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UNIS/NAR/841
31 March 2004

United Nations Counter-Narcotics Chief Appeals for
Greater Assistance to Afghanistan

VIENNA, 31 MARCH (UN Information Service) -- A call for more resources to counteract the growing drug problem in Afghanistan was issued today prior to an international meeting in Berlin by Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“This conference takes place at a time when the drug situation in Afghanistan risks becoming even more serious.  The 2003 opium production in Afghanistan, estimated at 3,600 tonnes/80,000 hectares, represented a further increase above the already high 2002 figure and generated an income of one billion US dollars for farmers and US$ 1.3 billion for traffickers, equivalent to over half of its national income”, Mr. Costa said.

According to Mr. Costa, the opium economy will continue to grow as long as drug production and trafficking are conducted without risk of retribution or the incentive to do something else.

“It is urgent to redress this risk-reward imbalance, making engagement in illicit activities socially and economically unattractive.  Licit economic activities also need to be made more accessible and remunerative”, Mr. Costa said.

He stated that it is the credibility of the government and of law enforcement throughout the country that will deter people from turning to opium cultivation and trafficking.  It is also the credibility of international support to Afghan’s development that will entice farmers into the legal economy.

“We invite participants to the Berlin Conference to undertake measures to support these two issues with determination,”  he said.

The Conference, which began today, will meet for two days.

“UNODC believes that a distinction should be made between traffickers’ greed and farmers’ need”, Mr. Costa said, arguing that traffickers need to be primary targets of retribution, while farmers, including those affected by the Government-sponsored opium eradication campaigns, should be supported by development assistance.

Stating that the Afghan drug economy feeds instability in the whole region, as the narco-money provides resources to terrorists and insurgents -– also endangering the reconstruction of the country -– Mr. Costa said it will take a few years until Afghanistan develops adequate law enforcement capacity.

“This interim period coincides with the greatest need for robust anti-narcotic measures.  Therefore, the presence and role of NATO/ISAF and of the Enduring Freedom Coalition Forces should be commensurate to the need to enhance security throughout the country, and prevent the drug problem from becoming even more deeply entrenched”, he said.  “Measures to repress the traffickers, dismantle the heroin labs, and destroy the terrorists’ and the warlords’ stake in the opium economy will enable the legitimate economy and the constitutional processes to move forward.”

The UNODC praised President Karzai Government’s commitment to face the drugs challenge and the Good Neighbourly Relations Declaration on Narcotics Control between Afghanistan and six countries in the region to be signed in Berlin as a good omen.  On its part, the UNODC is strengthening the measures undertaken in the context of the Paris Pact initiative, which involves countries on the Afghan opium trafficking routes.

“The Office especially invites countries where opiates are consumed to take steps to reduce abuseIf world demand persists at the level of over 4,000 tonnes of opium a year, somewhere, somehow, opium will be produced.  The matter is all the more serious considering that heroin abuse (by injection) is causing a major HIV/AIDS pandemic”, Mr. Costa said.

He stressed the need for greater coordination of international efforts in helping Afghanistan implement the five action plans agreed upon at the Kabul Conference in February this year, focusing on the following five priorities:  sustainable development, law enforcement, judicial capacity, demand reduction, and public awareness.

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