Opium poppy field in Gostan valley, Nimruz Province, Afghanistan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. - Photo: 2016

UN Concerned About Growing Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan

By Jaya Ramachandran

VIENNA | KABUL (IDN) – The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov has expressed concern over the rise of 43 percent in opium production in Afghanistan and called “for deepening political commitment within Afghanistan to face down illicit drugs and to stop endemic corruption as well as the proliferation of money laundering and other financial crimes”.

The findings of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2016 launched in Kabul on October 23 show an increase to 4,800 metric tons in 2016 compared with 2015 levels, which Fedotov said, points to “a worrying reversal” in efforts to combat the persistent problem of illicit drugs and their impact on development, health and security.

“Drug money fuels terrorism and is the driving force behind corruption,” he said in a statement to coincide with the release of the Survey’s findings. “Action against the impact of illicit drugs, must also be tempered by a recognition that root causes must be overcome, Fedotov added in a statement circulated to the media by the UN Information Service (UNIS) Vienna.

“Sustainable livelihoods are a workable reality, but we cannot expect farmers to turn from illicit to licit crops if there is no market, or no workable infrastructure for the transport of goods,” he argued, adding: These problems are part of a much wider development issue within Afghanistan.

In September last year, UN’s 193 member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We must lend our support to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Afghanistan – including vital work on a peaceful and inclusive society, health, poverty, peace, and gender, among many others,” he added.

The truth, he said, is that the international community cannot afford to turn its back on hard pressed Afghanistan, a nation which can do “so much to help reduce the global misery and suffering caused by opium and heroin”.

“Based on our findings, the total area under opium poppy cultivation has increased 10 per cent from 183,000 ha in 2015 to 201,000 ha this year. Poppy cultivation is expanding in the north and west, and the number of poppy free provinces has fallen from 14 to 13 in 2016,” Fedotov said in a statement to coincide with the launching of the Survey.

Opium production in Afghanistan rose by 43 per cent to 4,800 metric tons in 2016 compared with 2015 levels, according to figures released by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UNODC. The area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to 201,000 hectares (ha) in 2016, a rise of 10 per cent compared with 183,000 ha in 2015.

The average opium yield, meanwhile, is at 23.8 kilograms per hectare (p/ha) – 30 per cent more than in 2015 (18.3 kilograms p/ha). A total of 355 ha of poppy eradication was carried out by the provincial governors in 2016. This represented a decrease of 91 per cent from 2015 when 3,760 hectares were eradicated. In 2016, eradication took place in 7 provinces, compared to 12 provinces in 2015.

Hilmand, with some 80,273 ha (40 per cent of the national total), remained the country’s major opium poppy cultivating province. This is followed by Badghis (35,234 ha), Kandahar (20,475 ha), Uruzgan (15,503 ha), Nangarhar (14,344 ha), Farah (9,101 ha), Badakhshan (6,298 ha) and Nimroz (5,303 ha).

As noted in the Survey, opium cultivation decreased in some of the main opium poppy-growing provinces, notably Farah and Nimroz (which saw declines of 57, and 40 per cent, respectively), but climbed in the provinces of Badghis (by 184 per cent) and Badakhshan (by 55 per cent).

The southern region has the country’s largest share of national opium production with 54 per cent recorded, which equals some 2,591 metric tons (MT).

Afghanistan’s second most important opium producing region is the Western, responsible for 24 per cent of national production (1,139 MT), followed by the eastern region with 12 per cent (571 MT). The remaining areas (north-eastern, northern and central regions) together, accounted for only 10% of opium production.

According tot the Survey, eradication has dropped precipitously to 355 ha – a fall of some 91 per cent. The average opium yield has also grown by 30 per cent leading to a corresponding rise in opium production of 43 per cent or 4,800 tons.

“None of these results are positive, and they indicate the scale of the threat confronted by Afghanistan and the international community. But, it is worth acknowledging that Afghanistan is also arguably the first of the many victims of this destructive drug,” Fedotov added.

But he explained that Afghanistan is suffering devastating levels of drug addiction; heightened instability and insecurity, and weakened development due to the impact of illicit drugs. “Local law enforcement efforts are often conducted against the backdrop of a bitter and violent insurgency that stubbornly endures and hinders progress,” he added.

These problems have radiated outwards creating health and security challenges in Afghanistan’s neighbours, in West and Central Asia, and along the main drug routes to the rest of the world, Fedotov warned.

“For all these reasons, never has the concept of shared responsibility been so important, or more desperately needed for a drug producing country. I urge the international community to strengthen its engagement with the Afghan Government and to provide the resources to build greater regional cooperation,” UNODC chief declared.

The opium survey is implemented within the technical framework of the UNODC Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme (ICMP). The objective of ICMP is to assist the international community in monitoring the extent and evolution of illicit crops in the context of the Plan of Action adopted by the 53rd session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2009.

Under ICMP, UNODC carries out monitoring activities in other countries affected by illicit crop cultivation: in Asia, Myanmar; in Latin America, (Plurinational State of) Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru; and in Africa, Nigeria.

The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2016 was implemented under the project “Monitoring of Opium Production in Afghanistan” (AFG/F98), with financial contributions from the Governments of Japan and the U.S. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 October 2016]

Photo: Opium poppy field in Gostan valley, Nimruz Province, Afghanistan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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