A mayor in Somaliland is trying to cut down on the problems caused by Khat a mild stimulant, by moving dealers to the outskirts of the city
Hussein Mohamud Jiir, mayor of the capital Hargeisa, has set aside tracts of land where he hopes to install the Khat merchants. Dealers, however, say there is no point trying to restrict their activities.
Khat is a natural amphetamine derived from the leaves of the Catha edulis plant.
The problem of addiction in Somaliland - which has broken away from Somalia - is huge.
Addicts - mostly men - will spend all their money on the drug, while their children have nothing to eat.
And khat is also blamed for the small plastic bags which litter the city.
Pink, blue and red bags, used to hold khat, block drains, hang on trees and fences, stick to telegraph and electricity poles, or are even eaten by goats.
The mayor's plan would give each of the city's five districts its own khat "areas".
Bursts into life
He was confident that the plan would work.
"The same thing that happens here today, used to happen in Mogadishu. Sinai market was a similar initiative. People will go to wherever there is Khat," he said.
The drug is grown in Ethiopia's highlands. Every day, dozens of trucks loaded with tones of it arrive in Hargeisa, flooding the streets by mid-morning.
The city bursts into life with their arrival. People run after the trucks, some pushing carts and wheelbarrows.
There are the Khat sellers, bystanders, the jobless, pilferers and pickpockets, all wanting to make something out of the excitement.
Khat dealer Ali Omar says there is no point trying to control the trade.
"It is a silly question asking why I sell khat. Can you just walk over to the opposite store and ask why he sells foodstuffs? What a laughing matter," he said before resuming his shouts to attract customers.
Single mother-of-three Amina Derie has been selling khat for three years and is unrepentant.
She says the trade allows her to buy food for her children.
"I even pay their school fees through it. Thanks to God, I am comfortable," she said with a knowing smile.
The drug has a huge impact on the economy of Somaliland - whose independence from the rest of Somalia has not been internationally recognized.
Hargeisa's former mayor Mohamed Hashi was once quoted as saying that $60m was spent annually importing the drug from Ethiopia.
Somaliland is one of the poorest places on earth. The thousands of small polythene bags scattered all over the city's streets are a clear sign of the scale of the problem.
It appears that this huge mess is one reason why local leaders have taken action.
Hargeisa Regional Public Health Officer Abdiwahab Nakruma says khat has led to a fall in hygiene and sanitation standards.
"It has become so cumbersome to declare every Thursday as a general clean- up exercise."
Rangeland Development Director in Pastoral and Environmental Ministry Abdikarim Adan Omar says khat is also contributing to the degradation of the natural environment.
He says that unemployed young people in rural areas have resorted to burning charcoal in order to buy khat.
"The common saying in the rural areas amongst the charcoal burners is: 'Cut a tree to chew a twig'," he said.
Hargeisa residents are hoping that some of these problems can be solved by moving the khat markets out of the city centre.
Source: BBC Somali