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Tackling khat consumption in Djibouti: a strong new political commitment

Djibouti, 4 September 2008 – For the first time in the history of Djibouti, there is a firm move towards tackling the issue of khat in the country. On 4 September 2008, an inter-ministerial meeting called by the Minister of Health was hosted by the Ministry of Education to deliberate on the socio-economic and health consequences of khat consumption on Djiboutians.

In attendance were the Minister of Education, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Women Promotion, the Minister of Muslim Affairs and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Youth. Several senior technical staff of these ministries as well as key Muslim religious leaders and senior UNICEF staff attended the meeting. All agreed that Khat is a social phenomenon that requires strong political commitment in order to address it heads on.

A major outcome of the meeting was the commitment from these line ministries to set up a national committee that will take the leadership of moving forward the fight against khat nationwide. The committee is set to develop a multi sectoral strategy with a five year plan of action to reduce the consumption of khat in the country, especially among children and youth.

During the meeting’s deliberations, Muslim leaders advocated for the ban of khat, while the majority of other participants argued for a strategy based on communication for sustained reduction of khat consumption. 

This high level meeting is held in the wake of the three-day July visit to Djibouti of Ms Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle-East and North Africa region. During her meetings with the President of the Republic of Djibouti and several members of his Cabinet, Ms. Kaag had persistently called for a firm commitment from national authorities to address the thorny issue of khat in the country.

In the Horn of Africa, chewing khat – a plant that usually contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant - is a practice deeply ingrained in society. It causes, among others, excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980 the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence.

On average, a khat session in Djibouti lasts for over five hours and it is estimated that households spend 30 percent of their income on its purchase. Nationally, about 25 million US dollars are devoted to khat transactions every year. According to the 2006 Djibouti Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 26 percent of the population chew khat, and 22 percent consume it every day. This survey also revealed that men (46 per cent) chew khat much more than women (7 per cent). Most observers believe these figures are underestimated.

Khat consumption in Djibouti is a serious threat to the well being of its children. The survey shows that in the group age of 15-19 years 4.7 percent chew khat every day and 7.4 percent once per week. Many children below the age of fifteen are known to also chew khat. The future of children who consume khat is likely to be compromised, including because many families' expenditure on the substance does not leave enough resources to send children to school. Khat's depletion of household income comes in a country where extreme and relative poverty affects respectively 42 and 74 percent of the total population.

The time is ripe to demystify the taboo around addressing khat consumption in Djibouti. Development partners are encouraged to support the Government and civil society in this drive for long term interventions to free Djibouti from this harmful practice.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, contact:

Omar HABIB, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Djibouti: +253-31-41-21 ohabib@unicef.org
Aloys KAMURAGIYE, UNICEF Representative, Djibouti: +253-31-41-13




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