Qat sessions [Archives:2006/997/Community]

November 9 2006

By: Mahmoud Al-Harazi
[email protected]

Ramadan has ended and Eid Al-Fitr has come and gone cheerfully. In Sana'a, the streets are empty and the whole city is motionless, as if it's been abandoned, because both young and old men have abandoned the streets. However, women and children pack the city's parks and public spaces, while homes are packed with young and old men spending much time chewing qat.

The qat session begins every afternoon with a group of friends gathering in one of their homes, sometimes at the outset. They alternate telling jokes and stories, laughing sometimes and fighting at others. One shares a story that happened to him in the past, followed by the others, or they speak about politics and other issues. At other times, they speak about future projects, wishing they could carry them out.

Such ideas spring from the beginning of the qat session and they continue talking about projects and future plans. However, as soon as nearly three hours have passed and each one has endured talking to the one nearby, all of their faces turn to gloom and they have no strength of movement.

They also no longer can talk. They forget the projects and politics and start remembering their past preoccupations – especially those of the diminutive yet happy nation of Yemen – and the great future that will be achieved in their prosperous homeland.

However, as soon as the qat is out of their mouths, just five to six hours later, they curse themselves that they chewed it and swear they won't buy qat again the following day. But when that next day comes, awaiting the daily qat session begins, so they go buy it, sometimes borrowing money to get it.

All qat chewers know it's a waste of time, effort, money and health. Regardless, the numbers of qat chewers in Yemen is approximately three million, at the very least. Qat chewers spend approximately $6 million a day, with an average YR 300 per capita. Thus, Yemeni qat chewers spend approximately $156 million annually and waste approximately 15 million hours daily (an average of five hours per capita).

Every qat chewer knows all of this, but even more than that, they know that more than 320 types of pesticides and insecticides are used on qat trees, most of which are banned internationally. And for what? Only to increase qat production, while increasing greed among qat owners and their lack of concern for public health.

Another huge loss is in wasting the nation's water resources. Qat cultivation and production uses approximately 800 million cubic meters of water, thus using approximately 80 percent of groundwater. This is happening while some citizens are dying due to drought and cities are disappearing because of lack of drinkable water.

The greatest loss is that qat chewers aren't limited to just old and young men, but have extended to include women and children, which makes the problem more complicated and without any resolution to it. If the government established social clubs to gather young Yemeni men and women rather than qat sessions, the matter would be completely different, with a strong national economy as well as strong and healthy citizens.

Declining local currency values due to high prices causes qat owners and sellers to raise qat prices because they're dissatisfied with smaller profits. The result is that whenever foodstuff prices rise, qat prices rise too – and in the presence of the law, which bars it from doing so.