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Eight in ten in the UK support Poppy for Medicine initiative in Afghanistan

Eight in ten in the UK support Poppy for Medicine initiative in Afghanistan4 September 2007

Absence of grassroots support for the US led counter-narcotics policies

74% oppose promised US chemical spraying in Afghanistan
London – ICOS on Tuesday urged British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to initiate Poppy for Medicine pilot projects in Afghanistan after a nationwide survey revealed that 8 in 10 in the UK support the initiative. At present, the current counter-narcotics policy of forced poppy crop eradication has been a dramatic failure. According to the latest U.N survey, opium cultivation for heroin in Helmand was up by 48% from 2006, with overall poppy cultivation levels at an all-time high for the second successive year. The UN report also noted the growing link between opium cultivation and the Taliban insurgency indicating a growing financial relationship between opium farmers and Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Forced poppy crop eradication has put British troops at risk, because the Taliban have been able to gain increasing support from angry farmers who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by the international community. Helmand farmers in particular live in extreme poverty with no crop other than opium poppy viable for them. The survey was conducted in the four NATO countries with troops fighting in southern Afghanistan – the UK, the US, Canada and the Netherlands – during the second half of August. The findings showed that there is no majority public support for forced crop eradication. Instead, there is a widespread belief that government leaders should support the implementation of pilot Poppy for Medicine projects in Afghanistan in the next planting season this autumn. “A sense of urgency is required, this is grim reading for the governments involved.” said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of ICOS. “The survey reveals in the strongest possible terms that these countries have lost their mandate for pursuing these US-led policies. In fact, more than eight out of ten support Poppy for Medicine and the implementation of a pilot projects.”

Poppy for Medicine projects would see village-cultivated poppy transformed into morphine tablets in the rural communities by bringing the important added value of the transformation of poppy into medicine at the local level. Farmers would be given the financial incentive necessary to sever ties with the insurgency, while the current world shortage of these pain-relieving medicines would be addressed.

There is a global shortage of pain killing medicines. Just six wealthy countries, including the United States and Canada, use more than 80% of the world’s supplies of morphine medicines, the developing countries that account for more than 80% of the world’s population use just 5%.

80% of those polled stated they would be willing to use Afghan Fair Trade morphine.

“Prime Minister Brown has to regain grass roots support for his Afghanistan counter narcotics by adopting the Poppy for Medicine scheme,” said MacDonald. “The British people have recognised that the current counter-narcotics policies in Afghanistan are failing and having a detrimental impact upon Britain’s mission in the country.

Pilot projects essential in next planting season

73% of those polled believe that Prime Minister Brown should personally endorse Poppy for Medicine pilot projects.

“We urge Prime Minister Brown to implement our request to run Poppy for Medicine pilot projects in the next planting season,” said MacDonald. “It is vital that we develop a positive economic relationship with the local population and cut their growing financial ties to the Taliban insurgency. By integrating the Afghan farmers into a legal economy through Poppy for Medicine projects, we give locals a financial incentive to sever ties with the Taliban, and develop a positive economic relationship with the Karzai government and the NATO troops operating in Helmand.“

UK against chemical spraying of Afghan crops

The survey of 1,000 in the UK, conducted by ORB on behalf of ICOS, also found that 74% of Brits would oppose the chemical spraying of farmers’ poppy crop – a programme the US has been promising for the next planting season.

The US has undertaken chemical spraying in Colombia and it proved to be wholly ineffective. As well as merely displacing illicit coca cultivation to more remote areas, the aerial spraying led to starvation and displacement of entire farming communities, while posing severe health risks to both humans and the environment.

“Chemical spraying would not only be catastrophic for the agricultural community of Afghanistan, it would turn them against British troops in Helmand,” said Paul Burton, Head of Policy. “Our research on the ground in Afghanistan clearly shows that chemical spraying would trigger a dramatic increase in hostility against the NATO troops and the Karzai government in Afghanistan. Chemical spraying would light a political fire under the Karzai government and the British troops operating in Helmand.”

Only 42% of Brits polled support the current counter-narcotics policy of forced poppy crop eradication, which has driven farmers to turn to the Taliban for the protection of their livelihoods, putting British troops at greater risk.

“Prime Minister Brown now has to decide between continuing his support for failed US-led counter-narcotics policies or assuring that Brits troops are fighting in a supportive environment in southern Afghanistan,” said Burton.

“The time has come to retire these bankrupt policies,” said MacDonald. “The public is calling for a dramatic change of direction.”

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