VIENNA, 2 February 2009 (UNODC). The South East Asia Opium Survey issued today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that the region, once notorious as heroin's Golden Triangle, has a limited opium problem that is concentrated in just one region of Myanmar. South East Asia accounts for 424 tons of opium (down from 472 tons a year earlier), around 5% of the world's total illicit opium, down from 33% in 1998 and more than 50% in 1990. "This is a drug control success story", said the Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa.
Thailand and Laos are almost opium-free. Myanmar remains the world's second biggest source of opium, accounting for 28,500 hectares in 2008 (a 3% rise over last year). Cultivation is mostly limited to the Shan State which accounts for 89% of the national total. "There is still too much opium in Myanmar, but progress over the past two decades has been impressive", said the head of UNODC. More land was under poppy cultivation in Myanmar in 1996 (163,000 hectares) than in Afghanistan last year (157,000 hectares).
"However, sustained progress requires sustainable development", cautioned Mr. Costa. Many of the opium farmers in South East Asia are extremely poor. "Rising opium prices increase the risk that farmers may revert to illicit crops", he warned. "Further development assistance is badly needed".
Despite the diminishing prevalence of opium in South East Asia, "the region still has a drug problem", said the UN's drug tsar. As revealed in UNODC's 2008 Global Assessment of Amphetamines (ATS) and Ecstasy, the Greater Mekong sub-region has become a major hub for the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs. "Urgent steps are needed to consolidate progress towards making the Golden Triangle opium-free, and to head off a major ATS crisis" said Mr. Costa.
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