Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Afghanistan’s opium harvest has dropped from last year’s record high, the United Nations announced Tuesday, contending that the tide of opium that engulfed Afghanistan in ever rising harvests since 2001 was finally showing signs of ebbing.
“The opium floodwaters in Afghanistan have started to recede,” Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, wrote in the foreword of the 2008 annual opium poppy survey, published Tuesday. “Afghan society has started to make progress in its fight against opium.”
Poppy cultivation has dropped by 19 percent since 2007, and had fallen beneath 2006 levels as well, the report said. The harvest was also down, although by a lesser margin because of greater yields, dropping by 6 percent to 7,700 tons.
More than half of Afghanistan’s provinces have now been declared poppy free — that is, 18 of 34 provinces grow no, or very little, poppy, up from 13 poppy-free provinces last year.
The results, gathered by the United Nations through satellite imagery and checks on the ground, are a success for the Afghan government’s strategy of weaning farmers off the illicit crop through persuasion, incentives and local leadership. A drought in northern Afghanistan also helped bring numbers down, although that has also increased the hardship farmers are suffering.
The report underscores a trend, first seen last year, that the more stable, better-administered provinces are succeeding in curbing illicit drug production, according to diplomats and government officials. A swathe of blue on a United Nations map of Afghanistan, stretching across from the north-east to the north-west of the country, now denotes decreasing or no poppy cultivation.
Two provinces that have been large-scale poppy producing regions in the past, Badakhshan in the north-east and Nangarhar in the east, have been declared poppy free this year, a consequence of effective local leadership and the support of religious leaders, elders and local council members, Mr. Costa said at a news briefing in Kabul Tuesday evening.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan’s poppy crop still remains the world’s largest, and now 98 percent of the crop is grown in the lawless southern and south-western regions that are in the grip of a virulent insurgency. Two-thirds of all opium in Afghanistan in 2008 was grown in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban control whole districts. Eight thousand British troops working with government soldiers have failed to make much headway, either in curbing Taliban activities or the drug industry.
“If Helmand were a country, it would once again be the world’s biggest producer of illicit drugs,” Mr. Costa wrote.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]