is open to all, and which must carry on its work throughout the country.

Universality - all national societies have equal status and share equally in their responsibilities and duties as part of the worldwide Red Cross movement.


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