New research suggests a small proportion of Qatar’s population is doing far more than its share of the country’s drinking – and much of that consumption appears to be of alcohol smuggled into the country or manufactured illegally.
The World Health Organization recently published a report on alcohol consumption and its health effects in 194 countries – the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014.
In Qatar – where laws effectively restrict the sale of alcohol to middle and high-income expats as well as tourists – most of the population doesn’t drink, according to WHO, which classified more than 93 percent of the country’s population as “abstainers.”
That means that on an overall per-capita basis, the country’s consumption of beer, wine and spirits is relatively low. Averaged out over the entire population, each person consumed 1.5 liters of pure alcohol annually between 2008-10.
That works out to five standard 26-ounce bottles of hard liquor annually, or less than two typical drinks a week.
That’s less than the global average of 6.2 liters and puts the country in the middle of the GCC, behind the UAE (4.3 liters) and Bahrain (2.1 liters), but more than Oman (0.9 liters) as well as the officially dry states of Saudi Arabia (0.2 liters) and Kuwait (0.1 liters).
Strip away the country’s non-drinkers, however, and the numbers tell a different story.
Drinkers in Qatar consume an average of 22.7 liters of pure alcohol annually. That’s the equivalent of more than 75 standard bottles of hard liquor a year, or 3.6 typical drinks a day.
That’s nearly 1.5 times the global average of 17 liters per drinker and second-highest in the Gulf, behind only the UAE at 32.8 liters.
Nevertheless, only a fraction of Qatar’s overall population – 0.1 percent – is dependent on alcohol, according to the WHO.
While most of the drinking data comes from official government sources and retail sales figures, WHO researchers also made an effort to quantify the consumption of “unrecorded” alcohol – booze that’s either been smuggled into the country, produced at home or manufactured illegally, as well as industrial or “surrogate” alcohol such as mouthwash that’s not intended to be consumed as a beverage.
In Qatar, unrecorded hooch consumption averaged 0.6 liters per person annually, or more than one-third of the total amount of alcohol consumed.
In absolute terms in the Gulf, that’s second behind only the UAE, where 1.5 liters of “unrecorded” alcohol is drank per capita annually.
As a share of overall booze consumption, however, only residents of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – where alcohol is officially banned – are more likely to resort to non-commercial beverages than their peers in Qatar.
Put another way, those countries with more liberal alcohol policies – Bahrain, Oman and the UAE – drank less “unrecorded” alcohol as a proportion of overall consumption.
Speaking to Doha News earlier this year about bootleg liquor consumption in Qatar, Tristan Brusle of the French National Centre for Scientific Research suggested the black market would shrink if alcohol was legally available to more workers, reducing the temptation posed by potentially toxic alternatives.
In Qatar, only residents earning at least QR4,000 (US$1,099) a month are eligible to apply for a license – which requires a $275 deposit – to buy alcohol for home consumption. This shuts out most migrant laborers, who don’t meet the salary cut-off.
“The black market is thriving in the Industrial Area because of the prohibition,” Brusle said.
Drinking illicit alcohol carries considerable risks, including death. One worker in Qatar who spoke to Doha News said he suffered from impaired vision and short-term memory loss, among other symptoms, as a result of drinking sadeeqi, a bootleg liquor infused with toxic industrial alcohols.
Globally, however, WHO researchers say there’s no evidence suggesting the consumption of homemade or illegal alcohol results in considerably more morbidity or mortality over and above the effects of commercially produced alcohol.
The exceptions include outbreaks of methanol poisoning and drinking alcohol that’s not intended to be a beverage, such as cologne. However, WHO said such fatalities still account for “considerably less” than 1 percent of all alcohol-related deaths.
Local health risks
WHO’s report notes that alcohol consumption can lead to dependency as well as increase the risk of developing more than 200 diseases, such as liver cirrhosis.
However, Qatar appears to perform relatively in terms of a low prevalence of alcohol-related health problems. This could be attributed to the high number of teetotallers here, as well as the makeup of its population, which is dominated by working-age expats who generally leave Qatar at an age before decades of heavy drinking takes its full toll on the body.
WHO statistics say that roughly 10 men per 100,000 male Qatar residents above the age of 15 die from liver cirrhosis annually. Of that, roughly a quarter of those cases are attributable to alcohol.
Similarly, nearly nine women per 100,000 female Qatar residents succumb to the same affliction, of which 13 percent can be chalked up to drinking, according to the WHO.
Other findings include:
- Per-capita consumption of alcohol in Qatar spiked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before steadily declining over the following two decades. It’s been rising gradually since the mid-2000s; and
- Spirits, such as hard liquor, are overwhelmingly the beverage of choice in Qatar, account for 85 percent of all alcohol consumed. That’s followed by wine at 14 percent and beer at 1 percent.
Saudi 0.2 liters.. hmm…:)
93% abstainers! Sounds rather high to me.
Shhhhh a good chunk who drink but don’t tell
Saw an Indian fellow wheel out 7 boxes of scotch yesterday (84 bottles) at QDC… Thirsty fellow or black market supplier?
I see this happen each and every QDC trip I make. It’s blatantly obvious who is purchasing for black market resale. Zero enforcement applies here, like everything else in Qatar.
“40% comes from underground sources” ! You mean there is a well ? fantastic, where ?
… a well…..very interesting …….. Perhaps passing under the warehouses where the distributor stocks his bottles. … Must be lots of spillages and leakages somewhere…
Qatar the country of all sorts of money making wells, gas, oil, alcohol 🙂
Cheers everyone!!! Enjoy it while it lasts!!
I always do my part to push up the national average. Keep Qatar competitive, I say.
The logic that it is legal for some but illegal for others just to have a drink goes against the basic principles of market driven realities. Frankly who are we to decide who can have it and who cannot.. Its not so dangerous that it kills like the accidents and disasters that happen on the roads around here.
Not illegal.. Just more affordable for some than others
Unfortunately, I find this article to be quite biased. There are several elements where the current situation is having a positive effect on the society, however this information is provided after a paragraph outlining the negative aspects.
The headline could have easily read
‘WHO statistics show that only 1.17 of every 100,000 of females (0.001%) and 3.75 of every 100,000 males (0.0037%) succumb to alcohol related liver cirrhosis pr year. ‘
‘No evidence suggesting the consumption of homemade alcohol results in considerably more mortality over the effects of commercially produced alcohol’
‘According to the WHO only 0.1 percent of Qatar’s overall population is dependent on alcohol’
I’m absolutely behind media as the fourth estate, but I can’t help but feel like this could (or should) have been a good news story.
I see your point. We did think about this – but in a country where alcohol is so restricted, it makes sense that not many people drink. What we found more interesting was that despite the restrictions, people have still found a way to imbibe, in vast quantities.
Also (assuming that succumb is taken to mean as die from rather than suffer from), consider that a vast majority of those who might be susceptible (ie. drinkers) would be expats.
Expats are more likely to go home if they get seriously ill that they are unfit to work, and would therefore count against the statistics of their home countries. At least that’s how I imagine it.
I’m loathed to disagree with you however I think that ‘vast’ is a relative term. i agree that the story around unrecorded consumption is interesting, concerning and warrants further discussion. But I do not think that the headline and the point of view put forth within the article accurately reflects the findings within the report.
After a quick look at the report : Qatar is rated in the lowest possible per capita total consumption grouping (p29),
and in reference to the point of vast quantities,
Qatar rates in the lowest possible category of episodic (binge) drinking among drinkers (p.34).
I agree that the % of unrecorded consumption relative to the overall is alarmingly high (0.6 of 1.5 or 40%).
However overall Qatar is 159 of 191 on the alcohol consuption chart. (ltrs per capita per yr)
And the % of unrecorded alcohol vs total alcohol consumed – 40% places it ouside the top 50.
regarding the expats spoken about below, we would also have to expect that they are very likely to arrive with pre-existing damage and/or drinking habits from their place of origin.
Eeeuuuufffffffff. Shabina got schooled. I hope you stick around more. Doha News does this with every article.
Other news sources:
“Qatar ranked safest country on earth”
“Qatar ranked LAST in danger. Paaaathetic”
“No evidence suggesting the consumption of homemade alcohol results in
considerably more mortality over the effects of commercially produced
That is a global average, where many choose to brew or distill their own alcohol using quality equipment and ingredients. I would find it extremely surprising if “sadeeqi” made from aftershave or whatever is not at least an order of magnitude more dangerous than commercial alcohol.
“According to the WHO only 0.1 percent of Qatar’s overall population is dependent on alcohol”
Again, overall population includes expats. If an expat starts missing work or commits a crime directly or indirectly caused by their alcohol dependance, they would be sent home.
Welcome to Doha news!! Where the editors go out of their way to give a negative spin to everything… Al sadd wins but fans get locked out!!! Here’s the parents which allowed their kids to starve for four days.. But wait look at the pix of them riding ponies
i’ll try again as it seems my comment has been removed. On Staurday at QDC I watched an Asian man wheel out 7 boxes of scotch, thats 84 bottles…thirsty or distributer to the masses?
Maybe it was an order for a hotel 🙂
Of course, I knew the answer was an honest one and to be fair I did wheel out one box of beer and 2 bottles of wine for my big fortnight ahead, people must of been thinking geez look at that drunk, silly of me to be so suspicious :-p
There is problem with these statistics. They assume no Muslims (therefore no Qataris drink alcohol) therefore all alcohol that is drank is by the “others”, making their average very high. There are places around town where you can see Qataris (I presume, due to their thobes and walk) drinking alcohol. Also, I have seen Asian drivers buy alcohol at QDC and then put it in the car, with their boss (in thobe) sitting in the car waiting. Hmmm. Maybe if these illicit drinkers were also quantified, the average would be lower and more realistic.
This story shows that Prohibition like in the USA in the ’20s creates more use.
However it is funny to read about health hazard or risks related to alcohol, when we are living in one on the converted most polluted cities in the world, and this country exceeds in all kind of fast-foods that are a real threat to health, showing some of the highest % of diabetic people in the world….but hey, the important is that it is halal fast food!
Always the same story: demonize alcohol.
For some countries with ancient cultures like Spain, France and Italy, where wine culture is as ancient as their civilizations and no prohibition, people know the use of alcohol and don’t drink “perfumes” or industrial alcohols. No risks attached!
Prohibition like in the USA in the ’20s generates this
I know people who worked in Saudi and told me that they never drunk as much as when they worked there! If you come from a culture where alcohol is available you will always find a way to manufacture it.
Absolutely! If you and I were to be placed in any of the big 3 cities there, and had a race, me to obtain a bottle of un-cut ‘Sid’, and you to obtain a bottle of Heinz Salad Cream, I would be extremely confident of winning!
Alcohol is not banned in Bahrain but drinking alcohol in public places is illegal.