22 November 2006

UN Drugs Chief Welcomes Move to Reward Afghan Provinces Which Eliminate Opium

VIENNA, 22 November 2006 (UN Information Service) -- United Nations drugs chief Antonio Maria Costa welcomed the decision by the Afghan Counter Narcotics Trust Fund to make development grants to provinces which eliminate opium poppy.

"I welcome this initiative," he said in response to a statement from the Fund that the current six opium-free provinces will each receive US$500,000 dollars for development projects. They will receive the same amount again in 2007 if they maintain their opium-free status.

Another eight provinces which had only limited poppy cultivation this year (less than 1,000 hectares each) will receive US$150,000 each immediately and will get an additional US$350,000 in 2007 if they achieve complete elimination.

"Solving Afghanistan's opium problem is not only a question of security, it's a question of development," said Mr. Costa, chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 

"By rewarding the good behaviour of farmers who are committed to making their provinces opium-free, we show the people of Afghanistan that they can have a sustainable future without growing illicit crops. This could create momentum for development and hope instead of the current spiral of violence and despair. It could also help to isolate the drug lords and corrupt officials."

UNODC, which conducts the most authoritative opium crop surveys in Afghanistan, will certify whether or not provinces are opium-free and therefore whether they qualify for grants.

Mr. Costa urged international development agencies and financial institutions to throw their weight behind the initiative and focus their support on regions of Afghanistan which demonstrate their commitment to eliminating opium.

The grants will be paid through the Good Performers Fund, a programme of the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund, which is supported by the United States and Britain.

Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, had a record crop of 6,100 tonnes in 2006.

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For further information, contact:

Richard Murphy
Spokesman, UNODC
Telephone: +43 1 260 60 5761 Mobile +43 699 1459 5761
E-mail: richard.murphy@unodc.org