Millions of Yemenis spend idle hours chewing qat, a leafy narcotic plant that causes euphoria and cuts appetite. The addictive drug is turning into a catastrophe for Yemeni society, but activists are fighting back.
Imagine a country where 60 to 75% of agricultural water, by all means a scarce resource, is devoted to growing a drug. Since there is not enough water left for agricultural farming, the country has to import most of its food. Incredible, right? This is Yemen, and the drug is Qat, a leafy plant classified as a “drug of abuse” by the World Health Organization.
Qat has turned a disaster for Yemenis. Regardless of their region or social background, millions give in to apathy and idleness, one cheek quasi-perpetually swollen by a load of the narcotic plant.
But the civil society is fighting back with a clever, progressive approach. January 12 has become the “day without Qat in governmental institutions”. The target could have been wider, but the strategy was to set a reachable goal, in order to score a clear PR victory. The activists also came up with the concept “Yemeni weddings without Qat”, thus fighting a deeply entrenched tradition that associates Qat with partying.
The campaign is starting to pay off. As more Qat-free celebrations are organized throughout the country, various civil society organizations are joining efforts to take the battle to the legislative level. While some MPs defend the “green gold” (which they often cultivate themselves), others are starting to consider partial ban legislations.
Read more from Yemeni journalist and activist Hind Aleryani here.