Crisis chief says food reserve strategy ready by April

Plan will also stockpile crucial supplies of medicine and water in case of a natural disaster or crisis.

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ABU DHABI //A proposal to have in place adequate reserves of food, water and medicine in case of a national disaster or crisis will be submitted to the Cabinet by the middle of April, a government official told the Federal National Council (FNC) yesterday.

Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the director general of the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA), said the country's current stockpile of food staples would last for between one and five months.

He said hospitals had a six-month reserve of medical supplies, but did not say how long the UAE's water reserves would last if supplies were cut.

Mr al Rumaithi said that his agency, which is in charge of formulating the strategic reserve plan, intended to deliver other proposals as well, including the creation of a seaborne fleet that could deliver food supplies to the UAE during crises, and additional investment in foreign farmland.

Figures released yesterday in a report on food security by the FNC's committee on foreign affairs and natural resources showed that the UAE imports 68 per cent of its food, although other reports have indicated that the figure may be closer to 85 per cent.

The UAE's population growth has led to an annual 12 per cent increase in food consumption in the country, and the committee complained that 59 firms control the food market in the UAE, which had led to "monopolisation" and cartel-like behaviour in the food industry. This, they said, had led to unfair increases in prices and limited supplies.

The committee said that the country lacked an overarching food-security plan and that efforts to establish one had been "scattered".

The Government was criticised last night for delaying the FNC's debate on food security, and some participants stressed it was among the most crucial issues facing the country. The committee report has been ready since January 2009, but the Government had not approved a date for a debate on food security.

FNC members said the debate was disappointing because representatives from the ministries of the economy and environment, who carried much of the responsibility for drafting the nation's food-security strategy, were not summoned for the session. As a result, much of the debate focused on the creation of strategic reserves.

Countering the criticism, Mr al Rumaithi said the NCEMA had involved government bodies as diverse as the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Ministry of Interior, among others, in the strategic reserve plan.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, insisted that food security was a "worrying" and "urgent" priority for the Government, which is why it tasked the NCEMA with setting up crisis plans.

"We are not shying away from this responsibility," Mr al Rumaithi added.

The creation of food, water and medical reserves is the foundation of the NCEMA's plans, although they also include support for domestic food production.

Members passed a broad array of proposals yesterday, including one that insisted on the creation of a strategic food reserve that would last for six months to a year.

The proposals also called for subsidies for local poultry and livestock farms, and measures to curb overfishing and protect aquifer water reserves.

Abu Dhabi has begun developing underground aquifers to store water for emergencies. Mr al Rumaithi said that similar projects were being devised for Dubai and Sharjah, and the Government was studying the feasibility of linking the reservoirs so that all emirates would have access to reserves.

The FNC also asked the Government to subsidise food staples when political instability or weather conditions disrupted their supply.

Global food prices have reached an all-time high since tracking began in 1990, the UN said last week.