Regional

Qatar asks Turkey, Iran for help, official says

A worker arranges snacks in a supermarket in Doha, Qatar June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

DOHA: Qatar is talking to Iran and Turkey about securing food and water supplies to stave off possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties, a government official said Wednesday.

“We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.

The official said there were enough grain supplies in the market in Qatar to last four weeks and that the government also had large strategic food reserves in Doha.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar and closed their airspace to commercial flights Monday, charging it with financing militant groups. Qatar vehemently denies the accusations.

It is the worst split between powerful Arab states in decades.

The moves isolating Qatar are disrupting trade in commodities from crude oil to metals and food, and deepening fears of a possible jolt to the global gas market, where the tiny Gulf state is a major player.

Food imports are affected as Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, stranding thousands of trucks carrying supplies.

Qatar, a desert country heavily dependent on food imports to feed its mostly foreign population of 2.6 million, has assured residents it has taken measures to assure that normal life continues. The Economy and Commerce Ministry released a video Tuesday that showed supermarket shelves stocked with food and other goods after Qataris crowded into stores Monday to stock up fearing shortages.

An Indian worker in one Doha supermarket who declined to give his name told Reuters TV Tuesday: “I’ve come today and I am feeling that shortage of fresh chicken, which we eat quite often. Fresh milk is another thing that I feel in shortage.”

Although it is located in a volatile region of the world, its huge foreign currency reserves and comparatively small population mean arranging adequate new sources of food imports in an emergency is possible.

Turkey is a key ally of Qatar and is setting up a military base in the country, which also hosts the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East.

Iran shares access with Qatar to the world’s biggest natural gas field.

Sources said the UAE and Saudi Arabia have already cut exports of white sugar to Qatar. Consumption is traditionally higher during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is currently being observed.

But Qatar’s ports and airports remained open to trade Wednesday with countries not taking part in the Saudi-led boycott, a government official said.

“We have no problem with food supplies,” Qatar’s foreign minister told CNN Tuesday. “We have strategic reserves in place since 2014; we don’t see that life will be affected.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 08, 2017, on page 4.

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