Qat Crops Threaten To Drain Yemen Dry

by
Joon
(CNN)

Lush, green fields in Northern Sana'a barely hint at Yemen's looming crisis.

A family of farmers cling desperately to their only lifeline. But the well no longer flows like it once did.

Experts predict that within five to 10 years, Sana'a will become the first urban capital in the world to run out of water, drained by an exploding population and one particularly thirsty plant.

For Mohammed, farming is a way of life. He's worked this land since he was a child. He remembers fondly the days when he would walk these acres and marvel at a variety of different types of vegetation. That is no longer the case.

Five years ago, these fields were covered in grapes. Now, over half the land is used to grow qat, a crop that fetches a much higher price but comes at a far greater cost.

Qat, an integral part of this culture, is a mild narcotic chewed daily in almost every part of the country. Virtually the only cash crop that exists anymore, it is Yemen's addiction -- its savior and its killer.

"The farmers here prefer growing qat to growing grapes," says Mohammed. "Growing qat makes them a lot more money," he says, "but growing it also uses up a lot more water."

No one understands how dire the situation has become more than . He says 91 percent of the country's water resources are used for agriculture and four percent of that is used for qat. The situation is so critical that, out of the country's 15 aquifers, only two are being replenished.

"In Sana'a basin alone, we have 13,000 wells. And out of these 13,000, more than 8,000 have dried up already, so all the farmers know that the water is drying up," he said.

The water situation is so serious that some members of the government have floated the idea of moving the capital, as well as desalinating seawater on the coast and pumping it 2,000 meters uphill to the capital.