Qat is a devastating substance that hinders the process of development and progress in Yemen. It even became the first thing to threaten the family unit and the community because of the increasing numbers of men, women, children and elderly who are chewing it. Qat results in a decline in the standard of living for those chewing it, a loss of their time, neglect of their children, divorce cases, disintegration of the family, and even murders.
Qat’s Positives and Negatives
Fuad al-Senidar said that Qat has its positives and negatives. It has the ability to gather people in one place, called a Maqial, to discuss their problems and try to find solutions. The people who don’t chew Qat can also attend such meetings to give their opinions on issues related to them. Such places provide the opportunity for relationships between people and the exchanging of experiences between them, whether educational, scientific, literary, or cultural. In reality, the political side has overshadowed all other issues these days.
On the other hand, Abdullah Sari said that even though Qat has one positive, it has many negatives. Qat loses people money. Some men spend most of their monthly salary or income to buy Qat and are in dire need of money. “In a time where people spend money on Qat, others can’t find food to ease their hunger.”
According to Sari, people who are addicted to qat suffer from insomnia, head pain, and often fear and nervousness. “If one of his sons asked him to resolve or clarify a question on homework, he rejects or give excuses not to cooperate with his children. Qat chewers have a busy mind, while their sons collapse and they do not care.”
Facts and Figures
Qat tree create a significant threat to food security, where 70% of Yemeni water goes to Qat trees and almost a quarter of the state budget is spent by Yemenis on Qat. Studies revealed that the annual amount spent by Yemenis on Qat is about 1.7 billion USD. According to a study carried out by the Yemen Without Qat Foundation, the average monthly expenditure of a family on Qat is about 12% of their total income, while they spend only 1.74% on education, 17.2% on cereals and its derivatives, 2.9% on fruits, 2.91% on health services, and 4.6% on vegetables.
According to the Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture, Qat came in on top of cash crops in terms of the average area planted annually, reaching 153,000 hectares in 2011 and rising to 168,000 hectares in 2012. Statistics also indicated that the area of land allocated to Qat increased during the past four decades, while the number of provinces growing the Qat tree is 18 provinces out of 21, significantly grown in 6 provinces.
One Yemeni economist said that the government spends huge sums of money annually to deal with more than 20,000 patients of cancer and other diseases resulting from Qat use, such as kidney failure, urinary tract disease, neurological diseases, stomach ulcers, anxiety, depression, jaundice, lack of sleep, and other diseases. He also pointed out that the time Yemenis waste chewing qat is estimated to be 80 million hours of work a day.
The economist explained that the most important proposals to combat the phenomenon of Qat chewing are to work to encourage and assist Yemeni farmers to overcome the problems related to the transition of Qat planting to planting other cash crops. Another goal is to establish sports clubs and cultural associations and institutions that call for fighting the qat addiction.
Qat chewers find that qat provides them with energy as well as active minds and muscles, and many believe that it has health benefits. Doctors and specialists have in fact found the opposite to be true. Experts conducting experiments in research laboratories have determined the effect of the chemicals in Qat. These experiments indicate that the chemicals in Qat lead to a state of elation for 24 hours followed by a state of inactivity.
Scientists said that these chemicals are similar to amphetamines which work to stimulate the neurons which reduce fatigue and stress in the early hours of chewing qat, followed by a feeling of laziness, anxiety, and depression. Research studies agreed that chewing Qat leads to difficulty urinating and sexual impotence, as well as effects on the heart and blood circulatory system. The chemicals materials in Qat lead to increased heartbeat and a narrowing of the blood vessels, which raises blood pressure in patients with high pressure, making it difficult for blood pressure medications that work to reduce the pressure. The chemicals also make healthy people more susceptible to chronic high blood pressure. One research study showed that the increase in blood pressure, heartbeats, and imbalances in the ECG was found in 20% of patients who suffer from sudden heart diseases.
Qat and Diabetes
Many doctors and researchers believe that the effects of Qat on diabetic patients are very harmful because Qat chewers avoid following a standard food diet. They also drink large amounts of sweetened drinks with Qat, which leads to a rise in the proportion of sugar in the blood.
This effect delays the absorption of glucose from the intestine under the influence of Qat, which delays the gastric emptying of food digested or not eating for long periods of time. Chewing Qat dangerously lowers blood sugar, which leads in many cases to fainting as a result of lack of glucose in the brain (mono sugar), which is the only food for brain cells.
Qat is the main cause of cancer in Yemen. Enriching Qat entails using 65% of the forbidden fertilizers and pesticides that enter the country through smuggling, and they used more than 1,000 chemicals from more than 100 factories in 50 countries.
Dr. Marwan Abdo Qtob said that there are a lot of reasons for the spread of the Qat phenomenon, notably the lack of awareness of the seriousness of this scourge that has destroyed plants and souls. “The media has failed to make people aware of the risks of Qat as well as the role of mosques, preachers, clubs, associations, educational institutions in making people aware of the harmful effects of Qat.”
Unemployment and Qat
Unemployment is a major factor that leads many young people to chew Qat. They have a lot of free time, and they have been deprived of jobs even though most of them hold a university degree. Many years have passed without being given access to job opportunities because of the corruption in ministries and its branches in different provinces.
Nabil Abdullah al-Wazeer, Director General of the Organization of Local Water and Sanitation in Sana’a, said that most water goes to Qat, which causes the draining of massive amounts of drinking water, and some dig randomly to be able to irrigate Qat. “All that is because the absence of security and cultural awareness and the low level of patriotism among some, as the depth of digging reaches thousands of meters under the ground.”
In 1973, the WHO listed Qat on the list of narcotic substances after researchers proved that Qat contains two narcotic substances: Katanon and Katanin. The effects of Qat differ from one person to another and according to several factors, including the quality of Qat, duration of chewing, and age of the person. Qat does not raise intelligence but increases morale, which is a state of placebo feeling that ends with an increased heartbeat, fatigue, stress, and the inability to focus and pay attention during study or work. It also affects digestive and reproductive systems and has other effects on nervous and hormonal regulation.
The Absence of Alternatives
Quitting Qat must be a general resolution of society before it becomes more dangerous in terms of health, the economy, society, and the environment. Qat trees notably compete with agricultural crops like coffee because most of the farmers have replaced coffee with the Qat tree because Qat is easier to grow. Awareness of the harmful and negative effects of Qat on all aspects of health, society, the economy, and the environment is the only way to limit its spread and prevent more people from chewing it.