Drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle

6 January 2009 - UNODC has just published the second volume of "De Narcoticis"; a series of photojournalism books depicting the lives of real people involved in - or touched by - the trade in illicit drugs.

This second volume takes as its canvas the area which has come to be known as the Golden Triangle; the part of South East Asia encompassing Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The first volume focused on Colombia. UNODC has been active here for many years, with much success. The area now produces only 5 per cent of the world's opiates (down from over 70 per cent some 30 years ago) and UNODC has been influential in bringing local governments together in a common fight against the drug trade.

The book is produced by award-winning photographer, journalist and UNODC goodwill ambassador, Alessandro Scotti. Scotti says that the "de Narcoticis" project "gives a face to the protagonists of this world. It's an underworld which has been examined closely enough to give us plenty of figures and statistics, but which is less known for its personal stories".

The stories in the book are varied: it does not judge any of the characters involved, and there are many. They range from enforcement officers to traffickers, plantation workers to addicts in treatment centres; people united only by the fact that they all occupy some small part of the long drug trafficking chain.

These small links in the chain are a theme to which Scotti returns regularly. "The people involved in trafficking have only a very partial perception of the overall phenomenon, and yet their lives are powerfully affected by it. They are simple people with a limited perception of the impact of their actions. Most are in any case tied to the 'job' for their very survival; desperate people with otherwise limited life chances or opportunities."

Scotti says this is why he believes UNODC's work beyond enforcement is so important. "UNODC offers a holistic approach including development strategies which allow alternative businesses to grow and become sustainable. A stronger economic and social framework leads to a different balance."

The book is designed to do more than tell stories through photography, though: it elicits a powerful response in the reader. As UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa says, it "challenges us to respond".