Press Releases

    27 May 2004

    United Nations Counter-Narcotics Chief to Address Severe Drug Cultivation and Trafficking Situation during Visit to Afghanistan

    VIENNA, 27 May (UN Information Service) -- Amid growing concern that the 2004 opium crop in Afghanistan may reach a record level, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is beginning his eight-day visit to the Afghanistan on Saturday. 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 Kabul, Mr. Costa will visit some opium producing provinces, meeting the key governors, police chiefs and military commanders, as well as some opium-growing farmers.

    “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,” Mr. Costa said.

    In 2003, the opium production in Afghanistan reached an estimated 3,600 tonnes, an increase of six per cent from the previous year. Opium generated an income of US$ one billion for farmers and US$ 1.3 billion for traffickers, equivalent to 52 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The recent UNODC surveys -- the Farmers’ Intentions Survey of January and Rapid Assessment Survey of February this year -- indicated the likelihood of a further increase in production.

    Mr. Costa said: “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.  I appeal to the international community to provide greater assistance to Afghan farmers to switch from opium cultivation to licit activities.”

    UNODC is working closely with the United Kingdom to establish national counter-narcotics institutions, with Germany to reform the police, and with Italy to create a new judicial system in Afghanistan. UNODC helped the Afghan Government in creating the Counter-Narcotics Directorate and adopting the National Drug Control Strategy a year ago. The Strategy addresses key areas of institution building, judicial reform, law enforcement, alternative livelihoods and demand reduction and foresees the elimination of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan within a 10-year period.

    “Counter-narcotics efforts need to distinguish between farmers’ need and traffickers’ greed.  Law enforcement needs to target traffickers and disrupt trafficking routes and clandestine laboratories. Farmers, including those affected by the Government-sponsored opium eradication campaigns, should be supported by development assistance,” said the UNODC Executive Director.

    After visiting the provinces of Balkh, Kunduz and Herat, Mr. Costa will conclude his visit in Kabul, meeting with Afghanistan’s most senior officials, as well as with the top international civilian and military representatives.

    “We need to improve the scope, range and effectiveness of counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan. The fact that the problem is becoming even more severe demonstrates that our joint work needs mobilization, with new means and new resolve,” said Mr. Costa.

    Mr. Costa especially urged the countries where opiates are consumed -- including Russia, China and European countries -- to take steps to reduce abuse. 

    “If world demand persists at the level of over 4,000 tonnes of opium a year, if not in Afghanistan, somewhere, somehow, drugs will be produced.  The matter is all the more serious considering that injecting heroin abuse is causing a major HIV/AIDS pandemic,” Mr. Costa concluded.

    Before arriving in Afghanistan on Saturday, Mr. Costa visited Central Asia -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- taking stock of the devastating impact of opium trafficking from Afghanistan. The availability of opium has increased the lure of drug abuse and injecting drug abuse of heroin is causing a dramatic increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Narcotics money also provides resources to organized crime and terrorist groups. Meeting some of the Presidents of the 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.

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