Press Releases

    24 October 2002

    FRIDAY 25 OCTOBER 2002

    Opening Remarks



    Antonio Maria Costa
    Executive Director

    Rome, 25 October 2002

    Today we are sharing with the international public the findings of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2002. This survey is part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) mandate to monitor illicit drug trends globally in order to help member states have a full understanding of the extent of the problem and develop the most effective responses. ODC has been conducting annual opium poppy surveys in Afghanistan since 1994. In 2001-2002, the survey faced difficult security problems in some areas of the country. ODC was forced to adapt its methodology, using high-resolution satellite images complemented with extensive ground verification, with surveyors collecting GPS coordinates of opium poppy fields and conducting targeted ground surveys.

    ODC field surveyors visited 923 villages in 84 districts of 16 provinces and high-resolution satellite images ensured a sample-based coverage of all the main opium growing areas, regardless of the security situation. To improve the interpretation of the images, as well as to account for staggered planting, images of the same areas were acquired at one-month intervals. As soon as the security situation permitted, surveyors went back to the opium growing areas, where they collected GPS coordinates of opium poppy fields. This information was crucial to ensure an accurate interpretation of the satellite images (ground truthing). An independent on-the-ground survey was carried out in the north of Afghanistan, confirming the validity of the methodology used.

    Based on such methodology, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates this year’s opium production in Afghanistan to amount to 3,400 tons. This is still about 25 per cent lower than the record production of 1999 (4,600 tons). The survey indicates that 90 per cent of cultivation was concentrated in just five out of a total of 32 provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand in the South, followed by Nangarhar in the East, Badakhshan in the North, Uruzgan in the South/Center and Kandahar in the South.

    Therefore the opium poppy cultivation is not a country-wide problem. The identification of the critical growing areas is important for better focused drug control efforts and measures, and as a way to represent the impact of the 5 provinces of Afghanistan which are not complying with the administration’s decrees banning narcotics cultivation and trade.

    These figures are not the manifestation of a failure of Afghan authorities or of the international drug control efforts. They can only be interpreted in the context of that country’s realities of the past year: the cultivation took place during the total collapse of law and order in the fall 2001, long before the new government of Dr. Hamid Karzai was in place, and before the UN-coordinated effort to rebuild the country devastated by the two decades of conflict had even begun.

    In these survey findings the United Nations primarily sees a need for increased international community support for the Afghanistan Transitional Authority’s drug control efforts. President Karzai’s government has demonstrated a strong commitment to prevent illicit opium cultivation. Immediately after assuming office, he issued a comprehensive decree on 17 January, 2002, banning not only cultivation, but also processing, trafficking and abuse of opiates in the country. Last month, his government reiterated that position, reasserting the ban on opium poppy planting this fall. This underlines the need to assist the Afghan government in building its law enforcement capacity.

    Now that the government of Afghanistan is committed to implement international drug control laws, the international community should support its efforts in two major ways: (i) in developing and strengthening the Afghan drug control and law enforcement agencies; help create judicial framework and institutions consistent with international conventions; enhance regional cross-border cooperation in monitoring and interdiction of illicit drugs (and ODC is engaged in all those areas). The other (ii) equally important priority is to offer Afghan farmers an alternative to drug cultivation. They need generous international support in developing licit means of livelihood. We call upon international financial institutions and especially the multilateral developing banks to support activities and efforts aimed at achieving that goal.

    The international community, and especially European countries -- as the major destination of heroin originating from Afghanistan -- need to redouble their efforts to assist the Afghan government in carrying out its commitment to uphold international law and offer the long-suffering people of Afghanistan a better future. Europe has a key role to play as a frontline of the new struggle for Afghanistan. It is important to note that the British Government is assisting in establishing drug control institutions; the German Government in establishing and training police; the Italians in judicial reform -- with many other governments contributing to the rebuilding of the country. That reflects European countries’ solidarity with the Afghan people and with international efforts to fight terrorism. As a by-product it will also help Europe's general interest in preventing heroin in reaching their markets.

    But Afghanistan is -- most of all -- a global challenge. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is coordinating the rebuilding of the country after more than two decades of destruction can only succeed if the global community -- from the US and Canada to Europe and Japan, from Russia to neighboring Iran and Pakistan -- continue to provide their support in a process of empowering the Afghan people in this new beginning.

    25 October 2002