Homeland Security

PRESS CONFERENCE ON AFGHANISTAN OPIUM SURVEY

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

23 November 2005

Drug production was down in Afghanistan, the world’s largest supplier of opium, but the United Nations was worried about the future, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing reports on the 2005 Afghan Opium Survey, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said there was a 21 per cent decrease in opium cultivation altogether, but progress was uneven in the provinces. While Nangarhar recorded a stunning 96 per cent decline, in Farah and Balkh, cultivation increased more than 300 per cent. Perhaps most startling, farmers had set aside a “whopping” 30,000 hectares for growing cannabis.

“The extent of drug addiction is by far greater than it had been originally estimated by national and international sources”, Costa said. Nearly 4 per cent of the population, almost a million people, were taking drugs. The bulk was using hashish. Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world and even children were being offered opium, or a derivative, as a way of coping with pains from illness or hunger.

Worse yet, he was not optimistic about the future. Traffickers were distributing free opium seeds, and the security situation was deteriorating in a number of provinces. Farmers were complaining about the perceived lack of inadequate assistance by the Government and the international community. Last year, farmers restrained from cultivating opium because of a fear of eradication, but it looked as though the fear this year was somewhat lower.

There were steps that needed to be taken to help resolve the drug crisis, he said, and assistance to farmers would be the strongest disincentive to cultivating opium. Still, the numbers did not look bad. In the past three and a half years, the international community had dispersed $2.5 billion dollars for reconstruction purposes in Afghanistan, and one third of that was spent in the countryside. The three provinces with the largest decline in cultivation had the most development assistance. Mr. Costa said his wish to the international community was to “strengthen the financial resources to the regions affected but also, making sure the money actually reaches the farmers”.

When asked a question about trafficking routes, he said the amount of opium and heroin going through the Central Asian republics and Pakistan had declined, but the amount going through Iran had increased by 50 per cent. Government corruption was a major problem. “Corruption is the key lubricant to either the opening of new trafficking routes or the strengthening of trafficking routes.”

Responding to a question about the success of alternative crops which would provide farmers with a legal income, Mr. Costa there was room for growth there, but what Afghanistan needed was stronger development. “Development is going to be the key area where the fight against narcotics is going to be fought and won.” Development meant investment. It would provide an alternative for people who otherwise would be involved in the cultivation or the trafficking of drugs.

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For information media • not an official record



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