Global support crucial to keep Laotian farmers from opium – UN official

14 February 2006

Once the third-largest opium producer in the world, Laos and its farmers need the global community’s support so poverty doesn’t force its farmers to rely on opium production, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today.

Once the third-largest opium producer in the world, Laos and its farmers need the global community’s support so poverty doesn’t force its farmers to rely on opium production, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today.

At ceremonies held in the Laotian capital of Vientiane to mark its virtual eradication of opium production, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, congratulated the Laos Government for slashing opium production by 93 per cent over the last seven years.

“The progress that Laos has made is quite momentous when we consider that until the mid-1990s, it was the third-largest producer of illicit opium in the world,” Mr. Costa said.

He said the small amount of remaining opium production is consumed by this Southeast Asian nation’s approximately 20,000 opium smokers, many of whom are undergoing treatment or rehabilitation. UN figures show that about 1,800 hectares of land in this nation were under opium cultivation in 2005, down from 26,800 hectares in 1998.

Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world, is at a critical juncture if it is to remain free of opium, Mr. Costa said. He urged donor countries and development agencies to supply the economic support that poor farmers, whom have relinquished opium cultivation, need to develop alternative sources of income that are sustainable.

“Not enough has been done so far,” said Mr. Costa. “We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the poor are not the ones who pay the price for successes in drug control.”

UNODC recently agreed to a new Strategic Programme Framework for Laos that includes projects totalling $18.4 million for a three-year period that begins in 2006. Most of the money will be funnelled to alternative development activities.

Mr. Costa also expressed concern about reports of the increasing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants in Laos. Seizures of these drugs soared by 62 per cent in 2004, compared to the previous year, according to the Strategic Programme Framework report.

He also urged the Laotian government to remain vigilant on opium cultivation in the coming years. “Even some 10 years after Thailand and Viet Nam officially eliminated opium, they still have to eradicate many hectares of opium poppy every year,” he added.

 

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