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Disastrous UN opium figures confirm failure of counter-narcotics in Afghanistan

Disastrous UN opium figures confirm failure of counter-narcotics in Afghanistan 27 August 2007

UN figures show yet again the failure of counter-narcotics policy

LONDON – Figures released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show an alarming 34% increase of opium production in Afghanistan this year, despite stepped-up counter-narcotics efforts. With 193,000 hectares under opium cultivation, Afghanistan now accounts for 93% of illegal opium production in the world. Opium cultivation directly employs 3.3 million Afghans – an astonishing increase of 14 percent compared to 2006.

The international community, with the US at the helm of counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, is spending millions of dollars on flawed strategies. Poppy crop eradication was reinforced this year but in the current environment of rural poverty and lack of sustainable alternatives, eradication has proved wholly ineffective.

Crop eradication does not address the economic nature of the Afghan opium crisis

The Afghan opium crisis is a problem of economic development. Farmers are cultivating opium poppy because there are no profitable alternatives to fall back on. In such an environment, crop eradication puts the future of Afghanistan and the entire region in jeopardy. “US-led efforts to destroy poppy crops are at odds with counter-insurgency and development efforts,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “The counter-narcotics strategies implemented by the international community have not only failed to curb opium cultivation in Afghanistan, they have even aggravated the security and development situation.”

With the opium crisis left unresolved, NATO-ISAF’s mission is further at risk. Reinert adds: “Just as in 2006, crop eradication efforts have fuelled resentment and have pitted impoverished local communities against the ISAF soldiers, who are trying their best to win the hearts and minds of the local population. At the same time, the Taliban have skilfully exploited this situation to their advantage.” The UN Report confirms that opium production is increasingly concentrated in Taliban-controlled areas. Chemical eradication, planned for next season, will only make these matters worse. “We need to overhaul current counter-narcotics strategies and seriously prioritize development,” adds Mr. Reinert.

Poppy for Medicine – the short-term economic alternative to crop eradication

Opium is the raw material for morphine and other essential medicines. To start tackling the economic nature of the Afghan opium crisis, ICOS presented in June of this year a village-based “Poppy for Medicine” model whose crux is the production of painkilling medicines. Contrary to crop eradication, Poppy for Medicine is an economic development tool which would represent a comprehensive counter-narcotics measure. It would allow farming communities to produce morphine locally, bringing the added value to the villages and therefore providing rural communities with viable economic opportunities. This alternative system would trigger alternative livelihood programmes, foster rural development and would generate much-needed economic diversification.

Afghan morphine to meet unmet needs for painkilling medicines

Millions of people, particularly cancer and HIV/AIDS sufferers, live and die in unnecessary pain because their needs for essential morphine medicines are not being met. While a few countries, together representing less than 20% of the world’s population, accounted for more than 95% of the total morphine consumption in 2005, the remaining 80% of the world’s population had a combined morphine consumption representing less than 5% of the global total. The Poppy for Medicine initiative would address these huge unmet needs for painkilling medicines.

ICOS calls upon the international community to implement a scientific Poppy for Medicine pilot project in the next planting season, that is October and November 2007. “The alarming UN figures of 2007 should be reason enough to try a different approach, tailored to the realities of Afghanistan in terms of security and development,” says Emmanuel Reinert.

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