A United Nations-funded anti-narcotics agency says Afghanistan has again become the world largest producer of opium with a significant upsurge in 2002. The agency is urging the world community to do more to help eradicate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.
In its annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board says official anti-drug efforts failed to stop widespread cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan, which is used to make illegal opium and its derivative, heroin.
A senior representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Thomas Zeindl-Cronin, outlined the report at a news conference in neighboring Pakistan. "About 3,400 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan in 2002, making Afghanistan again the largest opium producer in the world. This is an international problem since heroin originating from Afghanistan is sold in many countries around the world," he says. "Over three-quarters of the heroin sold in Europe is originating from Afghanistan."
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan had significantly dropped until a U.S.-led military coalition removed the hardline Islamic Taleban regime from power 15 months ago in its war on terrorism. The Taleban had imposed extremely harsh punishments on poppy growers - which accounted for the decline in opium.
U.N. officials say poppy cultivation is on the rise again due to the instability caused by the war - which has overshadowed anti-drug efforts.
Despite the fact that the current transitional government of President Hamid Karzai has banned cultivation, processing, trafficking and consumption of opiates in the country - U.N. officials say more enforcement is needed. It advises the government to urgently develop a "comprehensive" and "coordinated" national drug control policy - in line with international treaties for the elimination of opium poppy. It also urges donor countries to provide necessary funds to President Karzai to beef up the campaign.
The problem is having a very negative impact on neighboring Pakistan, where Mr. Zeindl Cronin says the heroin addiction remains high. "We estimate that there are about 500,000 chronic heroin users in Pakistan. This is too many for any country," he says. "We have had considerable success in the elimination of illicit poppy cultivation [in Pakistan] and good progress has been made in the interdiction of drug trafficking. However, I think that much more needs to be done to address the problem of drug addiction.
Pakistan was a major producer of opium until a few years ago. The U.N. estimates that last year, production was just six tons down from a previous annual output of 800 tons - or more than a 99 percent cut in opium production.
Mr. Zeindl-Cronin says that the smuggling of opiates originating from Afghanistan through Pakistan and also through Iran remains at a very high level. Anti-narcotics officials in Pakistan say that their country is the transit route for 25 percent of heroin smuggled out of Afghanistan.