Distinguished Members of the Council,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to join SRSG Lyons at this briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at this challenging time, and I am grateful to the Presidency of Estonia for inviting me.
Firstly, I would like to thank the Security Council for Resolution 2543, which recognized enhanced cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, with UNAMA and in support of the Government of Afghanistan, as a priority going forward.
The resolution further highlighted the importance of regional cooperation, governance, and the rule of law, including through the fight against corruption - all of which represent the building blocks for an Afghanistan at peace.
A cornerstone action to achieve this aspiration is a well-integrated and balanced strategy to counter the illicit drug trade.
Addressing drug threats is also necessary to tackle the crime-terrorism linkages that have conspired to keep Afghanistan the state with the highest number of terrorism victims in the world.
Taxes on opium, paid by poppy farmers mostly to the Taliban, were valued at 14.5 million dollars in 2019, based on farm gate prices. Taxes on the much more lucrative manufacturing and trafficking of opiates may have generated eight times as much.
Income from opium cultivation and production has been estimated at 11 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.
The total area under opium poppy cultivation in 2020 increased by 37 percent over the previous year, to an estimated 224,000 hectares, which is the third largest area ever measured. The opium poppy harvest was mostly unaffected by the pandemic, and potential production is estimated at 6,300 tons, accounting for 85 percent of the world’s production.
Farmers are cultivating more and more opium poppy but incomes have hit rock bottom. The average farm gate price at harvest time was 42 dollars per kilo, compared to peak prices of 275 dollars per kilo in the last decade.
The opium threat has been further compounded by Afghanistan’s growing role as a regional source for methamphetamine.
In Iran, seizures of the drug originating from Afghanistan have risen from less than 10 per cent of the total in 2015 to more than 90 per cent in 2019. Seizure data also suggests that manufacture has continued during the pandemic.
Distinguished members of the Council,
As SRSG Lyons said in her briefing to you in March, we know from history and from other peace processes that illegal narcotics and the illicit economy threaten peace and security.
Opium poppy cultivation is also an economic dead end.
UNODC asked Afghan farmers where they spend their illicit poppy incomes, and the top three answers are food, medical bills and paying off debt.
Now opium prices are at their lowest level since the beginning of systematic monitoring, leaving desperate people unable to meet basic necessities.
Determined steps are needed to find a more sustainable path.
Renewed political will and international support are prerequisites to empower healthy lives and livelihoods free from violence and crime, backed by a solid commitment to the rule of law and integrity of public services.
UNODC support to the Government builds upon integrated mandates on drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism, and we are ready to elevate our assistance as part of collective efforts to sustain a fragile peace.
Firstly, we must work together to enable more farmers to shift to viable, licit crops.
Opium prices are at historic lows, while the COVID crisis has pushed up the prices of agricultural products. This has made alternative development more profitable than illicit opium cultivation, and we need to take this opportunity to decisively expand our support.
UNODC promotes alternative development in 20 provinces for more than 60,000 households, which represents one out of four households involved in drug cultivation.
Our programme has created nearly 28,000 jobs in four years, generating licit income of more than 15 million dollars. 48 percent of the beneficiaries have been women. These are positive steps and we need to scale up by integrating alternative development into broader, long-term investment and support.
Secondly, we need to make evidence-based prevention and treatment a priority. Youth in Afghanistan are endangered not only by the world’s largest supply of opiates, but by a growing array of synthetic drugs.
UNODC provides assistance and tools for science-based drug prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, but increased support is urgently needed.
Funding shortages have reduced the number of drug treatment centres in the country from 107 to 86, including the closure of five centres for women and children early last year.
Thirdly, I urge the Government and donors to devote greater resources and increase operational capabilities to disrupt drug trafficking.
Police reform and the mentoring, training, and advisory services that UNODC provides to law enforcement and judicial authorities have become all the more imperative in the context of the withdrawal of international forces.
UNODC continues to support the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan, and our work is accelerating. We have trained more officers in 2021 than in all of 2019, in some 20 activities reaching more than 600 officers over the past two-and-a-half-years.
Our training mainstreams human rights and gender issues, and we have helped the Ministry of Interior develop its Code of Conduct.
Our Office has also been working with the government to set up the first anti-drug canine unit, with operations due to start in November.
Fourthly, counter-narcotics responses must go hand in hand with action to tackle corruption, to secure public revenue and develop an entrepreneurial licit economy that can generate jobs and innovation.
Related action to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism is also needed to deprive criminal networks and terrorist actors of funds.
At the start of June, at the first-ever UN General Assembly special session against corruption, Member States adopted a political declaration, which invites UNODC, DPPA and DPO to strengthen the rule of law and anti-corruption in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.
UNODC is ready to meet this request by reinforcing our long-standing support, including to the Anti-Corruption Justice Center and the Office of the Attorney General.
Fifth, we need to strengthen regional cooperation to protect people, stop criminal and terrorist exploitation of legitimate trade, and prevent spill-over effects.
Drug trafficking and illicit cash flows, as well as crimes such as migrant smuggling and human trafficking, pose dangers within and beyond Afghanistan’s borders.
Addressing regional and global dimensions is also essential to stop the flow of precursors into the country, and to disrupt flows of opiates trafficked out of the region on the southern, northern, and Balkan routes.
In response, UNODC brings together Afghanistan with its neighbours through integrated country, regional, and global programmes that support mechanisms and platforms for law enforcement coordination and cooperation.
Furthermore, we have helped to equip and train an inter-regional network of customs authorities and port control units, including at Afghanistan’s airports and borders, to identify and intercept illicit goods, while facilitating legitimate trade.
Our Office has also established an asset recovery network for West and Central Asia to clamp down on money laundering and target illicit financial flows out of the region.
We are seeking to further connect Afghanistan and neighbouring countries with South Asia, the Gulf, and Eastern Africa, by linking efforts with UNODC law enforcement and judicial cooperation initiatives in these regions.
We are also taking forward our work under the One UN Framework for Afghanistan currently being finalized, with UNODC directly contributing to the people, prosperity, peace, and partnership priorities.
Sixth and finally, we need to ensure all of our support advances the hard-won gains made by women and girls in Afghanistan, so they can play an active role in shaping the future of the country.
UNODC alternative development work has a special focus on developing women’s skills and capacities, and we are helping women recovering from drug addiction to find jobs.
Our efforts to promote gender equality in law enforcement have resulted in an equal number of women police officers in Airport Interdiction Units, and in three women serving on the new canine handler team.
I urge Afghanistan and its partners to ensure that balanced counter-narcotics responses that promote inclusion, and empower women and girls, are integrated across efforts to negotiate, build, and sustain peace.
A peace process that enables alternative development, drug control, and health responses to be implemented in all areas of the country, including those outside government control, could help to make decisive progress against the illicit drug economy, to secure the future of Afghanistan.
I would like to conclude by thanking and commending all my colleagues in the UN team in Afghanistan for their dedication to the essential mission of the United Nations.
UNODC stands in solidarity with the Government and people at this difficult and decisive moment, in full commitment to achieving the lasting and just peace that Afghanistan truly deserves.