Cut the qat: Yemenis kick the habit of a lifetime for one day

Published January 13th, 2013 - 12:57 GMT
Yemeni people were asked to give up qat for a day on 12 January 2013
Yemeni people were asked to give up qat for a day on 12 January 2013
The people of Yemen have long-since been bogged down with an addiction to qat. A staple of Yemeni life, the plant can be seen rearing its ugly green head in swollen cheeks across the country as millions find themselves unable to resist the urge to chew the day away.

Yemen without qat might seem as bizarre an idea as Lebanon without shisha. But like Lebanon's shock smoking ban last year, it seems Yemen might finally be ready to quit the qat.

Journalist and co-founder of the Eradah Foundation for Qat-Free Nation, Hind Aleryani, is among those fighting to rid Yemen of its dirty habit.

On the anniversary of last year's 'National Day of Combatting Qat', the first of three campaigns launched by Eradah in 2012, yesterday's 'No Qat January 12' campaign asked Yemenis to quit the green stuff for just one day.

Many activists have argued that the addictive stimulant has a detrimental effect on everything from health to income. But recent surveys suggest that, despite this, more Yemenis than ever - around 80 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women as well as growing numbers of children under 10 - are chewing qat every day.

Aleryani claims that while Yemen's poor might not be able to provide their children with basic life necessities, they continue to spend thousands of dollars a year on the drug.

"They spend [a] minimum [of] $3 daily for qat which is horrible in a country where their average income is $2," she says.

She tells us that Yemen is left 'begging' for wheat and corn from other countries while farmers choose to grow a drug that "is not useful in anything [and is] actually damaging the country and the people."

Last year, the Eradah Foundation for Qat-Free Nation, took their cause directly to the top, asking Yemen's leaders to pass a law banning qat from government offices.

The proposed law would also gradually prevent qat planting over a period of 21 years by removing qat shops from Yemen's cities and uprooting 5 per cent of its farming land every year.  According to the bill, farmers who quit growing qat would be compensated, allowing them to diversify their crops slowly.

But Aleryani says that any discussion of the qat law was put on hold until later this year after members of parliament, who she claims profit from growing the "green gold," refused to consider the idea.

However, while Yemen's leaders chew over the idea of a qat-free nation, the people seem more decided.

In November, a Yemeni couple hit the headlines when they decided to host one of Sana'a's first qat-free weddings. Since then loved-up Yemenis across the country have followed suit, making sure wedding cake is the only thing they'll be chewing on their special day.

Aleryani says that support for the 'No Qat' for a day campaign has more than doubled since it took place last January.

While Yemen may never be entirely clean of qat, it seems plenty of its people are ready and willing to kick the habit...at least for one day.  

 

By Alice Cuddy
 
 
How important is it for people to give up qat? Can you imagine a qat-free Yemen? And will the proposed law ever be passed? Share your comments with us below!

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