Global Decrease in Opium Cultivation due to a Decrease in Afghanistan
KABUL - The World Drug Report 2009, launched yesterday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Washington DC, shows that global markets for cocaine, opiates and cannabis are steady or in decline, while production and use of synthetic drugs appears to be increasing in the developing world.
The Report noted the decline of global opium poppy cultivation to 189,000 hectares in 2008, largely a result of a decrease in Afghanistan’s cultivation area. On a further positive note, UNODC estimates that the number of Afghan involved in opium poppy cultivation decreased by 28% between 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, these trends need to be set against the tremendous threat to Afghan stability and development that its drug trade continues to represent. Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC’s Representative for Afghanistan, noted that “many more reductions will be required to control the individual, social, economic and political damage of Afghanistan’s opium economy”.
Opium production has exceeded demand in recent years, leading UNODC to assess that hundreds of tons have been stockpiled by farmers and traders in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. Mr. Lemahieu observed that “stockpiles will allow ongoing, large-scale heroin production regardless of cultivation trends. This is bad news for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries since it is often forgotten than not only demand creates supply, but that also supply generates demand. Among other evils such as criminality and corruption, this stockpiling fuels the dangerous growth in drug demand in Afghanistan”.
UNODC is conducting a drug abuse survey of Afghanistan in 2009 and it is expected to show a substantial expansion of demand. The increased availability of heroin has changed drug use patterns in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, from traditional opium smoking and oral consumption to drug injection. UNODC has observed that a significant number of Afghanistan’s injecting drug users are returnees from neighboring countries; injection compounds the health risks of drug addiction by raising the threat of HIV transmission and a recent outbreak among Afghanistan’s heroin addicts illustrates the dangers of this trend.
More broadly, the cash and corruption generated by the drug trade undermines good governance, stokes public frustration with the Afghan state and provides a useful source of funding for the insurgency. “The drug trade in Afghanistan cuts across all other development and security issues. The trend is positive, but the window of opportunity limited. Progress must be consolidated fast and its process accelerated if we are to disengage the opium economy as a critical threat,” urged Mr. Lemahieu.