Yemen’s Economic and Environmental Problems Blamed on Chewing Gat

yemen men chewing qat or gat photo 

They chew this stuff on a daily basis, like Bolivians and other South American mountain people chew cacao leaves. It gives people in Yemen and other Arabian Peninsula countries a mild, narcotic-like effect; and unfortunately, it is ruining the economy of Yemen due to do many people getting “hooked” on it.

What is this plant that is often seen being chewed by people in Yemen, and being grown in place of food crops in this aired country’s 3% of available arable agricultural land.

What I’m talking about is a green leafy plant called Qat (pronounced khat) or written as Gat that contains an alkaloid substance, cathinone, and is also known by its Latin name catha edulis.

It is estimated that people in Yemen eat as much as 500 grams of the stuff each day, and seem to be content to enjoy just sitting around and being mildly intoxicated by its effects, which many say are a substitute for alcohol (officially banned in Muslim Yemen), tobacco, and certain mild narcotics like hashish.

In fact, qat is becoming very popular outside of Yemen, and can be found in many European countries, especially in the U.K. In Israel, it’s called ‘gat’ and is often readily available in open air markets in Tel Aviv where the city’s historic Keren Ha Temani or Yeminite Quarter still exists.

Yemen is often described as the poorest country in the Middle East. It doesn’t have oil or gas wealth, like neighboring Saudi Arabia; and what used to be its trading center, Aden, is now a shadow of its former self after Jewish residents emigrated to Israel and other countries.

Today, Yemen’s entire Jewish population numbers less than a thousand, and most of them want to leave. As in countries like Afghanistan, where opium poppy growing is the chief agricultural endeavor,  Yeminite farmers have concentrated their efforts to growing and harvesting qat, some of which finds its way to markets abroad via refrigerated air shipments.

The eating of qat leaves is not always a pleasurable trip, however; and studies have found that “coming down” from a long qat eating session often results in feelings of anxiety, depression, insomnia and even eating disorders like anorexia.  

Too much dependence on the stimulating effects of eating qat is also blamed for developing severe psychological disorders as well a number of physical illnesses such as those effecting the central nervous system.

There are many addiction treatment facilities in the United States, but it might prove to be difficult to find a treatment center in other countries where there are few addiction treatment programs in place. Special programs to target qat may be needed. There are other problems too.

Qat is also attributed for severe illnesses like inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis), oesophagitis and gastritis. Certain cancers and conditions of the urinary tract are also said to be attributed to too much qat chewing.

The conclusions to the problem of qat production and consumption in Yemen is that more efforts need to be made to replace the growing of qat with other crops which are more suitable for personal consumption as well as for export. After all, if only 3% of Yemen’s total land area is suitable for agriculture, why grow a crop that is so problematic as qat? 

More on drugs and the environment:
Hunting for new drugs in an underwater drugstore
Afghan Opium Farmers Get the Burn Out

17 thoughts on “Yemen’s Economic and Environmental Problems Blamed on Chewing Gat

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  13. Daniella Cheslow

    Maurice – From this article it sounds like the Yemeni economy is really crumbling because of gat, and that sounds quite far-fetched. How is gat different from beer chugging in America or cigarette smoking in Japan? Every country has its less-than-healthy pet intoxicants. I’d be curious to see if there is a real scientific article looking at the particular ill effects of gat.

    Reply
  14. recher

    the author writes incorrectly “They chew this stuff on a daily basis, like Bolivians and other South American mountain people chew cacao leaves.”

    They chew coca leaves. Cacao is chocolate.

    Reply

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