4 September 2006

Afghan Opium Cultivation Soars 59 per cent in 2006, UNODC Survey Shows

VIENNA, 4 September (UN Information Service) -- Opium cultivation in Afghanistan rose 59 per cent in 2006, largely due to a dramatic increase in the troubled southern provinces, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Saturday.

UNODC's Annual Opium Survey for Afghanistan showed the area under opium cultivation reached a record 165,000 hectares in 2006 compared with 104,000 in 2005. In the southern province of Helmand, where Taliban insurgents have scaled up their attacks on Afghan government and international forces, cultivation soared 162 per cent to 69,324 hectares.

"These are very alarming numbers. Afghanistan is increasingly hooked on its own drug," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in Kabul after presenting the survey to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"This year's harvest will be around 6,100 tons of opium - a staggering 92 per cent of total world supply. It exceeds global consumption by 30 per cent."

The Survey will be published in full at the end of October. A detailed summary, with commentary, will be released on 12 September.

The UNODC Executive Director said the southern part of Afghanistan was displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse, with large-scale drug cultivation and trafficking, insurgency and terrorism, crime and corruption. In other provinces, especially Badakhshan in the north-east, opium crop increases were the result of weak governance, poverty and the influence of powerful warlords.

Only six of the country's 34 provinces are now opium-free. Cultivation fell this year in eight other provinces, mainly in the north of the country. In Nangarhar, the huge successes in eradicating opium in 2005 were not reversed, although some increase was seen in the area under cultivation.

"Public opinion is increasingly frustrated by the fact that opium cultivation in Afghanistan is out of control. The political, military and economic investments by coalition countries are not having much visible impact on drug cultivation. As a result, Afghan opium is fuelling insurgency in western Asia, feeding international mafias and causing a hundred thousand deaths from overdoses every year," the UNODC Executive Director said.

Mr. Costa called on the Afghan Government to take much tougher action to root out corruption and arrest major drug traffickers and wealthy opium-farming landlords, seizing their assets.

"We trained police and prosecutors, we constructed court houses and detention centres. Now the government has the responsibility to use the judicial system to impose the rule of law and re-establish confidence in Kabul. Significant arrests and convictions will set an example and serve as a deterrent."

Mr. Costa urged the Afghan authorities to double the number of opium-free provinces by the end of 2007 and again by 2008, so as to create a drug-free Afghanistan province by province.

"Drug-free areas should be rewarded with more substantial and more visible development aid. Governors and police officials presiding over opium growing provinces should be removed and charged. This would draw a battle line in what could otherwise be an unwinnable war against insurgency mixed with drug trafficking."

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Better living standards, especially in the countryside, and better governance are both vital for tackling the drug problem.

The United Nations drugs chief said Afghanistan had not received as much economic aid per head of population as other post-conflict areas and greater efforts were needed.

"It is not only a question of more money. Aid money gets stuck due to bureaucratic delays. Some is misused, or even stolen, by incompetent intermediaries and corrupt administrators. International aid is plagued by huge overhead costs. Add the arrogant power of the warlords turned drug-lords and you understand why people's confidence in the government and in the international community is being undermined," he added.

The Afghan Government, the parliament and partner nations have made it clear that legalizing cultivation or buying up the opium crop for medical purposes is not an option under current circumstances. The price differential between the legal market, where opium costs about US $20-30 per kilo, and the illegal one, where the price is US $100, would lead to even greater cultivation and the massive diversion of supplies to the black market.

The UNODC Executive Director also called on western governments to do more to curb drug abuse in their countries, not least in order to protect the health and safety of their own people. "Heroin habits in the West put huge sums of money into the pockets of criminals and insurgents who destabilize Afghanistan and kill soldiers and civilians alike," he said.

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For information contact:
Richard Murphy
Spokesman, UNODC
Telephone: +43 1 260 60 5761
E-mail: richard.murphy@unodc.org