Afghanistan's drug fight will take decades to win, new U.N. report says

Tuesday, November 28th 2006, 6:05 am
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The fight against opium production in Afghanistan has achieved only limited success and will take decades to win, a report released Tuesday by the U.N. drug agency and the World Bank said.

Efforts to stamp out Afghanistan's record-setting opium trade have been stymied by corruption, and the drug trade is now run by a few powerful players with strong political connections, said the 210-page report, titled ``Afghanistan's Drug Industry,'' a first-of-its-kind comprehensive assessment of the country's drug production, from poppy-growing farmers to international drug traffickers.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan rose 59 percent this year to 6,100 tons _ enough to make 610 tons of heroin, nearly a third more than is consumed by the world's drug users. The harvest provided more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply.

Gen. Khadaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister for counter-narcotics, told The Associated Press that next year's harvest will be as large as last year's in several key southern provinces where Taliban militants have a heavy presence. A U.S. official has also told the AP that he expects next year's yield to be about the same.

``History teaches us that it will take a generation to render Afghanistan opium-free,'' said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Instead of sustained declines in cultivation, successful efforts to reduce poppy growing in one province often lead to increases elsewhere, or cultivation in the province itself rebounds the following year, the report found.

Costa proposed doubling the number of opium-free provinces from the current six to 12 by 2007, by offering development support to farmers and arresting corrupt officials.

``Those driving the drug industry must be brought to justice and officials who support it sacked,'' he said in a statement.

Poppies take up less than 4 percent of the total cultivated area in Afghanistan, and most districts do not grow opium, the report said. But the export value of last year's crop _ $3.1 billion _ accounted for around one-third of total economic activity in the country, and about 13 percent of Afghans are involved in the trade.

The report says there is also a need to curtail demand. Much of Afghanistan's opium, which is then made into heroin, is consumed in Europe.

``Any counter-narcotics strategy needs to keep short-run expectations modest, avoid worsening the situation of the poor, and adequately focus on longer-term rural development,'' said William Byrd, a World Bank economist and co-editor of the report.