Illegal opium production in Afghanistan remains high, UN reports
Afghanistan remains a key producer of the world’s opium, with 90 per cent of cultivation concentrated in just five provinces, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (ODC) said in its annual opium survey for the country released today.
“The high level of opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year is not a manifestation of a failure of the Afghan authorities or of the international efforts to assist them in drug control,” ODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said on the report’s launch in Rome.
The report blames the upsurge on the power vacuum in Kabul caused by the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, saying it enabled farmers to replant opium poppy. By the time the Afghan Interim Administration was established and issued a strong ban on illicit drug cultivation, most of the opium poppy fields had already begun to sprout.
“The cultivation took place during the total collapse of law and order in the Fall 2001, long before the new Government of Hamid Karzai was in place, and before the UN-coordinated effort to rebuild the country devastated by two decades of conflict had even begun,” Mr. Costa explained.
The total opium output this year amounted to an estimated 3,400 tons, still 25 per cent lower than the all-time record of 4,600 tons in 1999. Although it is difficult to estimate the value of the illicit crop because of fluctuating prices, the report notes that the total income for the Afghan opium poppy farmers could reach several hundreds of million US dollars” in 2002.
“What is needed in the period ahead is much stronger international support in establishing and developing law enforcement institutions, and providing Afghan farmers with alternative, licit means of livelihood,” said Mr. Costa. He also called for greater assistance to the Afghan authorities in carrying out their “strong commitment” to preventing opium cultivation, and noted that immediately after assuming office, President Karzai issued a decree banning not only cultivation but also the processing, trafficking and abuse of opiates – a position which was reiterated last month.
Those moves were made in response to the proliferation of opium cultivation in Afghanistan. By the late 1990s, the country provided about 70 per cent of global production of illicit opium, while some 9 million people, or two thirds of all abusers worldwide, consumed drugs of Afghan origin, ODC said. About half a million people have been involved in the international trade of illicit Afghan opiates in recent years.
The survey’s findings were based on high-resolution satellite images complemented by extensive ground surveys. UN investigators visited 923 villages in 84 districts of 16 provinces.