Despite conflict, demand for Qat still strong in Yemen
Craving for the mild stimulant has kept the qat trade going strong in an economy otherwise devastated by war
Civil war may be tearing Yemen apart but every afternoon combatants set aside the struggle for the country’s future to stuff their cheeks with wads of the narcotic green leaf, qat.
The national pastime of chewing qat is one of the few certainties in a nation turned upside down by air strikes and street fighting.
From lunchtime til sunset prayers, shelling inevitably dies down and fighters from both sides put aside their Kalashnikovs to enjoy the buzz.
Craving for the mild stimulant has kept the qat trade going strong in an economy otherwise devastated by war.
Farmers rise to cut it, traders brave bombs to transport it and addicts scrape empty pockets to scoop up a bag of the soft green leaves chewed daily by millions of Yemenis. It costs between 2 to 14 dollars a bag, depending on the quality.
Three weeks of Saudi-led air strikes aimed at stemming the advance of Iranian-allied Houthi rebels have only increased Yemenis’ desire for the relaxing escape provided by qat.
Mohammed Azal, a government employee rendered idle by battles in the southern city of Aden, strolled through an abandoned street chewing on the bitter morsels and storing them into a wad bulging inside his cheek.
“In a war situation like this, with the stress and explosions, qat is the one thing in our day that can give us a bit of peace and comfort,” he slurred.
One in every seven working Yemenis is employed in producing and distributing qat, making it the largest single source of rural income and the second largest source of employment in the country after the agriculture and herding sector, exceeding even the public sector, according to the World Bank.
Offices and banks have closed, depriving residents of cash, but the qat souks still bustle with loud bargaining as war rages.
Qat is one of the only commodities still flowing into the city, as fighting has struck water and power infrastructure while scaring off suppliers of milk and meat.
Aden’s qat basket is Dhalea. Getting there these days requires a two-hour drive through a warzone contested by Shi’ite rebels, militiamen and Al Qaeda.
Nevertheless, trader Ali Muhsin al-Jahafi plies the route there and back every day.
“Every day is an adventure. Getting from here to there involves air strike, clashes, checkpoints and every kind of danger,” he said.
“God knows the trouble we face, but we cut the plant in the morning and return at night because our trade is the source of our livelihood and dignity. This plant sustains my household.”
Classified as a “drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence” by the World Health Organization, qat’s physical symptoms can include hallucinations, depression and tooth decay.
Surveys suggest that more Yemenis than ever - at least 80
percent of men, about 60 percent of women and increasing numbers of children under 10 - settle down most afternoons to chew.
Yemen halts all gas production over worsening securityYemen’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant said on Tuesday it has declared force majeure due worsening security Energy
‘King of Qat’ warns of illegal drug trade after UK banAs Qat houses across Britain close their doors, the Yemeni man who first imported the herbal high warns of dire consequences of criminalization Features
Yemeni government starts campaign to eradicate qat treesIn Yemen’s mountainous region of Haraz, a group of men dig deep into the ground, pushing and shoving through the area’s famous qat trees, their aim is ... News
Pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat hacked by Yemen ‘Cyber Army’The hackers displayed a photo of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on a black background Digital
Saudi ‘constance’ in its Yemen policySaudi Arabia does not consider Yemen a game or a tool to exert pressure Middle East
Iran proposes Yemen peace planIran has proposed a peace plan for Yemen that calls for a ceasefire Middle East
Yemen LNG still has control of gas export terminal: TotalYemen’s only gas export terminal is still being controlled by operators Yemen LNG Energy
Harvesting qat in YemenIn the mountains around Sanaa, farmers are drilling so many unlicensed boreholes to irrigate the thirsty crop for the stimulant plant qat -- craved by ... Perspective
Yemeni qat harvestPerspective
Pakistan to ‘intensify’ Yemen diplomacy: PMThe Pakistani parliament on Friday unanimously voted to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict Middle East
Yemen’s Hadi swears in new vice presidentThe move is apparently aimed at improving the chances of a peaceful settlement to the civil war Middle East