Afghanistan's opium production reaches new high

Opium production in Afghanistan has become much more widespread and the country now produces about three-quarters of the world’s output of the drug, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In the 'Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2003', the organisation found that this year the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 8%, from 74,000 hectares in 2002 to 80,000 now. Opium production has consequently increased by 6%, from 3,400 to 3,600 tonnes.

The number of provinces with opium cultivation has also increased steadily from 18 in 1999 – under the Taliban – to 28 provinces in 2003 (out of a total of 32). The numbers involved in the opium trade in Afghanistan now totals 1.7 million people (7% of Afghanistan’s population of 24 million).

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, said: “The country is clearly at a crossroads: either major surgical drug-control measures are taken now, or the drug cancer in Afghanistan will keep spreading and metastasise into corruption, violence and terrorism.”

Mr Costa also praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s ban on opium cultivation and trafficking, the establishment of the national Counter-Narcotic Directorate, and the adoption of a 10-year National Drug Control Strategy.

“Traffickers make huge sums of money - it is imperative to confront them with the penalty associated with breaking the law,” Mr Costa said.

“Terrorists also take a cut from the opium trade; the drug power game poses a threat to peace and security within Afghanistan and beyond its borders.”

Afghanistan became the world’s largest source of illicit opium under the Taliban rule in the late 1990s. A Taliban ban on opium cultivation in 2001 brought the production to a record low of 185 metric tonnes that year, compared to 3,276 metric tonnes in 2000. It also caused a 10-times price increase, from an average of US$30 in 2000 to US$300 in 2001 per kilo, with a peak at close to $700, prompting massive resumption of cultivation in 2002.

The prices of fresh opium have declined by 19%, from US$350 per kilo last year to US$283 per kilo in 2003. As a consequence, the value of the opium harvest declined from US$1.2 billion in 2002 to US$1.02 billion.

This represents an equivalent to 23% of the country’s US$4.4 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These estimates do not include the profits subsequently made by traffickers who collect the fresh opium from farms and local bazaars, processing it into heroin and then transferring the lot to border areas for export.


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