The United Nations' top anti-drug official warns that organized crime networks are exploiting West Africa as a major trafficking hub for illicit goods - such as cocaine and counterfeit medicines - as well as human beings, and he is calling for action from the international community to stop it.
U.N. Drugs and Crime Chief Antonio Maria Costa says West Africa's poverty, weak governance, porous borders and long Atlantic coastline are all factors making it vulnerable to organized crime.
Citing a new report issued by his office on Wednesday, he said cocaine, flowing from Latin America through the region to Europe is a serious problem.
"Around 20 tons of cocaine are still transiting through the region every year, valued at $1 billion at destination," said Antonio Maria Costa.
Costa said that West Africa - which stretches from Mauritania to Guinea - is a crossroads for smuggling not only cocaine, but cigarettes, small arms, counterfeit medicines, toxic waste, stolen oil and people.
"Until the underlying conditions of vulnerability in the region - poverty, underdevelopment, inadequate governance - until these conditions are addressed, the region will remain attractive to those who operate outside the law and abuse the authority for personal gain," he said.
Costa warned that organized crime makes West Africa more prone to instability and less able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of cutting poverty and disease by 2015.
He pointed out that the illegal activity is transiting West Africa, not originating there, and urged international action to help stop it, especially from Europe, which is one of the main markets for the illegal goods trafficked through West Africa.