Opium production in Afghanistan has hit a record $3 billion this year, accounting for more than 90% of the world’s illegal output, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Production is concentrated mainly in the strife-torn south of the country, where the Taliban—who banned poppy cultivation when they were in power—now profit from the trade, the report alleges. The reports says the area under opium cultivation rose to 193,000 hectares from 165,000 in 2006, while the harvest soared by more than a third to 8,200 tons from 6,100 tons. The amount of Afghan land used for growing opium was larger than the total under coca cultivation in Latin America, the report says.
The report also found that the number of opium-free provinces in the centre and north of the country more than doubled from six to 13, revealing an intensification of markedly divergent trends between the north and south.
In the centre and north, where the government has increased its authority and presence, cultivation is dropping. In Balkh province cultivation collapsed from 7,200 hectares last year to zero. By contrast, 80% of opium poppies were grown in a handful of southern provinces along the border with Pakistan.
In Helmand, cultivation rose by 48% to 102,770 hectares. With a population of 2.5 million, Helmand has become the world’s biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries like Colombia (coca), Morocco (hashish) and Burma (opium).
UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa called for a more determined effort by the Afghan government and the international community to combat the threats of drugs and insurgency. “Opium cultivation is inversely related to the degree of government control,” he said. “Where anti-government forces reign, poppies flourish.” Noting that the Taliban have reversed their 2000 edict banning cultivation, he added, “What used to be considered a sin is now being encouraged.” (Dawn, Pakistan, Aug. 27)