United Arab Emirates Helping Joplin 'Think Big' After Tornado

As part of a campaign to assist U.S. communities in need, the government of the United Arab Emirates is helping Joplin, Missouri, which was devastated by a monster tornado in May 2011, to rebuild with the long term in mind, the Washington Post reports.

Over the last two years, the UAE has provided $5 million to build a neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital, a major economic engine for the city, and $1 million — including a matching challenge grant that netted another $500,000 — to help transform six high schools by providing each student with a computer. The gifts reflect a small but significant shift in global economic flows, the Post reports. While the United States remains the world's largest provider of foreign aid, nations with rapidly developing economies and new financial clout such as China, India, and the oil-rich Persian Gulf states are increasing their foreign aid budgets.

At the same time, the UAE, which did not want to just hand over money as it had after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast or simply rebuild what had been destroyed by the tornado, is taking a more strategic approach in Missouri. "We asked ourselves, 'What can we bring to Joplin that probably won't be forthcoming from anywhere else?'" said Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to the U.S. "We wanted to bring them something they didn't have before."

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Otaiba also has promised the governors of New York and New Jersey about $5 million each to help rebuild shattered communities, the Post reports. In addition, the country in recent years has funded the construction of all-weather artificial turf soccer fields in low-income urban neighborhoods in the U.S. and made large gifts to the Children's National Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, a Baltimore foodbank, and the New York Police Foundation.

The campaign to provide assistance to U.S. communities was launched after a Dubai-based firm's attempt in 2006 to take over the management of six U.S. ports failed in the face of intense congressional opposition, some of it resulting from misperceptions about the UAE's relationship with the U.S. "We had a responsibility to educate Americans about who we are," said Otaiba. "We have been in Afghanistan with you. We went into Libya. We're the largest export market for the U.S. in the [Middle East] region."

And while Joplin Schools' decision to accept the UAE funding prompted angry responses from some residents and rants from conservative radio commentators, superintendent C.J. Huff stands by his decision. "I can live with the hate mail," he told the Post. "It's the right thing for the kids."