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Afghanistan's Opium Economy Needs to be 'Broken', says Top UN Official - 2003-06-17

The Director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, predicts that Afghanistan will remain the world's top opium producer in the coming years and is calling for international cooperation to curb Afghanistan's illicit drug trade.

Mr. Costa describes Afghanistan's opium economy as a "vicious circle," which needs to be broken.

In an open Security Council debate he said, the drug trade undermines institution-building in Afghanistan. At the same time, slow progress in establishing the rule of law and maintaining security is hurting the ability to reduce the drug economy.

Mr. Costa said, for the second year in a row, poppy cultivation is expected to reach the levels of the late 1990s, spreading to new areas and decreasing in traditional provinces.

"We need to recognize that despite current efforts, in the coming years, Afghanistan will continue to be the world's largest opium producer. Why such a long time frame? Because over the last 20 years the Afghanistan agriculture, actually the entire infrastructure in the countryside, was destroyed resulting in the war economy in which arms, drugs, smuggling, and opium have provided a means of livelihood, a means for savings, for credit, the means for exchange of almost one-fifth of the economy, about 20 percent of its gross domestic product," he said.

Mr. Costa said less than one percent of the land in Afghanistan is cultivated for opium poppies. But Afghanistan needs assistance in implementing the opium production ban in rural areas. He said drug dealers include remnants of the Taleban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The director of the U.N. office of Drugs and Crime is again urging the international community, Europe and neighboring countries in particular to do more to help Afghanistan eliminate the illicit drug trade following a recent conference on the issue in Paris.

"National efforts are not enough. Hence, the convergent efforts by neighboring countries through which the narcotics are exported and by Europe and Russia, where heroin abuse help nourish opium Afghanistan are needed. In particular the international community needs to develop a comprehensive approach," Mr. Costa said.

In the debate, Security Council members acknowledged that a fragile security situation, especially outside of Kabul, poses a serious challenge to curbing the drug trade. Some council members pledged to do more to fight the problem, which fuels terrorism and corruption and is causing the spread of HIV and AIDS in the region.

Britain says it will provide up to $114 million for counter-narcotics work during next three years and Germany is leading the training of Afghan police. The U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States will provide $60 million in funding to those areas.