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Southern Afghanistan remains heartland of opium production – UN

Southern Afghanistan remains heartland of opium production – UN

Afghanistan continues to monopolize the global industry in illegal opium and is increasingly capable on its own territory of processing the poppy into heroin and morphine, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned today.

The more sophisticated drug production means there is also greater risk now that Afghans will become heroin or opium addicts, UNODC representative in Afghanistan Christina Gynna Oguz told reporters at a briefing in the capital, Kabul.

A day before the release of UNODC’s annual report on the narcotics situation around the world, Ms. Oguz detailed some of the findings about Afghanistan, which last year produced about 6,000 tons of opium poppy – or 92 per cent of the world total.

She said opium cultivation is concentrated in the south of the country, with just one province – Helmand – accounting for 42 per cent of all the illicit production in the world. Many of the provinces with the highest levels of production also have the worst security problems.

“There are close links between criminal networks that deal in drugs and the insurgents,” Ms. Oguz said. “Together they provide both the money and the environment for instability in this country.”

Most of Afghanistan’s opium is trafficked out of the country and then processed into heroin and morphine, but Ms. Oguz said that more and more of that production is taking place within the country.

“This indicates a sophistication that we did not have before and also that there is large illegal import of chemicals that are needed for the manufacturing of morphine and heroin.”

She added that the increased heroin production inside Afghanistan means there is a rising risk of heroin abuse. At least 50,000 people are already addicted, and the numbers are rising in part because of returning refugees who used heroin elsewhere, mainly in Iran.

The problem is not confined to heroin, Ms. Oguz stressed. About 150,000 people, mostly in rural areas, are addicted to opium, using it as a pain reliever or medicine because of the country’s poor health-care system.

But Ms. Oguz added that the country is gaining some ground in the fight against illegal drugs. Cultivation has decreased in the central and northern provinces, where the security situation is also more stable.

“This represents a window of opportunity for the Government in particular, but also the international community, to do something about the drug problem. It is possible to have success in areas where security is better and where there is good governance.”