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Books - The health and socio-economic aspects of Khat use
Written by M.M. Morghem   


Khat is a national question and not a problem concerning the whole Arab Community as some people may imagine and as come countries do when they classify it with hashish, opium and other drugs.
The consumption of khat is a habit but not an addiction. This does not mean that khat is not harmful. But is disproves the assumption that the people of the Yemen Arab Republic are drug addicts.
Chewing khat is a local custom followed by religious leaders, officials, scientists, businessmen, doctors and those living in both villages and cities. Khat does not have the same effect on the mind as is manifested on those who take opium or hashish. It is well known that some peasants, men and women, in certain villages, known for cultivating, khat, chew khat in the morning and the evening without their physical or mental health being affected by it. On the contrary, this relieves fatigue, increases energy and helps them accomplish their work. The same applies to the craftsmen who chew it while working. The worker who uses it can work for five hours and more without stopping. The use of khat helps worker accomplish their task without being tired or bored. As for those, who only work in the mornings and have nothing to do in the afternoon, they chew khat as a pastime.
Since the olden times the Yemeni society has had no gatherings for recreation, literary, scientific and cultural debate. Khat gatherings were the only was to meet, to get to know one another and to strengthen the relations between different members of society. Moreover, this custom gives positive results in the daily gatherings for cultural, historical and literary debate of for conversation on events in the world and in the country. Sometimes, during these gatherings people read seriously and carry on fruitful discussions.
Khat is considered in Yemen as providing an important financial income although it is sold only in the local markets. Growing khat is a positive factor in the aid to the Yemeni farmer because this helps him to buy modern agricultural machines, to bore new artesian wells in regions where there is a lack of natural water sources. The Yemeni peasants were also able to build roads which facilitated communication between distant villages in all provinces of Yemen. Moreover, the khat grower was able to equip his home with the necessary household appliances.
In the Yemen Arab Republic khat is cultivated from shoots as is done in the case of bananas. These shoots are taken from the khat tree and planted in specially prepared soil. A shoot may reach 25-50 cm. Khat can also be cultivated from cuttings but growth is not so rapid as from the shoots. Seeds are, thus, not used in cultivation. The soil is well turned over and weeded. Three or four shoots are planted together. The farmer prefers to leave a space of 1 to about 1 1/2 metres between each plant. The plants are in one line to facilitate weeding. When the shoots start to grow and buds and leaves appear it is preferable to transplant the shoots which are above the soil to strengthen them and promote growth. Within a period of two to four years the farmer starts harvesting. From the trees which are ten or more years old the shoots and side branches are stripped, so that the sap rises to the upper branches from which the fresh branches will be harvested.
The branches or twigs removed from the tree vary in length, some of them measure from 25 to 150 cm. These are harvested all the year round. Others, measuring 10 to 30 cm are harvested from 2 to 4 times a year. But whatever the length, it is only the buds which are of value. These are the small fresh leaves found at the tip of the harvested branches.
Khat has different colours shading into one another. If only the chewable leaves are cut off the tree would weaken and would not last more than five years. But good care prolongs its life to 200 years or more.
There are central markets in all cities, large and small. The farmers or wholesalers bring their khat there and pay the taxes. Khat is wrapped in damp, thick materials to keep it fresh. During the sale it is divided into small bunches and wrapped in plastic bags in varying sizes according to the needs of the buyers. Each type of khat has its own, special price.
The price is not set according to the quantity but to the quality, taste and aroma. The difference is due to the kind of soil, khat comes from. It was found that more than 40 different types of khat are grown in the Arab Republic of Yemen. But the proportion of stimulating substances, affecting the nervous system, as cathine and cathinone vary according to the type. The largest concentration of these substances is found in the El-Nahmi khat (342.8 mg/ 100 gr of fresh khat)- The lowest concentration is found in the Sii khat (77.7 mg / 100 gr of fresh khat). A person can chew the equivalent of 2 to 30 dollars worth of khat and yet, one can then abstain from doing so without being affected. For example, those who leave Yemen to go on pilgrimage or to work abroad or visit other countries do not chew khat from the moment they leave the territory of the Arab Republic of Yemen. This abstinence does not cause any problem, however long they stay abroad and whatever the duration of their consumption of khat in the past.
How to chew khat?
It may surprising that the khat-tree determines the type of buildings that are constructed in cities and villages. The houses are built in a way to satisfy the need for comfort during khat chewing gatherings.
All sorts of people attend khat gatherings in the same room, from early afternoon until 6 p.m. or even later. That room could be regarded as their cinema, their garden, their theatre, their sports field, their literary centre, conference room or library.
All peoples in the world have their own ways of entertainment, in the past, khat was that of the Yemeni people. Those who think of building a house give particular attention to the choice of form of the principal room, that is the room where khat is to be chewed and which will be called Al-Mafraj, that is the place of entertainment. That room should be located on the higher floors, in order to have a view over the large space in front of the house, called Al-Sam, (the slope of the mountains). The window-sills should be as low as possible, that is to say on the floor level, so that one who is sitting can enjoy the view. That is why the people of Yemen insist on having houses of several floors even in the villages in the mountains, although the building will be inhabited by only one family.
Another type of Mafraj is the one located on the ground floor and in this case the lack viewis compensated by a pond in front of the door of the Mafraj with several fountains spouting water. The pond is surrounded by a beautiful garden full of flowers and trees. The door of the Mafraj should be very large, so that it forms a whole wall of transparent glass. This type of Mafraj is not common among the ordinary people, or in the different towns of Yemen, but is to be found in Sanaa and its suburbs. Nevertheless it is beginning to be found elsewhere.
In the Mafraj small apertures may be noticed in the ceiling for ventilation. As to the furniture of the room where people chew khat, it consists of sofas, numerous cushions and all that is needed for comfort., including water-pipes (hookahs) and refrigerators. The hookah should be placed in the middle of the room on a brass table with pleasing decorations. One room could contain, according to its size, sour to six hookahs, so that more than one person can use them. While chewing, doors and windows must be closed. As for the chewing itself the most tender part of the leaves is used. Some people smoke cigarettes at the same time, others puff on the hookah and others use nothing. But they all drink cold or tepid water. In certain regions coffee is drunk while chewing. In the other regions people use small grains called el-zar or el-heil. Some people chew a small piece of barley sugar, each according to his own habits. It is not necessary that all those, who are present, chew, they may have tea, coffee or soft drinks. When the room is too smoky they open the small upper windows, called shawaqid. Nowadays electric ventilators are used to get rid of the smoke.
As to the harmful effects attributed to khat, there are many, which have been described in detail. But I can affirm that chewing khat is not al all an addiction as is the case with alcohol and other drugs. This does not mean, that we deny the damages caused by khat. But we do not wish to deal with as a problem itself, because khat is linked with all the daily activities of almost all the members of our society.
Everything is related to khat, economy, supplies, social affairs, industry, etc. That is why we wish to tackle the question in an overall and objective manner to find long-term but not short-term solutions.
We agree to all suggestions of a positive nature which have been made to solve the problem of khat. But these solutions do not take into consideration other aspects that are intermingled with khat use and can never be ignored. We have started on a rational basis to formulate solutions to the problem by informing the public of the harm caused by khat, both on the level of the ordinary people and the educated classes. The school and other educational programmes do not fail to mention the harmful effects of khat.
The Ministry of Health, through its cultural programme, is involved in this educational campaign. Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture also gives information to farmers and advises them not to cultivate khat.
We invite the participants to this conference to study the question in order to find solutions that are positive, that can be carried out and applied and which are suitable to the conditions prevailing in each country.
God is our Guide.

Our valuable member M.M. Morghem has been with us since Tuesday, 21 May 2013.