Doha residents rush to stock up on necessities

People buying food at a shop in Doha on Monday, before panic-buying set in after five Arab nations cut ties with Qatar.
People buying food at a shop in Doha on Monday, before panic-buying set in after five Arab nations cut ties with Qatar. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DOHA • Residents of Doha piled trolleys and baskets high with food and essential items, leaving shelves bare, despite Qatari officials reassuring them there was no need to panic after Saudi Arabia imposed a de facto food blockade.

"People have stormed into the supermarket hoarding food, especially imported ones... It is chaos," said Ms Eva Tobaji, an expatriate resident of the city.

Qatar, which has a predominantly expatriate population of 2.5 million, shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia, and relies heavily on food imports.

Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting extremism, in the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years.

Supply difficulties quickly developed. Two Middle East trade sources spoke of thousands of trucks carrying food stuck at the Saudi border with Qatar.

In Doha, multiple queues up to 25 people deep formed in Carrefour supermarket in the City Centre mall, one of the busiest shopping areas, hours after five Arab states cut diplomatic ties with the emirate.

Among the hundreds of shoppers desperately searching for staple goods, from milk to rice to chicken, was Azir, a Sri Lankan who went to the store when relatives called him from home after watching the news on television.

"I was asleep. My family phoned me and woke me up from Sri Lanka," he said, his trolley full of nappies for his 18-month-old child.

Qatar imports goods such as chicken from Saudi Arabia, and locals quickly took to social media to complain that they would have to eat poultry from Oman instead.

Ernest, from Lebanon, said he knew he had to go shopping because others would rush to the shops.

"It is a cycle of panic, and I needed to get pasta," he said, as he shopped with his young family - pushing not one, but two trolleys.

The story was the same across town at one of the several Monoprix stores, where staff said it had been one of the busiest days at work they had ever known.

The nearby Al-Meera supermarket was also packed with shoppers, including Denis from Germany, who was convinced that the crisis was just a temporary storm.

"This is just a yellow card," he said of the country due to host football's 2022 World Cup. "What can they do? It is one of the richest countries in the world."

To try to avoid widespread panic- buying, Qatar's government issued a statement claiming that shipping routes and airspace will remain open for imports. The "Qatari government will take all necessary measures to... thwart attempts to influence and harm the Qatari society and economy," the statement said.

One sector of the economy which could be badly hurt is exports, including goods such as machinery, electronic equipment or livestock transported by road to Saudi Arabia. According to the United Nations, Qatari exports to Saudi Arabia totalled US$896 million (S$1.2 billion) in 2015.

The severing of ties is also potentially bad news for the service industry, including hotels and cab drivers in Doha.

Saudis usually flock to Qatar on holiday during Eid al-Fitr at the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. But with a travel ban imposed by Riyadh, takings could be down for many South Asian cab drivers, who rely heavily on tourists.

"This is very bad news, very bad news," said Raihan, a driver from India. "All Saudis come here for Eid."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline Doha residents rush to stock up on necessities. Subscribe