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A supermarket in Abu Dhabi. There is no need for panic buying because the Gulf countries have stockpiles of food essentials for six months. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

It is not the first time - and not the last - that people are panic buying due to their fear of food material shortages and essential products from the shelves. Throughout history, panic shopping and stockpiling happens in times of epidemics, wars, natural disasters and recessions.

Countries deal with such phenomena according to their capacity to provide food to their citizens. However, people should not be blamed for this panic–buying mindset, especially in view of the lack of right information. Since ancient times, the most important priority of any human being is food.

Proper understanding helps change the image of panic buying, and it becomes the role of leaders and governments to do so through documented data to keep people well informed. The Gulf countries have unfortunately been hit by panic buying because the vast majority do not know that these countries have stockpiles of food essentials for six months.

The GCC states can provide food for their citizens through these months without the need to import anything. They have gone through similar experiences from which they adopted food security programmes. It is useful to recall the Kuwaiti experience during the Iraqi invasion 30 years ago, when Kuwait did not suffer from shortages in essential supplies throughout the six-month occupation.

Assurances of plenty

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, reassured the public, summarising the confidence in three words - “Do not worry “. This exemplifies the leadership’s role in clarifying facts and reassuring its people, and which has a great impact in eliminating people’s panic about the possibility of food shortages.

A few days prior to Sheikh Mohammed’s speech, it was noticed that people were afraid of the disappearance of essential commodities from the market, and who then resorted to stockpiling. In supermarkets and cooperative societies, there were long queues of shoppers with carts fully loaded with foodstuff.

Just two days after Sheikh Mohamed’s message, the situation was back to normal, where the absence of queues at shopping centres became noticeable. Shoppers have since returned to their normal buying ways, and free from any anxiety.

Following suit, a speech by King Salman Bin Abdul Al Aziz of Saudi Arabia and the governments of Bahrain and Kuwait reassured their public that all essential medicines and commodities are available in the markets, and there is no need for panic.

Drastic upgrades

It can be noted that since Kuwait was able to meet its full needs during the Iraqi invasion, there has been a significant progress in the GCC ‘s food security. Three decades ago, the countries were importing almost all their food needs, but the current situation has become totally different, whereby agricultural production, the dairy industry and poultry farms have developed significantly.

Some GCC countries have become a source of these products, in itself a remarkable development that could not have been envisaged three decades ago. The harsh climate in the GCC region does not allow for such a drastic shift.

However, agricultural progress, was given special attention, in terms of creating food security, and this has been a radical shift in all ways. There has been increasing talk of the use of salt water in irrigation, which means that there is an important shift and lead to further progress in the GCC’s agricultural production.

-- Mohammed Al Asoomi is a specialist on energy and Gulf economic affairs.