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UN: Afghan opium production spreading like cancer
( 2003-10-30 09:30) (Agencies)

Opium cultivation is spreading like a cancer in Afghanistan and risks transforming the world's leading supplier into a state of narco-terrorists and drug cartels, a U.N. survey said Wednesday.

Opium poppy cultivation is fanning out to areas it has never been seen in before, the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its Afghanistan Opium survey for 2003 -- the first conducted in cooperation with the national government.

High prices for opium have lured poor farmers away from conventional farming, spreading poppy cultivation to 28 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces from 18 provinces four years ago.

"Either major surgical drug-control measures are taken now or the drug cancer in Afghanistan will keep spreading and metastasize into corruption, violence and terrorism," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

The study said that while only one percent of all arable land was used for poppy cultivation, farmers' revenues from opium in 2003 were around $1.02 billion, or $3,900 per family, in a country where the average daily wage is around $2.

If traffickers' profits are also taken into account, the study values Afghanistan's opium economy at about $2.3 billion in 2003, roughly half of its official gross domestic product. Poppy cultivation had risen eight percent to 80,000 hectares and opium production six percent to 3,600 tons since 2002 in a country which already accounted for 75 percent of global supply.

The largest rise of 55 percent came in Badakshan, a northeastern province bordering Tajikistan, offsetting progress in eradicating poppy fields in the southern provinces of Hilmand and Kandahar, which declined 49 and 23 percent respectively.

The top opium producing province is now Nangarhar.

The ODC started annual opium poppy surveys in Afghanistan in 1994, collecting details of cultivation, production and prices, and tracking the manifold increase in production since 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion.

Costa said that although the scale of Afghanistan's cultivation was disheartening, the survey found evidence that preconditions for change were slowly being put in place.

The recently adopted National Drug Control Strategy was designed to oversee rural development and law enforcement initiatives, while a new drug control law aims to thwart opium trafficking and money laundering, reduce abuse and promote international cooperation.

But he said law enforcement alone was not enough and called on the international community for adequate resources to help rebuild the economy in a country where food, electricity, and running water remained unavailable for many.

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