Daily Video

August 30, 2010

Young Yemenis Chafe Against Drug Culture

In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, it’s not unusual to see men sitting in circles, talking about family affairs and politics, enjoying each others’ company. An important part of this ritual is chewing qat (also spelled khat), a leaf that gives chewers a slight buzz similar to the effects of alcohol or caffeine. While qat has been part of Yemeni culture for generations, some question whether it is hurting Yemen’s people more than it’s helping them.

Qat takes a lot of water to grow, and in a country that’s mostly desert, water is a precious resource. Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa might be the first world capital to run out of water in 15 years, according to the World Bank. And drought is changing the landscape of one-fertile parts of Yemen, making it more and more difficult to grow other crops like fruits and vegetables.

But growing qat does have economic benefits for villages in the countryside whose people grow and sell the lucrative crop. And some analysts even argue that those in power will never take measures to change the country’s relationship with qat because the mild drug keeps Yemenis complacent and unlikely to revolt against their government.

Some young people, though, are calling for an end to qat’s influence on their friends and family, saying it encourages laziness and doesn’t help young Yemenis move their country forward.


“Without qat, you get bored after maybe half-an-hour and maybe want to leave. But, with qat, you take much longer, four hours or more, because qat gives you the feeling you want to talk about your plans, your future.” – Basheer Al-Arhab, tribal sheik

“People in the politics found it easy to control people who are chewing qat all the afternoon and busy in doing other things, instead of asking for services or doing anything. And they cannot revolt. They cannot demonstrate. They don’t do anything.” – Dr. Raufah Hassan Alsharki, Cultural Development Programs Foundation

Warm Up Questions

1. Where is Yemen?

2. What is addiction? What are some activities that people get addicted to?

3. What is a drought? What risks does it pose to farmers?

Discussion Questions

1. If you were a young person growing up in Yemen, how do you think you would feel about qat? Would you want the government to take action against its use? Why or why not?

2. What are the pros and cons of trying to crack down on qat use?What would happen if it suddenly became illegal?

2. Can you think of a mild mood-altering product like qat that people use in the United States? Based on what you saw in the video, how does it compare to qat?

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