A looming humanitarian crisis in Qatar??

Earlier this morning I wrote about the impending isolation that Qatar is expected to feel as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations work to rapidly put travel and other embargoes into place this week. The travel impact is significant but it is nothing compared to the potential humanitarian chaos this isolation could create.

Qatar imports more than 90% of its food. Roughly 90% of that comes in via Saudi Arabia. Closing the borders between Qatar and Saudi Arabia would cut off that flow of food in a manner that would almost certainly crush the small Gulf state if a replacement airlift cannot be quickly arranged.

The planned expulsion/recall of foreign nationals between Qatar and the other nations will have a similar impact on the country’s ability to function. Qatar imports the vast majority of its labor force from both near and afar. Hundreds of thousands of those working in Qatar are foreigners. For the airline that means many UAE nationals in the back office (most flight/cabin crew are South American or Southeast Asian) while Egypt is widely represented in the service industries (~200k people, 10% of the workforce). Forcing those people out of the country will be not only a logistical nightmare if no flights are operating, but the ongoing impact to the country will be significant.

I’m also hearing reports that the UAE is now actively supporting an opposition party in hopes of pushing the Emir out of power and that the Turkish government is brokering negotiations among all affected parties. While it is unclear to what extent he will be involved in negotiations it was reported earlier this afternoon that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker left the IATA meeting earlier to return home and support his company and country.

There are not a lot of outcomes to this situation that look especially positive, or at least without significant impact to the country and regional stability. But the humanitarian impact could be significant if things continue on the current path. That the most likely to be affected are workers imported from other parts of the world is an irony not lost on me.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Disagree on the humanitarian crisis : Qatar has a rather large, eager-to–its-extend-its-toehold-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula neighbour immediately to it’s East, namely Iran. Iran could easily sell its crops and foods to Qatar instead of Saudi Arabia. The talk of humanitarian crisis would only be true if *every* country implemented a ban on it.

    1. Maybe the desire from Iran is there to move goods into Qatar. But how quickly can that be arranged in a volume that matches what comes from KSA today? And at what cost, considering it would have to fly rather than drive in?

      I have no doubt that there are other sources of food that could be arranged, but if we’re talking about a “Doha Air Lift” event coming to fruition that would require an incredible logistics move that I do not expect to see happen in a couple days’ time.

      1. I don’t think it would have to be airlifted – it’s about 100miles across the Gulf by boat from Doha to Iran, and there are no shortage of supercargo ships that could be loaded with enough containers to replace the KSA’s exports – that kind of trip can be done in a matter of hours for relatively low-cost

        1. Also depends on where the goods are starting from. And where the port is to load up. And the timing to meet demand.

  2. The Saudis and Emiratis are playing fast and dirty. The leaders of the anti-Qatar movement hate Iran, Shias,
    freedom of the press, and public demonstration movements so much that they will do and say anything to put Qatar in its place and make it a vassal state like Bahrain.

    They have been playing in the US for well more than a year to set up Qatar’s downfall. The Emiratis and Saudis have been buying/retaining whomever they could in the US that would facilitate their interests. Yousef Al-Otaiba’s leaked emails have been verified and they speak to the game that has been played in the US to try to corner Qatar and make it yield. Elliott Abrams even has sort of called for the execution of Qatar’s Emir. Qatar Airways and its passengers and employees being hit by this blockade is just collateral damage in the Saudi-Emirati game to combat Iran, Shias,
    popular movements/public demonstrations, and relative press freedom.

    While Qatar has financially supported some very nasty non-state actors, the Saudis and Emiratis are no saints either and have been supporting various extremist movements and engaging in questionable military adventurism that doesn’t follow the international norms for fighting wars and engaging in police actions.

  3. Iran is gearing up for shipping (by sea) food and water to Qatar. Sort of ironic that the Emiratis and Saudis are going to push Qatar into the arms of Iran.

    But given 40% of Qatar’s food supplies come directly by truck from Saudi Arabia, a blockade of food and other essentials goods will cause a huge increase in the prices of food and other necessities and result in a humanitarian crisis of sorts if the blockade doesn’t end or get largely and relatively cheaply circumvented somehow. Lots of the immigrant labor in Qatar cannot afford a huge increase in prices that will happen because of this.

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