CENTRAL ASIAN STATES INCREASE COOPERATION
VIENNA, 12 December (UN Information Service) -- The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC), Antonio Maria Costa, on his first visit to Central Asia will discuss the issue of drug control and rising levels of opiate abuse in the region. Mr. Costa will attend the meeting of the Memorandum of Understanding on Subregional Drug Control Cooperation (MOU) to be held on 13-14 December 2002 in Ashgabad, Turkmenistan.
The MOU was signed in Tashkent in May 1996 between the governments of the five Central Asian states and ODC. Russia and the Aga Khan Development Network joined the MOU in 1998, followed by Azerbaijan in 2001, thus expanding the regional framework of drug control cooperation. At the annual meetings (held in 1998, Kazakhstan; 1999, Kyrgyzstan; 2001, Tajikistan), the MOU member states review progress in drug control cooperation and discuss prospects for its further development.
The Fourth Annual MOU meeting in Ashgabad will bring together the five Central Asian states, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, as well as ODC and the Aga Khan Development Network to discuss drug control cooperation in the context of recent geopolitical developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is expected that other interested countries as well as international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), will attend the MOU meeting as observers.
The Central Asian region is still one of the major transhipment points for the illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan on the way towards Russia, the Caucasus states and further to Europe. According to the 2002 ODC Opium Survey, the potential opium poppy production in Afghanistan is estimated to amount to 3,400 metric tons, a considerable increase compared to 2001. Illicit drugs of Afghan origin continue to enter Central Asia mainly via Tajikistan, as well as across Uzbekistan’s borders with Afghanistan, and allegedly across Turkmenistan’s extensive frontiers both with Afghanistan and Iran. In Tajikistan alone, the heroin seizures in 2001 reached 4,239 kg.
With the fall of the Taliban regime and the re-opening of the borders with Afghanistan, cross-border contacts between Afghanistan and neighbouring Central Asian countries will be significantly increased. Bridges have already opened along the Pyanj River in Tajikistan, as well as in Termez-Hayraton at the Uzbek-Afghan border. These checkpoints, which used to be a hot spot of drugs and precursor smuggling before the closure in 1998, have already experienced a high volume of traffic.
All countries neighbouring Afghanistan have suffered over the last several years from rising levels of opiate abuse as a consequence of the increased drug traffic and availability in local markets. The strongest increase in opiate abuse in recent years, however, has taken place in the countries of Central Asia where the prevalence rate is estimated to be 0,9% of the population age 15 and above. This level exceeds the global opiate abuse level (0,3%) and that of Western Europe (0,3%). This situation has an impact on the alarming growth rate of HIV/AIDS in the region: data for 2001 suggest that 88% of all newly recorded HIV cases were related to injecting drug abuse.
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