TOKYO, 6 February 2008 - According to a report issued today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2008 will be broadly similar to, or only slightly lower than last year's record harvest of 192,000 hectares. Final output figures (8,200 tons last year) will depend on eradication (aimed at reducing the crop), and on agricultural yields (affected by weather conditions).
The assessment, contained in UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Winter Survey, was presented by its Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, at the Joint Co-ordination and Monitoring Board meeting in Tokyo. "Opium cultivation in Afghanistan may have peaked, but the 2008 amount will still be shockingly high", said Mr. Costa. "Afghan drugs, and the funds they generate, are a destabilizing force. Europe, Russia and the countries along the Afghan heroin routes, should brace themselves again for major health and security consequences", he warned.
Other main findings of the Report are:
· A dozen provinces are expected to remain free of opium cultivation this year. With effective eradication measures in provinces where opium cultivation has been traditionally low (less than 1,500 hectares), Mr. Costa said "the goal of liberating half of Afghanistan's 34 provinces from opium crops this year may be attained. Much will depend on governors' attitude, their integrity and the support they receive".
· "Afghanistan is becoming a divided country, with clear drugs and insurgency battle lines" Mr. Costa warned. The growing number of opium-free provinces in the north-east is in stark contrast to ever higher levels of cultivation in the south-west - the areas of Taleban insurgency.
· More than three quarters of Afghanistan's opium is grown in areas outside the government's control. "Opium is a massive source of revenue for the Taleban", warned Mr. Costa. "They tax farmers, it's called the usher, setroughly at 10% and generate close to $100 million this year. Additional money is raised by running heroin labs and drug exports."
· Small amounts of opium have been a traditional form of saving in the Afghan countryside. According to the Winter Survey the amounts held by farmers in the north are now smaller than in the south, yet in both instances their stocks are limited. Taking into account that the drugs produced in 2007 well exceeded world demand by as much as 3,000 tons, clearly the bulk of this surplus is not owned by farmers. "At a time of declining prices, large amounts of surplus opium can only be stockpiled by people who have non-commercial objectives", warned Mr. Costa.
· The report also shows that, in addition to supplying 90% of world opium, Afghanistan has become the world's biggest supplier of cannabis (estimated at 70,000 hectares this year). It is exported mostly through the southern borders, Pakistan and Iran, and eventually into the Gulf countries.
The UN drugs chief urged Afghanistan and its allies to take decisive action. "While analysts debate endlessly how to prioritize security, development, counter-narcotics and good governance, the Afghan opium situation is becoming desperate. And time is not on our side."
Mr. Costa underlined the need for strong and honest institutions to combat "Afghanistan's public enemy number one". He pointed to a number of key elements still lacking: "honest and functioning Ministries of Counter-narcotics and of the Interior; an anti-corruption authority with integrity and credible powers; an efficient judicial system; and honest and committed governors throughout the country".
Because drugs risk destabilizing the entire West Asian region, closer regional cooperation is needed. Some of the elements being brokered by UNODC include: trilateral border-control measures between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan; the launching of the Central Asia Intelligence-sharing Centre (CARICC) based in Kazakhstan; a new programme among Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan to improve border management.
The full text of the Afghan Opium Winter Survey is available at www.unodc.org.
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