AFP, October 22, 2009

UN details ‘devastating’ impact of Afghan opium

But Central Asian states intercept just five percent of the drugs flowing across their territory, the report said, compared to 20 percent in Iran and 17 percent in Pakistan

Afghanistan produces 92% of the world's opium
Toronto Star (Aug. 29, 2009): They don't tell you about this, about Afghanistan's growing domestic drug problem – an estimated 1.5 million addicts, including 120,000 women, according to the Ministry of Narcotics – all those advocates of legalizing the country's robust opium crop – a yield that provides some 93 per cent of the world's heroin.

Afghan opium is unleashing a "devastating" impact across the world, according to a new UN report, funding the Taliban and other terror groups and killing thousands in consumer countries.

Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium in a trade that is worth some 65 billion dollars (43 billion euros), feeds some 15 million addicts worldwide and kills around 100,000 people annually, the report said.

"We have identified the global consequences of the Afghan opium trade. Some are devastating," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"I urge the friends of Afghanistan to recognize that, to a large extent, these uncomfortable truths may be the result of their benign neglect," he said at Wednesday's unveiling of the report.

Western nations have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan battling Taliban insurgents, but the report said the failure to crack down on production of opium -- the basis of heroin -- has allowed the militants to thrive.

"The Taliban's direct involvement in the opium trade allows them to fund a war machine that is becoming technologically more complex and increasingly widespread," said Costa.

The UNODC estimates the Taliban earned 90-160 million dollars a year from taxing the production and smuggling of opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009, as much as double the amount they earned while in power nearly a decade ago.

Costa described the Afghan-Pakistani border as "the world's largest free trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit", blighted by drugs, weapons and illegal immigration.

And the "perfect storm of drugs and terrorism" may be on the move along drug trafficking routes through Central Asia.

Profits made from opium are being funnelled into militant groups in Central Asia and "a big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources", Costa said.

But Central Asian states intercept just five percent of the drugs flowing across their territory, the report said, compared to 20 percent in Iran and 17 percent in Pakistan.

And as opiates reach the more lucrative markets of Europe, interdiction rates fall as low as two percent in European Union members such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, the UNODC said.

The drugs also have a devastating impact in consumer countries.

Heroin overdoses kill more than 10,000 people in NATO countries every year -- five times the total number of alliance troops that have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of 2001.

And the report said there was an unaccounted stockpile of 12,000 tons of Afghan opium -- enough to meet more than two years of worldwide heroin demand.

"With so much opium in evil hands, the need to locate and destroy these stocks is more urgent than ever," Costa said.

But the UN agency said the international community was not devoting enough resources to fighting drug production in Afghanistan.

"Seizing Afghan opium where it is produced is infinitely more efficient and cheaper than trying to do so where it is consumed," Costa said.

"This is not just a shared responsibility: it's hard-headed self-interest."

The UN report said many of Afghanistan's drug barons with links to the insurgency "are known to Afghan and foreign intelligence services".

But their names have not been submitted to the UN Security Council, despite two resolutions designed to ban their foreign travel and seize their assets, it said.

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