(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Substance abuse a major problem

[Djibouti] A khat seller in Djibouti City.

One of Djibouti's big problems is khat, a narcotic stimulant that is consumed by an estimated 95 percent of the male population, according to government estimates.

The narcotic plant is mainly imported by plane and truck from Ethiopia and chewed with the sap being swallowed.

The cheapest bundle costs DF 200 (US $1.12), good quality khat goes for up to DF 3000, ten times a labourer's salary.

As afternoon sets in, economic activity comes to a standstill when the men hurry to the street stalls selling khat and then retire to an afternoon of chewing.

Dr. Emmanuel Kumah from IMF believes that at least a fifth of household income goes to the drug. It is one of the main reasons for lack of efficiency and low productivity in the country.

Khat is also one reason why 70 percent of all children admitted in clinics are malnourished.

According to Dr. Mahadi Ali, from Peltier, the main hospital in Djhibouti: "The husband has priority and the nutrition needs of the family are neglected for his khat habit."

Khat also creates health problems like stomach aches, sleep deprivation, mental illness and rotting teeth.

Omar Harbi from UNDP estimates that Djibouti loses $70 million in foreign currency every year to khat.

"Khat works like an amphetamine and leaves you totally exhausted the next day, reducing the ability to work. People often don’t show up at the office. When government officials invite you for a meeting after two in the afternoon, it usually means that things will be discussed over khat," one casual khat user told IRIN.

In 1978, Djibouti's first president Hassan Gouled tried to ban the narcotic, but his decision ignited riots on the streets.

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