3 February 2003

UN Study Exposes Origins, Dimensions and Impact of Afghanistan Opium Economy, Points to Alternative

VIENNA, 3 February (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) in Vienna has published a comprehensive new study, The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem, analyzing developments that made Afghanistan the world's number one producer of illicit opium and suggesting ways and means to deal with that problem in a long run.

In a Preface to the study, Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the ODC, characterizes the Afghanistan opium economy as an intensely complex phenomenon which -- over the past quarter of the century -- "reached deeply into the political structure, civil society and economy of the country.

"Spawned after decades of civil and military strife, it has chained a poor rural population -- farmers, landless labour, small traders, women and children -- to the mercy of domestic warlords and international crime syndicates that continue to dominate several areas in the south, north and east of the country. Dismantling the opium economy will be a long and complex process. It cannon simply be done by military or authoritarian means. That has been tried in the past, and was unsustainable. It must be done with the instruments of democracy, the rule of law, and development," Mr. Costa wrote.

The ODC has conducted annual opium poppy surveys in Afghanistan since 1994. Surveys provide the international community with a valuable information on the location and extent of opium cultivation, production and prices. Afghanistan's opium production increased more than 15-fold since 1979, the year of the Soviet intervention. By the year 2000, the country was the source of 70 percent of all the illicit opium produced in the world. Following a decline in 2001, production resumed at high levels in 2002, again making Afghanistan the world's largest producer (followed by Myanmar and Laos), accounting for almost three-quarters of global opium production.

The study -- released today at the UN Headquarters in New York -- goes beyond reporting on a single year's production and value. It examines Afghanistan's opium economy in order to understand its dynamics, the reasons for its growth, its beneficiaries and victims, and the problems it has caused domestically and abroad. The purpose of the study is to assist the country and the international community in developing and implementing a comprehensive response to this challenge.

"Afghanistan's opium economy can be dismantled if the Government, with the assistance of the international community, addresses the roots of the matter and not only its symptoms," Mr. Costa said. "This report exposes such roots, as a contribution to the common effort against illicit drugs."

The report, first, de-constructs the opium economy of Afghanistan into its main components: cultivation, production, finance, trade and consumption. Then, re-constructing the country's development processes, the report -- according to Mr. Costa -- points to the following essential elements of a sustainable counter-narcotic policy: "to help poor farmers decide in favour of licit crops; to replace narco-usury with a proper credit system and micro-landing; to provide jobs to women and to itinerant workers; to provide education to children, particularly girls; to turn opium bazaars into modern commodity markets; and to neutralize traffickers' and warlords' efforts to keep the evil trade alive."

In presenting the study today, Mr. Costa was joined by Mr. Sandeep Chawla, chief of the ODC's Research Section, which did the study, synthesizing ten years of ODC's work on the problem.

* *** *