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Opiate and ATS picture worsens in SE Asia - response required

Vientiane (the Lao People's Democratic Republic), 7 June 2011

The international community has taken its eye off the drug control ball in East and South-East Asia. Urgent steps are required to respond to two worrying trends.

This was the message from UNODC at the recently-concluded Ministerial meeting in Lao PDR on drug control covering six countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region - Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The first threat, according to UNODC estimates, is the resurgence in opium cultivation and resulting heroin trafficking. The second, also borne out in UNODC research, is the significant increase in the production, trafficking and consumption of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS).

At the Ministerial meeting on 24 May of the formally-titled "Memorandum of Understanding between Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and UNODC" - an 18-year-old inter-governmental mechanism of which UNODC is also a member - the governments of the region also expressed their own serious concerns about above alarming trends. Currently, all regional governments provide funding to the mechanism with China being by far the largest contributor. When the MOU mechanism started in 1993, the international donor community agreed to provide funding for a number of projects which were then implemented under the mechanism.

In recent years, due largely to perceived success in poppy crop reduction in the region as well as a focus shift towards Afghanistan and elsewhere, donor support has dried up to a degree where - at present - all the funding for the work of the MOU comes from the six regional governments themselves, and UNODC.

The Ministerial meeting took stock of the problem and devised effective countermeasures. Donors were also invited from across the region. A Sub-regional Action Plan on Drug control was approved and all partners were requested to consider providing funding for a programme ranging across the Plan's five thematic areas: (1) drug demand reduction; (2) drugs and HIV/AIDS; (3) alternatives to poppy cultivation; (4) law enforcement and (5) judicial/prosecutorial cooperation.

"We believe it is UNODC's responsibility to draw the world's collective attention to this problem and to devise the right countermeasures", said Francis Maertens, UNODC Deputy Executive Director when he addressed the ministers and donors. "UNODC has done this elsewhere on the globe where significant drug threats have emerged, for example, our early warning to our partner governments on the vulnerability of parts of West Africa to the drug trafficking threat", he added.

During the coming launch of the World Drug Report in New York on 23 June, UNODC is expected to highlight the emerging drug control threat in East and South-East Asia, the subject of which has also come into focus in the international media.