UN reports declining opium production in Myanmar

UN reports declining opium production in Myanmar

Opium production is declining in Myanmar - one of the world's biggest sources of the illegal crop - according to the results of the first-ever comprehensive poppy survey for the country, the United Nations announced today.

Opium production is declining in Myanmar - one of the world's biggest sources of the illegal crop - according to the results of the first-ever comprehensive poppy survey for the country, the United Nations announced today.

The Myanmar Opium Survey 2002, produced by the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), indicates the production of about 828 tons of opium so far this year - a figure estimated to be lower than the previous year.

"This decline is a step in the right direction," said ODCCP Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, introducing the survey results in Vienna today. While hailing evidence that the Government was aware of the damage caused by opium cultivation, he stressed that "new measures are needed and expected."

Last year, Myanmar was the world's biggest producer with an estimated 1,097 tons, according to the UN. And while the country still has the largest area under opium poppy cultivation - some 81,400 hectares - farmers in Afghanistan are producing 30 kilos of opium per hectare compared to only 10 kilos in Myanmar. That makes it likely that in 2002 Myanmar will become the world's second biggest producer of opium, when measured in tons.

ODCCP's Myanmar report was produced using both extensive field work and satellite imagery. More than 150 surveyors visited nearly 2,000 villages and physically measured nearly 6,000 opium fields. The survey was conducted jointly with the Government of Myanmar in the Shan State, where more than 90 per cent of the country's opium poppy is grown.

The survey also found a drug abuse problem in the country, where about 80,000 people, representing 1.6 per cent of the population - or 2.4 per cent of all people age 15 and above - smoke opium on a daily basis.

"The international community remains very concerned," Mr. Costa said, pledging UN efforts to continue monitoring the drug's cultivation. "We are also strengthening our investment in alternative development projects," he added. The UN, which has worked since 1976 to help Myanmar cope with its illegal drug problem, is currently focusing on advocacy, supply reduction and prevention. One ODCCP initiative last year helped to increase rice production, livestock development, new tea plantations and nurseries in the country.

The Myanmar survey is the first in a series of ODCCP reports on opium cultivation, with studies on Afghanistan and Laos scheduled for release next month.