Afghan opium growth sees "alarming" rise, UN says

KABUL Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:51pm IST

An Afghan man works in a poppy field in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

An Afghan man works in a poppy field in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner/Files

Related Topics

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan needs to be more serious about fighting drugs after an "alarming" 18 percent increase in opium cultivation this year, the U.N. drugs agency said on Tuesday.

The rise was mainly due to high prices and a failure of state agencies to work together to wipe out a trade that helps fund the Taliban-led insurgency, a United Nations report said.

Some experts say the departure of most NATO-led forces by the end of 2014 could trigger a spike in the growth of poppy in a war-torn country responsible for 90 percent of the world's opium, a trend likely to worry western governments.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Afghanistan country representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned opium cultivation could climb higher next year if the government failed to better coordinate its efforts and make counter narcotics a priority.

"If the other arms of the governments do not move forward seriously on counter narcotics, then next year we will see more increases. This is a very dangerous (trend)," he told reporters.

"There's been some turning of a blind eye ... and this is coming back to the government now with a vengeance. The government will now have to deal with these issues in a more dramatic matter."

"We think the numbers are alarming, but we are not panicking," Lemahieu added. "We are convinced we can turn it around. But we need to act today."

But while poppy cultivation increased, production was down 36 percent to an estimated 3,700 tonnes caused by a combination of disease affecting the crop and bad weather.

The farm gate value of opium fell 49 percent in 2012 to $717 million, a figure equivalent to 4 percent of the country's tiny economy, it said.

Ninety-five percent of opium growing took place in nine provinces in the south and west of the country, many of which provide popular support for the Taliban who encourage farmers to grow poppy rather than far less lucrative agricultural products.

The UNODC last year estimated the opium trade may have earned the Taliban $700 million, up from $200 million a year in the previous decade, with traffickers earning billions more.

WEAK PERFORMANCE

Zarar Ahmad Muqbel Osmani, the minister of counter narcotics, said there was political will to tackle the problem but insecurity and poor implementation of anti-opium programmes had proved costly.

"There was a weak performance of state authorities in providing alternative livelihoods," he said. "In some cases, people were cultivating poppies in areas close to local authorities and this is something that needs to be taken seriously."

Opium cultivation rose 19 percent in southern Helmand province, which accounts for almost half of Afghanistan's poppy, while growth surged in parts of the east, with a 121 percent climb in Kunar and 60 percent and 41 percent increases in Kapisa and Laghman respectively.

The UNODC report said opium prices had decreased slightly from a year earlier, but were still high, which was a major factor behind the increased growth.

The number of poppy-free provinces, where growth was on less than 100 hectares, remained unchanged at 17, or around half of the country. The report said government eradication efforts had increased by 154 percent.

Some experts warn uncertainty over Afghanistan's future after most foreign forces withdraw by the end of 2014, an Afghan election year, could fuel a surge in opium growth as a means of generating cash to hedge against further instability. (Editing by Jon Hemming)

FILED UNDER:

SAARC Summit

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Kerala Bird Flu

Kerala Bird Flu

India orders culling after bird flu outbreaks in Kerala  Full Article 

Sterilisation Camps

Sterilisation Camps

Sterilisation targets remain in all but name, critics say  Full Article 

J&K Election

J&K Election

Kashmiris turn out to vote as BJP bids for power.  Full Article 

Tobacco Curbs

Tobacco Curbs

India moves toward ban on loose cigarettes to deter smoking.  Full Article 

Monetary Policy

Monetary Policy

EXCLUSIVE - RBI under rate cut pressure as growth slips back.  Full Article 

U.S. Riots

U.S. Riots

More U.S. troops deployed in Ferguson to guard against fresh riots  Full Article 

Microsoft Headache

Microsoft Headache

Microsoft to pay China $140 million for 'tax evasion'   Full Article 

Messi Record

Messi Record

Messi treble sets Champions League goals record  Full Article 

Cricketer Critical

Cricketer Critical

Australian Hughes to undergo scans after surgery  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage