By Hassan Muse Hussein in Garowe
Despite knowing that qat is harmful to their health, Somali youth use it anyway, said Mohamed Abdi Sardeye, a 25-year-old resident of Garowe.
"I have been consuming qat for four years," he told Sabahi. "I started when I graduated from high school. Youth have no jobs to keep them occupied. Only a few work, while the rest hang around the streets. I use it to pass time until I find work."
Timely Integrated Development Services for Somalia (TIDS), a Garowe-based agency that works with youth development and integration, has expressed misgivings about youth addicted to qat.
According to a TIDS study, 55% of young men and women aged 20 years and younger use qat, even as they attend high school.
"When compared to the total number of qat consumers [in Puntland], 80% are young people under the age of 35," said TIDS Director Adur Adan Adur.
In an effort to keep youth off the streets and away from qat, Adur told Sabahi the organisation works with local schools to offer high school graduates paid internships to teach lower grades until they find permanent work. The internship programme is funded with the help of international aid agencies.
Qat use is a losing propositionWith about 70% of the population in Somalia under 30, according to a recent United Nations Development Programme report, the high rate of qat use has some concerned about the future of the next generation.
Mohamed Jama Salad, a Galkayo-based neurologist, said qat use is harmful to a person's health.
"It harms the nerves by forcing them to overload with activity. The person does not sleep or eat, which leads to malnutrition and constant weakness," he told Sabahi, adding that qat is an addictive substance that leads users to dependency.
"It is a losing proposition," Salad said, adding that qat users are unreliable. "Users commit to plans [in the evening] that they are not be able to fulfil come morning. They become isolated from good company and join groups of similar qat users".
Users usually congregate in groups at night and consume the stimulant by chewing on the leaves of the plant until the morning. The doctor said qat causes tooth decay, which can lead to tooth loss. In addition, users under the influence tend to engage in risky or inappropriate social behaviours that place them at higher risk to contract sexually transmitted diseases, he said.
Salad said qat use loosens a person's moral fibre. "When these addicts do not have money to purchase it, they are compelled to rob or steal to procure qat," he said.
"In the past, Garowe used to import about ten 15-kilogramme sacks [of qat], but this figure has increased to more than 100 sacks because of the number of regular users which is rising daily," said Shukri Siyad, a qat trader in Garowe who sells the Kenyan brand known as "Meru".
The selling price continues to increase as well. "In 2005, the price of one bundle was 300,000 Somali shillings ($13), but it is now 600,000 ($26)," Siyad told Sabahi.
Mohamed Abdiwahab Ahmed, director general at the Puntland Ministry of Education, said the ministry is aware of the problem and plans to implement an awareness campaign to curb qat consumption among youth.
"We plan to launch an operation to inform youth about the harmful effects of qat while simultaneously encouraging them to embrace education and emulate the developed world," he told Sabahi.
The plans are still under development, he said, adding that the government hopes to partner with local and international organisations to co-ordinate efforts to address all the underlying causes behind drug use.