King Salman center top donor to Yemen

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Updated 01 May 2016

King Salman center top donor to Yemen

RIYADH: An apex Saudi aid organization named King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSRELIEF) was founded last year on the instructions of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman with the aim to respond adequately to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and across the world at large.

The KSRELIEF, within a short span of time, has saved and improved the lives of more than 36 million people in the world’s poorest countries including Yemen and Djibouti.
The center, which is headed by Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, has been at the forefront of developing partnerships with international agencies to assist needy civilians in Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. It is also working on plans to extend aid to the most deprived communities around the globe.
Al-Rabeeah, who was named as the world’s 45th most influential Arab in 2010 by "Arabian Business", is a renowned medical surgeon, who is credited with separating more than 30 conjoined twins so far. The KSRELIEF chief, who also served as health minister for over five years, spoke about the King Salman Center and its aid & relief programs in a wide-ranging interview with Arab News.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Please provide me some general information about King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSRELIEF), which is a pretty new Saudi aid organization with headquarters in Riyadh.
A: King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSRELIEF), which was inaugurated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, is almost now a one-year-old organization with a mandate to carry out different types of humanitarian and relief activities on behalf of the Saudi government and people. The center, as instructed by King Salman, is impartial in nature with no involvement in any political or military program, as it was designed from the beginning to follow and implement the international humanitarian laws and standards. The center was asked by the Saudi government to give top priority to war-torn Yemen because of the sufferings of the people there.
We also started to communicate with a number of international organizations including the UN agencies and other nongovernmental organizations, which have been operating on the front lines across the world. As of today, we are present in all regions of Yemen. We are also visiting many countries, particularly talking to aid agencies and organizations with an aim to tie-up with them and work closely with them to implement relief and rehabilitation projects. We also visited other partner organizations in the US and Europe to learn from their experience.

Q: What kinds of programs and policies on which the center is currently focusing? Who or which countries are the beneficiaries of your aid and relief programs?
A: In a short span of time, the center has carried out 66 aid and relief programs, that has benefited more than 36 million people in a few locations, mainly in Yemen. In terms of programs, we are working on ‘food security.’ Food security is the need of the hour not only in Yemen, but also a dire need of international community, and we are also very active in health care programs both in the region and outside the region. We are also focusing on refugee programs, especially for their shelter, food and resettlement, keeping in view the growing number of refugees in the region and across the globe. On the other hand, we are going to train a large number of young Saudi boys and girls to learn the skills for working in charities in compliance with global standards and requirements. We are working to build capacity that will eventually make this center a model resource and research center for the region and also for the world.

Q: There are reports about the growing number of Muslim refugees, especially in the Middle East. Is the King Salman Center committed to extend full support to refugees in respect of capacity building, relocation, resettlement, etc.?
A: As you know, we are part of international community, so we are involved in those activities to support in their essential needs. Also, being part of international community, our efforts are directed toward providing food, shelter, health care and education to refugees. We are active on all these fronts. The KSRELIEF is working closely with 62 global agencies including UN agencies, NGOs and regional partners. We have already undertaken about 28 programs/projects in the area of food security, that has benefited about 17 million people so far. We are working with 23 partner agencies in this field alone.

Q: What about your presence in Yemen? Please provide specific details about the aid and relief projects you are working on in that country. What kind of handicaps and problems you are facing as a Saudi aid organization?
A: In Yemen, we have conducted more than 66 big programs with 62 partners. Most of those programs carried out in that country are in food and health sectors. We have accomplished 28 food aid programs in Yemen, and the total number of beneficiaries of the program exceeds 17 million. In health sector, we have conducted 25 programs in cooperation with 37 partners in Yemen, with total number of beneficiaries reaching 16 million.
We have also conducted 13 humanitarian programs like mother and child vaccination and recovery programs benefiting about 3.5 million in Yemen. This milestone was achieved by the center in cooperation with nine other NGOs. More specifically, I can say that the center has reached all regions of Yemen, irrespective of the fact who controls the region. As much as we are available in south Yemen, we are equally available in the north of that country. We have reached Saana and Saada. We have reached Saada, which is controlled by the militant Houthis and more successfully in Saana, where we are carrying out both food and health programs.

Q: How is it possible for a Saudi aid organization to work in strife-torn Yemen? How do you operate there without logistics and military support?
A: We work in close coordination with regional and international NGOs in Yemeni cities and in remote areas, which have been witnessing more problems because of the militant outfits. We deliver the aid on the borders, and the international NGOs receive the relief supplies and in turn distribute them there in those cities and locations. We believe that we can’t succeed without our partners and our partners are local NGOs in Yemen or international partners like UN and their affiliated agencies. I want to mention here that the first pledge of aid made by the Kingdom to the UN amounting to $274 million was handled by the center. We are working as a partner with nine UN organizations and also selecting our local partners and reaching all those who are in need in Yemen.
An aid agency like ours can’t work without obstacles and challenges, and it is more so in Yemen. With the lack of security and conflicts going on, there has been many challenges we face as a Saudi aid organization. Our convoys has been threatened and attacked at times. Our workers also have been threatened, even our trucks were confiscated in the past.
Our biggest achievement is carrying of relief operations in the city of Taiz, which has been under siege. We conducted air-drops three times to deliver food to the starving population of that city. We also managed to find ways to deliver large amount of oxygen cylinders through the partners in Yemen by using donkeys and camels through routes across the mountains. In fact, the center has used and is still using all modes of transport to render support to the civilian population in Yemen.
We sent two large ships that delivered food and medical supplies in that country. This is in addition to more than 250 trucks, which are delivering aid to Yemen. More than 20 planes were also deployed by the center to deliver relief supplies to different nooks and corners of that war-torn country.
On top of that, we have managed to deliver aid to the people in Socotra and Djibouti, where a large number of refugees are taking shelter. The center was the first to reach Djibouti, where we are building 300 modern air-conditioned building units for refugees. These units are in addition to other facilities like schooling to be provided by the center there. These projects will be completed within four to five weeks from now.

Q: How many people were evacuated by the center from Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition launched its offensive with an aim to restore peace and security in that country and in the region? What have been the cost components of those evacuation operations?
A. It’s about $10 million or even more. We were the only aid agency, which moved fast to rescue people struck up in different parts of Yemen. They were mainly foreign nationals from different European and Asian countries. More than 18,000 people were rescued and flown to safer destinations by the flights operated by the center. We hired planes from Yemenia, the national carrier of Yemen, to airlift people trapped in different parts of the country after hostilities broke out. The center worked hard to ensure that all non-Yemeni civilian workers are repatriated to join their families safely either in their home countries or in peaceful neighboring countries.

Q. What is the total amount spent by center to carry out such a massive aid and relief operations in Yemen? What are the future plans?
A: Well, good question! If you look at the figures of 2015, Saudi Arabia represented by King Salman Center ranks No. 1 in terms of total volume of aid to Yemen that amounts to $413 million. If you look at 2016, we are No. 3 in the world after the US and the UK, and we have so far earmarked $36 million. The center dispatched some 10 trucks of dates to Yemen last week. We are also preparing for the holy month of Ramadan and we would like to ensure that food and relief supplies reach the needy including women and children during Ramadan. We are also working to implement an education project in Yemen based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Education of Yemen.
Last week, we had the visit of Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, Yemeni prime minister, to the center. We discussed the program for Yemen with Daghr, and one of his plans was to do more in the fields of health and education on priority basis. Let me also make it clear that King Salman Center is not devoted only to Yemen, rather it is a global organization. We are present in Tajikistan, Mauritania, Djibouti, and Somalia and we are now preparing programs for Ethiopia. In fact, we are looking at all countries in need — Muslim and non-Muslim. Of course, we will be active in all needy and impoverished societies including in Myanmar.

Q: What are the major objectives behind establishing the King Salman Center? How different this aid agency is from the existing ones operating in the region and across the world.
A: Well, the center is expected to be a semi-government organization, but we are not totally dependent on the Saudi government. The center is an independent and not-for-profit aid organization. We report directly to King Salman. As far as financial support to the center is concerned, it comes from government donations as well as from donations of private and public companies and entities. The King Salman Center has a mandate to work in a transparent manner and in close coordination with major international aid agencies. It complies with the regulatory provisions of international standards. We believe that the center will improve the way the Kingdom responds to humanitarian crises in the region and around the globe. The center is all set to revolutionize Saudis' current system of aid and relief distribution.

Q: Would you like to add something in your closing remarks, especially about the center’s mission and its image regionally and globally?
A: I just want to add that this center is keen to improve the technical deliveries of aid to needy countries and disaster-hit locations across the world. That is why, we have communicated with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the largest private foundation in the world. We believe that there should be an improvement to ensure that you deliver aid to those who are in need. The King Salman Center places high importance on coordination with accredited international aid organizations and institutions, which are well known for their successful operations and competence globally. Our vision is ultimately to establish a “pioneering center of humanitarian and relief activities and to transfer our values to the world.”

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 28 January 2020

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”