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UN Report Shows Afghan Opium Production At Record Level

August 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A United Nations report due out today is expected to say that Afghanistan's latest opium poppy crop is its largest ever, and that the country is now producing almost 95 percent of the world's opiate supply.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says the area under opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased "dramatically" in 2006.

The annual report says NATO-led efforts to control the opium crop have failed, and it blames corruption and the lack of security in southern Afghanistan for the problem.

The annual survey estimates the increase as between 30 percent and 50 percent, confirming Afghanistan as the major world source of opiates.

UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa says the southern Afghan province of Helmand is becoming the world's largest drug supplier, with production bigger than that of entire countries, including Colombia.

Costa calls Helmand the most dangerous source of the most dangerous drug -- heroin -- and says that blocking that source "will go a long way toward bringing stability to the region."

Progress Elsewhere

Afghanistan stands as a black spot in an otherwise encouraging report. Costa speaks of "remarkable successes" elsewhere in controlling opium poppy crops, particularly in Southeast Asia. And he says the trade in key narcotics has been stabilized in terms of production, trafficking, and consumption.

However, there have been successes even in Afghanistan. About 10 Afghan provinces, mostly in the country's north, are now declared to be opium-free, up from six provinces a year ago.

The hub of Afghan production is in the south, where security is much worse. NATO-led and Afghan government forces are battling the Taliban insurgency across the south, and the lawless atmosphere suits both drug dealers and the Taliban.

The authority of the Afghan government hardly extends to the south, and what control Kabul has is undermined by corruption among officials and police, many of whom are complicit in the opium trade.

Donor countries have spent millions of dollars in an attempt to dissuade farmers from growing poppies. Britain has been in charge of the NATO countries' drug-reduction program, but it has clearly failed.

The United States had sought sterner methods, namely spraying crops to destroy them entirely. But that idea was quietly shelved because of objections from the government of President Hamid Karzai, which feared that farmers would then side with the Taliban.

"The Washington Post" reports that Karzai and international aid donors are now thinking in terms of a multifaceted approach, involving public awareness, alternative crops, and targeting traffickers, among other measures.

But it quotes the head of UNODC in Afghanistan, Christina Oguz, as saying that unless the effort is pushed forward with determination, "we will not see enough change for a very long time."

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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