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UN Warns of Drug Problem in Afghanistan, Africa

The U.N. drugs watchdog says Afghanistan is steadily expanding its illegal drug production and must take tougher action to end it. In its annual report, the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board also finds that West Africa is rapidly developing into a major drug smuggling route. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Afghanistan supplies an estimated 93 percent of the global market of illegal opiates, such as heroin, opium, and morphine. Illicit poppy production has increased 17 percent this year, despite efforts by the international community to stop it.

A new report by the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board calls for the Afghan government to address the problem.

Control board Secretary Koli Kouame tells VOA that improving security is key.

"We have seen that there is a serious link between security and growing opium," said Kouame. "We have seen for example in those provinces where security seems to be prevailing, the cultivation of opium has been eliminated or reduced. ... I mean one thing that all of us need to be aware of is the Afghan farmers who are growing opium are not making profit, but those big traffickers who are making profit need to be arrested and booked, I mean, this is a crime against humanity."

But the top U.N. drug enforcement official in Afghanistan, Christina Oguz, says the opium trade brings in about $4 billion each year to Afghanistan and that money makes the trafficking networks a powerful force in the impoverished country.

"The networks are very powerful because these drug traders are linked to corrupt officials and to criminal networks outside Afghanistan," she said.

The U.N. report also says West Africa is becoming a major passageway for cocaine from Latin America into Europe. International Police Organization, Interpol, estimates 200 to 300 tons of the drug passes through West Africa, where it is stockpiled and repackaged for transport.

Kouame points out that many West African countries do not have the means to counter this challenge.

"When states are weak, when institutions are weak and when all of this is doubled by governance issues, obviously it becomes an easy target for drug traffickers because they can easily manipulate, they can easily take over. There is no miracle one can achieve, there are things that can be done, law enforcement needs to be strengthened - that also means the judiciary needs to be strengthened and in some cases that massive assistance needs to be given to these people to do, for example, just an investigation," said Kouame.

The U.N. drug report also cites the involvement of well-funded organized criminal gangs in drug smuggling and sales in North America. It also highlights America's addiction to prescription drugs, noting that some 6.4 million people in the United States abuse drugs containing internationally controlled substances.

The drug report also warns of celebrity 'endorsement' through drug-related lifestyles. It says these people can make drugs seem glamorous and influence the youth, who are often most vulnerable to the cult of celebrity.

The board warns that perceived leniency in dealing with high-profile drug users undermines the justice system and the war on drugs.