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Afghan Opium Production Increases, says UN - 2003-10-29

The United Nations drug office says opium production in Afghanistan has increased this year and is threatening peace and security in the region.

The figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime confirm Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, accounting for about three quarters of global output.

Afghanistan became the largest source of illegal opium under the Taleban in the 1990s. The U.N. figures show that this year's harvest is the second highest since 1994.

According to the report the number of provinces with opium cultivation has increased to 28, out of a total of 32, spreading north nearly to the border with Tajikistan. It says about 10 million people consume Afghan opium, mostly in Europe and Russia.

The head of the U.N. anti-drug office, Antonio Maria Costa, says the opium economy is big business and provides funds to terrorists.

"Traffickers need to move from one province to another, from inside Afghanistan to the borders into other countries, Pakistan, they do cross lots of checkpoints, some of them by the army in Afghanistan, some of them established by terrorists," he said. "At all these checkpoints money is paid out, and indeed we believe that a significant amount of resources for al-Qaida or the Taleban is coming from revenue generated in this way."

Mr. Costa says the income this year from opium-related activities, farming and trafficking amounts to about $2.3 billion, or half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

The U.N. anti-drug chief says there is a danger that Afghanistan could again turn into what he called a failed state.

The U.N. opium survey for 2003 was produced jointly with the Afghanistan government. Mr. Costa praised the Afghan government's counter-narcotic efforts and anti-drug laws, but said the international community must do more to rebuild Afghanistan.

He says many Afghans have no food security, electricity, running water, roads, schools or health service, and are therefore tempted by the money they can earn from growing or transporting opium.