Global help needed for Afghanistan to overcome 'economy of opium,' UN says

Global help needed for Afghanistan to overcome 'economy of opium,' UN says

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In order to secure lasting recovery in Afghanistan, global actors must work with the new Government to help the people of the country gain an advantage over the decades old "economy of opium," the top United Nations anti-drug official said today in New York.

Speaking at the launch of the "The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem," Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the report was not an "academic study of a single year's production and value." Instead, it examines Afghanistan's opium economy in order to understand its dynamics and the reasons for its growth, and attempts to offer ways to help farmers replace illicit cultivation with legal and commercially viable crops.

In his preface to the study, Mr. Costa stresses the profound complexity of Afghanistan's drug economy, which generates billions of dollars in a country where the average legitimate wage is barely $2. Reaching deep into the post-colonial history of the entire region, the roots of the Afghan opium poppy have now bound poor, rural labourers and farmers to the mercy of domestic warlords and ruthless international crime syndicates.

According to the report, two decades of war has ravaged the land, and with irrigation channels, cultivation terraces and warehouses destroyed, the production of legitimate cops has been severely diminished. Poppy cultivation has become a lucrative agricultural activity, and - coupled with weak government control and increasing pressure from criminal and terrorist networks - opened the way for the Taliban and other traffickers to reap untold wealth marketing and trafficking drugs through out the region.

While all this practically guarantees that there are no simple answers, Mr. Costa said he believes Afghanistan's drug economy can be dismantled if the Government - with the help of the international community - addresses the root causes of the situation, not merely its symptoms.

Regional concerns, coupled with the contemporary geopolitics of terrorism and violence, add international ramifications to Afghanistan's cultivation trafficking and drug abuse. Mutual determination to overcome the predicament must be shown by countries through which Afghan narcotics are trafficked and in which heroin abuse nourishes the opium economy. "In other words, all the countries that are part of the Afghan drug problem should be part of the solution," Mr. Costa emphasized.

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to interview with Mr. Antonio Maria Costa