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Homeland Security


Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

3 February 2003

At a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), introduced a new study by the Office, entitled “The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem”, which analyses the problems that made the country a leading producer of illicit opium and outlines the assistance required to help growers and to curb rising drug addiction in Afghanistan.

According to the study, Afghanistan’s opium production increased more than 15-fold in the 25 years since the Soviet intervention. By the year 2000, the country was the source of 70 per cent of all the illicit opium produced in the world. The worldwide demand for opium was about 4,000 to 5,000 tons, Mr. Costa said, adding that Afghanistan produced an estimated 3,000 to 4000 tons in the year 2000.

Using slides, Mr. Costa showed the progression of opium cultivation in Afghanistan from the period of the Soviet intervention in 1979. The first 10 years of production remained below 1,000 tons, increasing significantly in the period before the Taliban takeover of the country, and reaching an all-time high of over 4,000 tons after that. The volume of stock dropped after the Taliban imposed a ban on cultivation in 2001, Mr. Costa said.

The ban affected prices, Mr. Costa said, noting that traditionally prices had oscillated between $50 and $100 per kilo. They had jumped to $700, and had since become unstable, fluctuating between $500 and $550 per kilo. The revenues for last year totalled over $1 billion, a considerable amount of which was taxed by the warlords, and the money went into activities that had nothing to do with traditional farming.

In a preface to the study, Mr. Costa said the opium economy had “chained a poor rural population -- farmers, landless labour, small traders, women and children –- to the mercy of domestic warlords and international crime syndicates that continued to dominate several areas of the country”.

Traditional opium trafficking routes went through Pakistan and Iran, although the two countries were deeply committed to fighting the trade, he said. The trafficking also progressed from Iran into Turkey ending in the Balkans and Europe. There was also growing trafficking through the north of Afghanistan into Russia.

The cultivation, production and trafficking of opium, in general, had generated the problem of addiction in neighbouring countries. About 40 of every 100,000 inhabitants in those countries were infected with HIV/AIDS -- that figure was seven a few years ago, he added.

He called for assistance for farmers to grow alternative crops with a proper credit system. Jobs should also be found for women and schools for children, particularly girls. The bazaars (used for the opium trade, now banned) should be reconstructed into modern markets. He strongly supported the programme of the new administration in Afghanistan to limit the activities of the warlords.

Sandeep Chawla, Chief of the Research Section of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna which prepared the study, was also present at the press briefing.

Responding to questions, Mr. Costa said the new Afghan Government had launched an initiative to eradicate opium cultivation with compensation of between $300 and $400 provided to the farmers, and financed by the United Kingdom Government. The programme was continuing but without the payment of the compensation. Almost 10 per cent of the estimated areas under cultivation had been eradicated, according to information the UNODC had received, Mr. Costa said.

Did he see a relation between opium trafficking and the security situation in the country? a correspondent asked. Mr. Costa replied that Afghan President Hamid Karzai himself had said that the fight against opium cultivation was a national security issue. There could not be a secure, healthy and modern state in Afghanistan until the opium economy was disbanded. The report also placed emphasis on the question of law enforcement.

Responding to another question, he commended the efforts of Afghanistan’s neighbours in interdicting opium trafficking. He observed that traffickers in Iran faced the death penalty, and that the country was practically at war against them.

He told a questioner that there were a number of domestic institutions tackling the problem in Afghanistan with funds by Western donors and non-governmental organizations. Major multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, were also getting involved. Of the pledges made for Afghanistan’s reconstruction in Tokyo, between $800 million and $850 million were for emergencies, rehabilitation and repatriation of refugees. About $450 million was for reconstruction of the rural areas. The contributions for 2003 would very much favour reconstruction and assistance to farmers, including emergency food assistance, he said.

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