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June 27, 2013

UN: Afghanistan is Top Opium Producer, User

by Sharon Behn

Afghanistan once again was the world’s largest opium producer in 2012, churning out 74 percent of the world illegal opium. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan’s drug-fueled economy both funds the insurgency there and threatens to further undermine the country’s fragile economy and security.

Not only is Afghanistan yet again the world’s largest grower and producer of illegal opium. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu says it also has more than one million drug users.

"Afghanistan itself has become a consumption country and has one of the highest levels of addiction, globally speaking,” he said.

He says the easy availability of opiates, corruption and a population now in its third decade of war has resulted in the increased distribution and use of illegal drugs, as people to try and escape the hardships of their daily lives.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says the illicit trade threatens to undermine the country’s security and economy and is creating havoc among its own citizens.

According to the U.N. agency, only ten percent of Afghan drug users received any form of drug treatment in 2012, the year covered in its World Drug Report.

Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics spokesman Zabihullah Dayam says that Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia, cannot fight the drug problem on its own.

He says, “As long as we don’t have a joint regional and even beyond regional cooperation and commitments, it will be difficult for the Afghan government to succeed.”

Sayad Azam Iqbal, a former official with the counter narcotics ministry and now an expert on drug-related issues in Afghanistan, says the responsibility for solving the problem lies with the government and international community.

“The main problem, the main source of the problem, is in Afghanistan and the Afghan government and those international forces helping the Afghan government. It is their primary responsibility to tackle this issue,” said Iqbal.

But Lemahieu of the United Nations says the problems are multi-fold, including corruption, criminality, collusion with insurgency, and the non-delivery of needed government services.

“That means at this moment, the government as such, and the international community which is already providing support and assistance, we don’t have enough services to cope with the problems affecting this country at this moment,” he said.

Lemahieu says Afghanistan’s three core institutions fighting narcotics are functioning stronger than ever before. However, so far, there has been no discussion as to how that will continue after the security and political transition is complete and international combat forces leave at the end of 2014.