The Fight against Qat is the Fight for the Future [Archives:1999/42/Viewpoint]

October 18 1999

You are saying that Yemeni people are trying to get rid of it, but my brother had chewed it because of the insistence from his Yemeni friends to try it and see how good it is. How would they want not to chew qat while they invite my brother to do the same? That statement hurt me further, for I tried to fake the reality. Indeed, most Yemenis still insist on living with qat and inviting others to it. 
In my last years in Turkey, I watched a program on TV reporting about Yemen and Yemenis. The program showed ugly pictures of skinny Yemenis chewing qat in the streets with dirty cloths and unshaved beards. When imaging myself in the place of a Turkish viewer, I disrespect myself. How can he live with no clean clothes, with nothing to eat, with his family starving, and he is on the street lying on the sidewalk with ‘grass’ filling his mouth. That truly gave me the impression that we are indeed chewing grass like goats and sheep, forgetting about our responsibilities and families. 
What is also so sad is that many diplomats and tourists who come to Yemen are invited to join qat sessions and chew qat with others. They think that this social activity that is unique to Yemen and that should be preserved. They feel that qat is an element which enables families and friends to meet in gatherings and to strengthen the social relations between them. However, they forget an important thing, Qat is a factor behind Yemen’s backwardness! 
Not only that, qat is also considered as a drug in many countries in the world. Moreover, in Yemen, it is a poison, as the latest statistics show that it includes dangerous chemicals that are caused by pesticides. This has led to the death of dozens in the last years. 
Diplomats, foreigners, intellectuals, government officials, and all Yemenis should join hands to destroy this habit that is eating our country’s wealth away like termites. For the ones who are yet not convinced, here are 9 reasons why qat is considered the truly most important factor behind our backwardness: 
1. The total expenditure on qat by consumers, on a low estimate basis, is about YR 36 billion every year, yielding a daily average of almost YR 100 million. 
2. Land area allocated for qat growing is about 100,000 hectares. 
3. Of the farmers who grow qat today, 90% were growing something else in the 1970s. 
4. The qat sector represents 39% of GDP. 
5. 55% of all the underground water extracted goes to qat fields. 
6. 20 million man-hours are wasted daily on qat consumption. 
7. Qat has serious detrimental effects on physical and psychological health, and on over-all well-being. 
The President has just on time realized the true dangers of this devastating plant. Within this short period after he was elected as president, he has given his orders to ban the chewing of qat for military personnel during work, and for passengers on local airplane flights. He started with himself by announcing that he stopped chewing this plant, and advised all Yemenis to do the same, but to no avail. He has intelligently started some good steps towards getting rid of qat for good. The initial steps may be simple, but they are considered a milestone, which brings the anti-qat strategy on the move. As I congratulate the President for his steps, I wish he would continue them by forbidding chewing of qat in government offices, and in time will at the end be the rescuer of Yemen from this disgusting habit of chewing qat. I believe, as all anti-qat intellectuals who see the facts behind them do, that there would be no future with qat in Yemen. I am truly glad that the president has become one of them.   Walid Al-Saqqaf Chief Editor