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Development partners assess drug control efforts in Huaphan

Article from Vientiane Times

Author: Khonesavanh Latsaphao

Published: 28/02/2011
Newspaper section: International Cooperation

In its ongoing fight against opium poppy cultivation, the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision led ambassadors, Asian Development Bank staff and members of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on a visit to Huaphan province last week.

The delegation visited the province from February 25-26 and was led by Minister to the Prime Minister's Office and Commission Chairman, Mr Soubanh Srithirath.

On arriving in the province, the delegation met with provincial Governor Khamhoung Heuangvongsy and his officials. Mr Khamhoung said the amount of land used for opium poppy cultivation was on the rise in the province.

Last year, poppies were grown on 132 hectares but this year 285 hectares of land were under cultivation. "This is happening because some unscrupulous people are paying villagers money to grow the crop," he explained. The opium produced from the crop is then bought for one million kip per kilogram.

The authorities intend to address the problem. "We will tell farmers they must destroy their crop." "If they don't comply, we will summon other villagers to do it for them and if this plan fails we will get the provincial police to wipe out the crop," Mr Khamhoung  aid.

The province is one of the most vulnerable in Laos and in 2010 had a poverty rate of 50 percent. Significant poverty prevails in remote areas such as Xamtay, Viengthong, Sobbao and Huameuang districts.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the province is located on a major trafficking route for drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines which are being moved from the west to the east and into Vietnam.

Organised, trans-national drug gangs are targeting vulnerable communities and making them dependent on these drugs. Then they use them as human mules to carry drugs across borders. Ethnic communities are more vulnerable to exploitation because of their isolation, food insecurity, and extreme poverty, the UNODC source said.

The province's economy is based on agriculture, with produce exported to Vietnam, while local weavers produce top-quality cloth. There is high potential for tourism development but infrastructure to exploit this potential remains limited. As of 2010, the province had 3,094 opium users and 697 amphetamine users.

UNODC has been implementing alternative development projects in support of provincial efforts to  iminate opium poppy cultivation. Activities include strengthening village-based organisation, promoting microcredit saving and lending activities geared towards local ownership and high female participation, and detoxifying and rehabilitating opium users for re-integration into the community.

UNODC partnership with the Asian Development Bank has helped to extend agriculture and livestock development in 83 villages in the province. The mountainous northeastern province is enclosed by Vietnam to the north, east and south-east, Xieng Khuang province to the south-west and Luangprabang province to the west. There are 16,700 people living in the provincial capital of Xamneua.