As the United Nations anti-drug agency reports that the South-East Asian region – once notorious as heroin’s Golden Triangle – has dramatically slashed its opium production, its top official warned today that without serious development assistance the area’s economy could slide back into drug dependency.
The Golden Triangle – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar – has a limited opium problem that is concentrated in just one region of Myanmar, according to the South East Asia Opium Survey issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Whereas Myanmar remains the world’s second largest supplier of opium behind Afghanistan, the report concludes that Thailand and Laos are almost opium-free.
“This is a drug control success story,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.
South-East Asia accounts for 424 tons of the illicit drug, around five per cent of the world’s total opium production, down from 33 per cent in 1998 and more than 50 per cent in 1990.
Cultivation is mostly limited to the Shan State in Myanmar which accounts for 89 per cent of the national total.
“There is still too much opium in Myanmar, but progress over the past two decades has been impressive,” said Mr. Costa, stressing that “sustained progress requires sustainable development.”
The UN drug tsar warned that because many of the opium farmers in South-East Asia are extremely poor, “rising opium prices increase the risk that farmers may revert to illicit crops.”
Despite the region’s impressive gains in the fight against the illegal trade, “the region still has a drug problem. Further development assistance is badly needed.”
Underscoring his point, the 2008 Global Assessment of Amphetamines (ATS) and Ecstasy, also published by UNODC, reported that the Greater Mekong sub-region has become a major hub for the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs.
“Urgent steps are needed to consolidate progress towards making the Golden Triangle opium-free, and to head off a major ATS crisis,” said Mr. Costa.