Meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa

Tokyo, 6 February 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

In the run up to this Board meeting I received lots of reviews, surveys, studies, reports, relations, assessments and evaluations -- more than 667 pages and counting. The people of Afghanistan must be reassured by the fact that they live and toil in one of the most intensively studied countries in the world.

I shall limit myself to report on the latest estimates of the 2008 Afghan opium crop.  

Winter Assessment: seven developments on the ground

Afghanistan opium cultivation in 2008 will not likely register a new record . The Survey presents qualitative, order of magnitude cultivation figures: the actual 2008 harvest will depend on the extent of eradication. Opium production (and eventually heroin) will further depend on agricultural yields, which last year were at a record level (42 kg/ha). Depending on weather conditions in the spring, there is a chance that the tidal opium wave of 2007 (8,200 tons) will begin to recede.

Possibly more areas free of opium crops . With cultivation in 2008 broadly similar to, or slightly lower than last year's record level, at least a dozen provinces are expected to remain opium free. I appeal to the governors in the 7 provinces where cultivation is marginal (below the 1,500 ha), to conduct vigorous eradication programmes. If adequate and visible development assistance is provided, the goal of liberating at least half of Afghanistan's 34 provinces from opium cultivation by the end of 2008 is realistic.  

Divergent trends north and south . These expected 2008 opium trends deepen a dichotomy already evident last year. The possibly growing number of opium-free provinces in the north-east of the country collides against the evidence of likely higher levels of opium cultivation in the south-west - the areas of insurgency and greatest instability.

The symbiosis between insurgency and drugs has no exception The positive trends in the north are enhanced by significant, expected decreases in opium cultivation in Nangarhar and Badakhshan. This shows, first, that even provinces with very large opium crops can switch to other cultivations; and, second, that there are no more significant exceptions to the symbiosis between drugs and insurgency. 

The economic underpinnings of insurgency.  The south-west of Afghanistan continues to grow opium at an alarming rate. This provides a gigantic revenue for anti-Government forces who impose a tax ( usher, about 10%) on opium farmers they control. This source of war financing to the Taleban, expected to reach $100 million in 2008, is supplemented by the revenue from running heroin labs and overseeing trafficking convoys.

Opium as a storage of value . Our UNODC survey shows that the amounts of opium stocked by farmers in the south is higher than in the north. Yet, in both instances the bulk of the opium surplus is not in their hands. At a time of declining prices, large increases of opium stocks (3,000 ton in 2007 alone) can only be stockpiled for non-commercial reasons. Daunting scenarios come to one's mind.  

Afghanistan as the world's largest supplier of cannabis . UNODC surveyors have, on the side, tracked a steady rise in cannabis cultivation to over 70,000 hectares. Thus, today, Afghanistan has become the world's biggest supplier of two drugs: the most deadly one (heroin), and the one most commonly used (cannabis).

To conclude, Afghanistan's opium crop this year will still be close to the 193,000ha /8,000t total of 2007. Europe, Russia, and the heroin markets along the trafficking routes should brace themselves for continuing health and security threats.  

What can be done, then? 

For one thing, avoid rhetorical arguments about which comes first: security, development, counter-narcotics or good governance. All four are integral parts of a successful stabilization strategy. Eradicating opium without eradicating poverty will deepen a humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries in the world. But focusing only on development ignores the link between opium and insurgency - and the facilitating role played by corruption and mal-governance. Furthermore, suggesting that poverty is the main motivation for drug cultivation is an insult to poor and honest people around the world, and to the vast majority of poor Afghan farmers who do not grow opium. 

Of course, we have found a strong negative correlation between development assistance and opium cultivation. But security is an independent variable in this equation. In the north-east, a more stable region, villages that received help are reducing cultivation. Conversely, in the south-west, despite significant assistance, the drug economy flourishes because of instability. Furthermore, much of the assistance is used to provide security contracts, thus never reaching farmers.    

The Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007 states that "security is a prerequisite for the rule of law that, in turn, creates an environment conducive to human development". I agree. I am also glad to hear from so many of you today that in Afghanistan counter-narcotics must be part of a broader strategy - encompassing security and development to be sure, but also strengthening justice, fighting corruption and reforming public administration.

Several fundamental elements are still lacking, like:  

-         a functioning Ministry of Counter-Narcotics;

-         an honest and effective Ministry of the Interior;

-         an anti-corruption authority with credible leadership;

-         an efficient and independent judiciary;

-         honest and committed governors, through-out the country.  

The opium problem is not confined to Afghanistan (its source), or to Europe and CIS (its destination).    Regional counter-narcotic efforts are needed. 

Regional efforts

● UNODC is strengthening cross-border cooperation among Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Despite a promising start, this trilateral initiative has now stalled, because of the situation in Pakistan. But we remain hopeful.  

● The Central Asia Intelligence-sharing Centre (CARICC) should become operational soon. I urge Russia, the only absentee, to sign the agreement. 

● UNODC has sponsored another Tri-border Initiative (among Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan) with great potential, given the new leadership in Ashgabat. 

There are plenty of documents and strategies on the table to reduce the health and security threats posed by Afghanistan's opium. I urge you all to impart new momentum to our collegial efforts: the situation is not yet desperate, but time is not on our side.