Weaning Yemen off qat

Anti-qat protest outside Yemen's parliament last weekend

In Yemen, old habits die hard and weaning the country off its predilection for chewing qat might appear to be the most hopeless of hopeless causes. For millions of Yemenis, the afternoon qat sessions are a national institution – and they do serve an important social and cultural function.

Critics, though, point out that qat chewing is a hugely expensive habit for an impoverished country, that growing the plants squanders inceasingly scarce water resources, and it damages the economy along with people's health.

On Sunday, several dozen Yemenis demonstrated outside the parliament building (see picture above) calling for a law to ban qatfrom government buildings. 

Their call seems to have found favour in one government department. Human rights minister Horriah Mashhour has now banned qat from the ministry during working hours. Employees are being urged to consume raisins, almonds and tea instead.

But the move has not gone unchallenged. One Yemeni on Twitter suggests that banning qat is a violation of human rights.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 22 November 2012