Afghanistan: UN anti-narcotics chief's visit to address boom in drug cultivation

Afghanistan: UN anti-narcotics chief's visit to address boom in drug cultivation

Antonio M. Costa
The United Nations counter-narcotics chief is heading this weekend to Afghanistan, where concern is growing that the 2004 opium crop may reach record levels, topping last year's 3,600 tons produced.

The United Nations counter-narcotics chief is heading this weekend to Afghanistan, where concern is growing that the 2004 opium crop may reach record levels, topping last year's 3,600 tons produced.

"Unfortunately, there is no easy way of solving Afghanistan's opium problem. In countries like Thailand, Pakistan and Turkey, where the problem was as severe, it took a generation to reverse the trend, and put an end to it," Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said today as he prepared for his eight-day tour, which starts Saturday.

While in Afghanistan, Mr. Costa will review the situation on the ground and urge a more effective implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy. On his way to the capital Kabul, he will visit some opium producing provinces, meeting with key governors, police chiefs and military commanders, as well as some opium-growing farmers.

In 2003, opium production in Afghanistan reached an estimated 3,600 tons, a 6 per cent increase over the previous year, generating $1 billion in income for farmers and $1.3 billion for traffickers - the equivalent of 52 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Recent UNODC surveys indicate the likelihood of a further increase in production.

"The opium economy will continue to grow as long as drug production and trafficking are conducted without risk of retribution or the incentive to do something else. It is urgent to redress this risk-reward imbalance, making engagement in illicit activities legally and economically unattractive," Mr. Costa said, appealing to the international community to give more help to Afghan farmers to switch from opium cultivation to legal activities.

Before travelling to Afghanistan, Mr. Costa had visited Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where the availability of opium has increased the lure of drug abuse. A rise in the number of people injecting heroin is causing a dramatic spike in the incidence of HIV/AIDS, according to UNODC. Narcotics money also provides resources to organized crime and terrorist groups.

Meeting with leaders of several Central Asian countries, Mr. Costa discussed the implementation of the Good Neighbourly Relations Declaration on Narcotics Control and of the Paris Pact initiative, which involves countries on the Afghan opium trafficking routes.