Qat (also spelled ‘khat’) is an addictive drug, native to Ethiopia, but now a major part of Yemeni social life. It’s becoming an international problem as Yemenis (as well as Somalis and Ethiopians) emigrate to various regions [e.g. America, Netherlands (where it remains legal), Britain (7-page PDF)].
The Jizan region of Saudi Arabia, on the southwestern border with Yemen, has a large population of Yemeni origin. It also has the social custom of qat chewing. But qat is illegal in Saudi Arabia and the government is now implementing a qat-eradication program, as described in this Saudi Gazette article.
Three million qat trees to be cut off
JIZAN – People of the Jizan region may not be able to chew qat again with the expected destruction of over three million qat trees, said Prince Mohammed Bin Nasser Bin Abdul Aziz, Emir of Jizan, in an exclusive interview. Chewing the leaves of this cursed tree has impaired the wheel of development in the region, he said.
The forbidden tree has caused the region to lag behind in development as compared to other regions in the country, steering away vital projects the citizens could have enjoyed had the cursed tree not been there, he said.
Throughout the places where qat is grown, people with low and middle income would spend large amount of it to buy qat, leaving their families with only bits for food, education, and health.
â€œThe people of Jizan have developed an awareness of the bad effects of qat, indicating that there is a proposal before the Council of Ministers to completely cut off the tree from the region and develop mountainous areas where qat is grown into promising produce farms,â€ he said.
The Council is yet to take a decision on the proposal.
Qat classified as a drug
Qat is classified as a highly addictive stimulant that contains the chemical cathinone, which is a narcotic with addictive properties and has no known medicinal benefits. Countries, like the US, are now taking anti-qat measures.
Earlier this year, the United States Embassy in Yemen reportedly introduced a new provision for Yemenis seeking permanent residence in the US to lay off their bundles of qat if they want to live in America.