Qatar is a small country located on the Qatar Peninsula in the Middle East, neighboring Saudi Arabia on its southern land border and surrounded by the Persian Gulf on all other sides. Qatar is a desert nation with a small population of 2.4 million as of July 2020. Since gaining its independence from Britain in 1971, Qatar has been a constitutional monarchy. It has a strong economy and a high per capita income, driven largely by its natural gas and oil reserves which rank third-largest in the world. Still, Qatar’s geography as an isolated desert deems the nation vulnerable to food shortages and leaves its large population of migrant workers especially susceptible to starvation. Here are four facts about hunger in Qatar.
4 Facts about Hunger in Qatar
- Qatar is almost entirely dependent on imported food. In 2017, Qatar imported around 90% of its food largely due to its lack of stable agriculture. This dependence combined with Qatar’s location on a peninsula leaves the country vulnerable to blockades and supply-chain interruptions.
- Qatar’s neighbors are currently blockading it. In 2017, five Middle Eastern countries severed ties with Qatar over allegations that the Qatari government supported terrorist groups. This conflict resulted in hostile action from the country’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia: the Saudi Arabian government closed Qatar’s only land border, as well as banned most flights to and from Qatar from its airspace. Because Qatar typically receives 40% of its food via its shared border with Saudi Arabia and many poorer Qatari people rely on Saudi Arabian grocers for cheaper prices, Qatar immediately experienced a spike in food prices. Qatar has successfully avoided widespread hunger by opening new import relationships with Turkey and Iran, and by aggressively pursuing new means of local food production.
- Qatar has the best food security in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In 2019, Qatar ranked 13th out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index—an international database that considers quality, affordability and availability of food. This relatively high ranking is largely thanks to the Qatari government’s constant efforts to improve food security by enabling its people to produce their own food. For example, Qatar has imported 4,000 cows from Europe since 2017, and the Qatar-based Sahara Forest Project is creating innovative ways to convert portions of Qatar’s extensive deserts into arable farmland. These projects are part of wider efforts that have allowed Qatar to reduce its dependence on foreign food to 70% as of 2020.
- Qatar’s large migrant worker population is vulnerable to hunger. The COVID-19 outbreak has left many of Qatar’s largely Southeast Asian and African migrant workers, who make up approximately 80% of Qatar’s population of 2.5 million, jobless and hungry. The Qatari government has established a system for unpaid and underfed migrant workers to file complaints, as well as instituted a $20 billion stimulus package to help companies continue paying their workers. Still, many advocates believe the government needs to act more aggressively to ensure companies are providing adequate care to their employees.
Overall, hunger in Qatar is relatively low due to the country’s general prosperity and the government’s diligent efforts to improve food security. While the nation’s precarious geographic position means the threat of food shortages is always looming, this obstacle has led to exciting innovations in desert agriculture that could become instrumental in combating hunger worldwide. At the same time, hunger in Qatar’s migrant worker population threatens to become a serious problem amid the instability and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Dylan Weir