Statement at the 32 nd Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies for Asia and the Pacific

"A problem contained but not solved"


Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific Good morning everyone, and welcome to Bangkok, and - for those of you from outside Thailand - welcome to the land of smiles.

I would like to start this morning's proceedings by recognizing on the dais:


I also bring you all greetings on behalf of the Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, and add his word of welcome to this 32 nd session of the HONLEA for Asia and the Pacific.

Explaining the role of the HONLEA

Please, therefore, allow me to use the opportunity of addressing you this morning to share some perspectives on new and emerging threats which we must address.

Overall, we're making progress

First of all, although our subject is - by definition - gloomy, I think that we should nonetheless recognize the considerable progress we have made in drug control efforts worldwide in recent years. These have been amply illustrated in UNODC's latest World Drug Report, which was released in June of 2008.

In essence, we make - and document - the argument that international drug control efforts are working and that the world drug problem is being contained. As evidence of this trend, we conclude that for almost every kind of illicit drug - whether it be cocaine, heroin, cannabis or amphetamine type stimulants - there are signs of overall - I repeat "overall" - stability, whether we speak of cultivation, production or consumption.

Just last week, for example, we released the Opium Poppy Survey for Southeast Asia covering the latest growing season in 2008. This report showed that while cultivation had increased slightly over the previous growing season, overall production was down slightly for the same period.

What is more important, however, is that our region - u host to the notorious Golden Triangle - now has only a limited opium problem. A problem concentrated in just one region - Shan state - of just one country - Myanmar.

Moreover, instead of producing 1,800 tons of opium as we did in the early 1990s, we are producing "only" 424 tons of opium in 2008. And that instead of the region constituting half of the world's production as it did in 1990, we are now only producing 5%. This marks real progress.

Southeast Asia's opium poppy reduction successes have been built upon decades of successful alternative development work in rural communities. Some of those sitting in this room have been involved in achieving this success - success marked by the effective elimination of illicit opium production in Viet Nam (in 2000) and Thailand (in 2003). In the year 2005, Lao PDR was declared opium-free. Until recently, Myanmar had also witnessed a continuous decline of opium production.

The encouraging poppy situation in our region is only one aspect of an overall containment of the world's drug problem. "Containment", however, does not mean that the world's drug problem has been solved. Or that we can become complacent. Nor is the good news universal. For progress made in some areas has been offset by negative trends elsewhere.

But problems remain: Opium Poppy Production in SE Asia

For example, as a result of a loss of opium-generated income, families which used to grow opium are now facing difficult living conditions - often with widespread food shortages for several months of the year. As I stressed to the media last week, with high levels of poverty, the recent rapid increase in the price of raw opium and an absence of development alternatives or effective law enforcement, there is a high risk that these communities will revert to opium poppy cultivation

However, overall, we seem to have reached a point where the world drug situation has stabilized and has been brought under control. For this reason, we must keep our eye firmly fixed on our objective if we are to maintain and consolidate these gains.

But Problems remain: Afghanistan

The first and gravest drug cultivation problem the international community faces is in Afghanistan. Production from that country is so large that countries as far apart as China and Australia are feeling the impact of the heroin derived from its poppy plants. And although cultivation fell there in 2008 by almost 20% to 157,000 hectares, the country still accounts for over 90% of world supply of illicit opium. So, again, unless there is greater and faster delivery of international development assistance, we will fail to consolidate the gains we have recently made in significantly increasing the number of Afghan provinces which are poppy-free. Our efforts must therefore aim to do absolutely everything that we can to support the difficult and often dangerous work which our counterpart national authorities in Afghanistan are having to undertake, as they attempt to get on top of this problem.

But Problems remain: ATS


Treating ATS

Potential role for UNODC in DLE


Overall conclusion? Containment has generally worked. But much remains to be done.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, I wish all of us fruitful deliberations and a successful meeting.

Thank you.