ReflectionsQat and pollution are Yemen’s WMD [Archives:2004/718/Opinion]

March 8 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

One day on my way to office I met an Italian lady who works as a physician in one of the private medical centers, I remembered having had a chat with her in one of the Yemeni Popular Restaurants.
I recall that she then felt sorry for the Yemenis' incessant consumption of qat (catha edulis) a stimulant plant which is contaminated due to the indiscriminate use of chemicals in its plantation until fewer days prior to its harvest.
Spraying qat and other vegetables with chemicals of various brands, has led to grave consequences and irremediable illnesses, the worst of which is cancer, and as most such cases are referred for medication, in Germany. Doctors there have expressed their surprise to notice a higher rate of cancer cases in Yemen compared to other countries in the region.
Most countries of the world prohibit qat and consider it as a downright narcotic, except in Britain where its trade is thriving.
Anyhow, I remember that the Italian lady was advising the restaurant manager who complained to her about his illnesses, that he should immediately cease chewing qat and smoking cigarettes.
But, this time I came past her noticing that she was wearing a mask. It is not that I was surprised to see her wearing the mask, because I know very well that Sana'a has become a polluted city, but this is what prompted me to write this article, for her being a doctor made her discern the extent of contamination Sana'a was undergoing and consequently chose to wear a mask.
During the past months we have been hearing that the government had set a deadline for the prevention of diesel run cars and that the cars with kaput carburetors would be removed from the streets but it seems the government has retreated from its determination, while diesel run vehicles are still coughing out their fumes day and night and adding insult to injury, it has been permitting the import of second-hand outdated cars, motorcycles and diesel-run vehicles.
The strangest in all of this, is that in solidarity with the government's policy on the pollution issue, the capital mayoralty has ordered the hacking and eradication of trees from the streets around the capital. I have heard people say derisively, that this measure was meant in order to add to the effect of pollution produced by the polluting cars, the diesel run vehicles and the other related pollutants.
Furthermore, the mayoralty has been neglecting gardens such as “Althawra garden” in Aljiraf, which is considered the one and only fully-grown garden in Sana'a and was the place where our leaders used to hold their eid prayers together with the Muslim and Arab Diplomatic Corps.
Some people say, it is so, because some influential people are coveting the land greedily, and that they do intend to usurp it gradually, beginning with its deliberate negligence.
While others claim, that the garden was founded by a predecessor president and that this fact has made it a hated landmark which should be wiped out from view.
Personally, I do not know whose opinion is right! The people at the mayoralty should bear in mind that the Sana'a Water Basin is to depleted within 10-13 years (if no solution is to be found Sana'a will be rendered inhabitable), and that the trees being hacked are 30 years old now.
During my few visits abroad I saw that hacking trees is discouraged and people are punished for it, although they have plenty of water and it rains sometimes each half an hour. Other pollution aspects are represented in tire burnings, stone-cutting workshops, chemical stores and plastic factories whose location should be away from residential areas.
Accordingly, I would like to tell our dear responsible people that the bad effects of pollution do not discriminate between the rich and the poor, that they too are subject to such contaminants and it behooves them to find a solution sooner rather than later, before calls for foreign intervention to eradicate this type of Yemeni WMD, heat up and foreigners in the country like the Italian woman start considering wearing masks as a must.
Nevertheless, I am still entertaining the hope that the government will take an immediate measure to get rid of the pollution problem which has led some foreigners to wear masks, and that the mayor will cease taking down trees, stop encroachments on gardens and the usurp of public property.