Yemen’s Addiction to Chewing Leaf Qat

Yemen’s Addiction to Chewing Leaf Qat

The Gulf State of Yemen faces multiple problems, including a looming water crisis that is exacerbated by the country’s addiction to qat, a mildly narcotic leaf, as growing the plant is draining Yemen’s scarce water supply. New anti-qat campaigns have been springing up around the country, according to Peter Kenyon of NPR.

Although qat is overwhelmingly accepted as the country’s drug of choice, Abdul Aziz, manager of the Black and Brown Café in Sana’a, says his establishment doesn’t allow qat on the premises. “This restaurant’s no qat. We try to help people to go out from the bad habit,” Aziz told Kenyon. “I would like to see our people little bit happy. I mean, the Yemenis. For that reason, I try to help my country.”

Kenyon said that Yemen’s water and environment minister, Abdul Rahman al-Eryani, says qat is one of several causes of a water crisis that could see Sana’a become the first world capital to run out of water in the coming years. He says qat uses half the irrigation water in the country, and irrigation claims more than 85 percent of the total water supply.

“If the government is really serious about it, they should start doing this: stop subsidies for qat, that qat is like any other drug,” said Eryani. “We need a long-term program of awareness and then we have to deal with reducing the demand. I don’t believe that you can fight something like this by issuing decrees or saying don’t grow qat. As long as there is demand, people will grow qat.”

In the Haraz Moutains, east of the capital, local leaders have made a deal with farmers: if they rip out their qat plants and replace them with coffee beans, they’ll be guaranteed no loss of income while they make the transition, which could take several years. Kenyon said that this addresses a key problem because qat is an immediate and reliable cash crop for farmers, unlike other foods that take longer to grow and are vulnerable to the changing economy.

Kenyon said Black and Brown Café manager Aziz hopes the idea of qat-free public places will catch on with younger people who may not yet be addicted to the chewing leaf.

“I want to change the mentality of the businessmen in Yemen, because when they will see there is a people, there is a young generation, they like and they’re ready to spend some money here and have the (unintelligible) that’s good for the country. I will be happy if they will see that,” he said.

But a retired pilot sitting nearby shook his head and said he doubts he will live to see the day when Yemenis treat qat as part of their problems instead of a temporary solution.

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