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Why hungry Yemenis choose to chew

Relief comes in a pink plastic bag filled with narcotic twigs that 90% of Yemeni men and 70% of women slip into their cheeks.

Happiness here is a lump of green green the size of a tennis ball that is masticated in public.

There is no shame attached to being high on khat. Its effects have been compared to amphetamine. It tastes like grassy banana skin.

The Ministry of Agriculture further argues that one third of the agricultural land and one third of water for agriculture have begun to cultivate the drug.

Many officials believe that these figures can be extremely low – some studies quoted by the United Nations suggest that 60% of Yemen's agricultural land is given over to khat.

  Khat grows in the mountains of Yemen.

And anecdotal, on a 2,500 mile (4,000 km) drive around the Houthi team north of the country divided by civil war, it is very clear that khat (Catha Edulis) is the region's preferred crop.

  CNN postpones systematic abuse of aid in Yemen

It is odd when one considers that the UN World Food Program estimates that it will have to feed 12 million Yemen this year . Before the recent conflict competition, four years ago, WFP fed one million.

Even khat dealers believe it is stupid for a nation that is dangerously short of food to grow an inedible drug.

Mohammed Sulwei is recognized by other khat dealers in Sanaa who provide the finest drug market's most inebriant drug market.

A pink bag weighing about half a half of the best hay-like twigs introduced daily goes to 25,000 Yemeni riyals, that's about $ 50.

  Khat dealer Mohammed Sulwei sells at the top, but even he agrees that it doesn't make sense for people to buy drugs instead of food.

The cheapest khat he sells costs $ 5 a bag, although the lowest quality gets around $ 2.50 elsewhere. It is at least enough money to buy food for a family of seven to a day.

I ask him: "Do you think that makes sense to Yemen, it has no food, for everyone has to chew?"

He replied, "No." And continued to say that he had no problem if the drug was banned. "I wanted to sell something else," he said.

Nearby, Hussein al Jebri leads a shiny silver 4×4 through a growing amount of khat buyers who deal with sellers delivering their fabrics from elevated stalls.

  Young and old frequent market stalls sell khat in the capital Sanaa.

He buys, he does not say for himself, but for his workers.

"In fact, they have fled away from normal life. You know we are at war, and they want a way to feel good. You get me? And some people, they don't care about the money," he explained.

Chewing khat is a traditional and central part of Yemeni life. The afternoon is used to chat, chew and sip with endless small glasses of sugary tea.

As the effects intensify, a clarity takes over the user.

According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience: "In the central nervous system, khat chewing can manifest itself as a moderate degree of euphoria and mild tension, resulting in the promotion of social interaction and causing loquacity." Cheek's bulge with khat is seen everywhere Yemen, armed followers of the Houthis, while in a rally in Sanaa in 2015. ” data-src-mini=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-small-169.jpg” data-src-xsmall=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-medium-plus-169.jpg” data-src-small=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-large-169.jpg” data-src-medium=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-exlarge-169.jpg” data-src-large=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-super-169.jpg” data-src-full16x9=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-full-169.jpg” data-src-mini1x1=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190520122300-yemen-khat-chewers-small-11.jpg” data-demand-load=”not-loaded” data-eq-pts=”mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, medium: 461, large: 781″ src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhEAAJAJEAAAAAAP///////wAAACH5BAEAAAIALAAAAAAQAAkAAAIKlI+py+0Po5yUFQA7″/>

But:" They were gradually replaced by mild dysphoria, sedation, anxiety, reactive depression, insomnia and anorexia. "

explains the noebyhigh-jeebies that get hold of most of Yemen.

Khat is harvested at dawn and distributed throughout the country by a network of high-speed tankers driven by frightening speeds to bring the fabric to market. There is no regard for the front lines of the war between the Houthi rebels who control the capital and much of the northwest and the Saudi-led coalition of forces supporting Yemen's government.

  Yemeni men harvest khat on a farm on the outskirts of Sanaa in 2016.

Most places only get it at lunchtime, so today's focus for almost all Yemenis is getting over the morning's downer, reconciling some food in the stomach (khat is pain on an empty stomach) and then being laid down for a good chew.

The country is in danger of a humanitarian crisis. WFP says it is " a step away "from famine.

I Abs, not far from the Saudi border, where the fighting has recently intensified to send 10,000 new refugees into flight, underestimates the malnutrition camps of displaced thousands.

At the local hospital, children with diseases are so poorly fed, they have little energy to survive. Breast infections and diarrhea threaten to kill rodent infants and children who are inertly attached to drips and feeding tubes.

Outside, khat trade is lively. And the acacia trees that pepper scrub over the pink flowers with plastic bags snared in their thorns.

We asked Hussin Al-Ezzi, Deputy Minister of the Rebellion Houthi Government: "Why do we, the international community, send food to Yemen – North and South – when the whole country is walking around with a substance in their mouth?"

] "It is used as a social tradition and has nothing to do with help. I don't know why you associate khat with help," he replied.

  Hussin Al-Ezzi argued that khat chewed was a bad habit, but said the people's choice to buy khat not food had nothing to do with Yemen's need for help.

We pressed, "It's very simple. Most of your country is given to growing substances that are not food."

The minister said, "I agree with you, this is a bad habit we must get rid of. It is undeniable." But there is no indication that khat cultivation is anything but budding.

Magnificent peaks and ridges thick with forest tissue over Shaneen village, three hours east of Sanaa. Spring water is spilled out of small holes in the ground, and terraces carved over millennia into the landscape are green green, smothered with khat trees.

The farmers said it 20 years ago that their fields were full of wheat.

Mounir al Rubaii is one of the peasants who rely on khat.

"Khat is the top crop, because the market for the others is not good," he said.

  Farmer Mounir al Rubaii says khat is the only crop that generates a surplus.

"We can only profit from khat crops do not cover our housing costs. This is the only crop that covers our daily and annual expenses."

With the vast majority of Yemenis using the drug, it is not surprising.

But it is an addiction that is activated by humanitarian aid. The Yemeni government recently estimated that the khat industry was worth about $ 12 billion. Dollars to the country.

It happens about three times the amount the UN says it needs to feed Yemen.

CNN's Sarah El Sirgany and Brice Lainé have contributed to this story.

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