The Kuwaiti government issued a number of statements last week to reassure residents the country was prepared in case of escalation of the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. Kuwait’s air force joined other Gulf states in Operation Decisive Storm, a military intervention in Yemen aimed at driving back the Houthi rebels attempting to overthrow the government.
Highest ever level
“Kuwait's strategic food reserves have hit their highest ever-recorded level,” said Anas Al-Saleh, minister of finance and acting minister of commerce.
“We are continually coordinating with the private sector to secure any additional quantities of any commodity,” he added.
Al-Saleh also said he had instructed government agencies to increase inspections of retailers to guard against any price gouging in the market. He asked consumers to report any price hikes to the government.
Food reserves have become an increasingly sensitive subject in the Gulf in recent years, as growing populations and declining water supplies have forced GCC states to import ever more of their food. Many governments in the region have taken direct control of grain supplies, notably Saudi Arabia, which has embarked on an extensive silo-building programme.
The region’s focus on food reserves has paid off, with Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia all ranked as “good” in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index, updated in January 2015. Thanks to extensive oil incomes, and high levels of foreign currency reserves, GCC states have generally been successful in developing good strategic food reserves.
But while Gulf states’ purchasing power may allow them to buy enough food for their populations, actually acquiring the food is another matter. The region’s delicate supply chains, passing through the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal, are potentially at risk from a range of different conflicts – and fear of which may now be driving Kuwait’s push to emphasise food security.
In a November 2014 report on UAE food security, which could equally apply to any of the GCC states, Australian think-tank Future Directions said: “Geopolitical threats in the Middle East exacerbate the risk created by critical dependency on imported food and artificial water supplies. A secure supply of food and water is essential to the smooth functioning and stability of the UAE. Should simmering regional conflicts escalate, some of the UAE’s critical trade links could be jeopardised, complicating food accessibility.”