The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a small nation that consists of a federation of seven emirates along the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. As of 2017, it is ranked as the eighth richest country in the world, mainly due to its status as a global supplier of fossil fuels. While the country is considered food secure its heavy dependence on food imports coupled with unsustainable agricultural practices and overfishing, pose unique challenges. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about hunger in the United Arab Emirates.
Top 10 Facts About Hunger in the United Arab Emirates
- In 2018, the United Arab Emirates ranked 31st in the Economist’s Global Food Security Index — in between Hungary and Saudi Arabia — with a score of 72.5 out of 100. The data showed that there has been a slight, but consistent, upward trend in food security over the past seven years in the country.
- About 17 percent of children under the age of 5 in the UAE are malnourished, often resulting in stunted growth. “This figure, if compared to the Western countries, is quite high and is also significant compared to other countries in the world,” said Dr. Mohammed Miqdady, Senior Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterology at Shaikh Khalifa Medical Centre, Abu Dhabi.
- The economy of the UAE, and particularly the emirate of Dubai, relies heavily on the tourism industry. Many hotels and restaurants feel pressured to produce vast amounts of food for incoming tourists that often does not get eaten. Because of this, food waste is a problem in the UAE, to the extent that more than $3.54 billion worth of food is wasted in the country every year.
- While the UAE is considered to be food secure, food sustainability remains an issue. Out of 67 countries ranked in the Food Sustainability Index, the United Arab Emirates ranked last in terms of overall food sustainability. The country also came in last place as it relates to food loss and waste, and eighth-to-last in terms of sustainable agriculture.
- Part of the problem of food sustainability stems from the lack of reliable domestic food production. Less than 5 percent of land in the United Arab Emirates is arable, and the average yearly rainfall is at only 3.85 inches per year. Because of this, nearly 90 percent of the country’s food is imported.
- The UAE is predicted to be one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change. Experts predict that agriculture in the UAE may be affected by extreme heat, harmful insects, flooding in some areas of the country and water shortages in others. In addition, the danger of a global food crisis affecting other countries may also affect the UAE, since the country already imports most of its food.
- The fishing industry, that has been a consistent source of food security in the country, is on the decline. Research from the Environmental Agency in Abu Dhabi shows that 85 percent of the grouper and rabbitfish populations, two key species in the Arabian Gulf have been depleted. Other species have suffered similar depletion, including the farsh or painted sweetlips, the population of which has been reduced to 7 percent of its original size. This is assumed to be the result of rampant overfishing in the Gulf.
- To make matters worse for the fishing industry, many experts have begun to worry about the potential effects of global warming on fish supply in the oceans surround the United Arab Emirates. Higher temperatures and changing oxygen levels could make the ocean surrounding the UAE uninhabitable for many species. In fact, between overfishing and changing ocean climates, 30 percent of all species in the Arabian Gulf are predicted to be extinct by the end of the century. Given the importance of the fishing industry in the UAE, both the economy and the food supply of the country may be drastically affected.
- The UAE has turned to technology to find new solutions to an environment inhospitable to food production. One such solution is cloud seeding, a science-based process that involves encouraging water condensation and precipitation by spraying small flares of chemical compounds into the clouds. UAE meteorologists hope that cloud seeding may hold the key to increasing the country’s rainfall and making agriculture more feasible.
- The United Arab Emirates has created a national plan — based on four developmental pillars — to make its way into the top 10 on the food security index by 2021. The plan includes increasing the number of agribusiness companies worldwide that involve UAE companies, improving domestic food production and reducing the amount of food waste in the country by half by 2030. The plan is also concerned with food safety and nutrition in the UAE.
If the UAE can find ways to work around the potential threats of climate change and resources being exhausted, hopefully, the country will be able to create more sustainable food sources for its citizens.
– Keira Charles