Afghan opium fight needs aid, better message
Tue Oct 28, 2008
KABUL (AFP) – The fall in opium production in Afghanistan this year should be followed by the delivery of promised aid, the UN drugs office said, calling for more better targeted anti-drugs messages.
The drop of one fifth in the area under cultivation between 2007 and 2008 was due to farmers deciding not to plant the crop rather than government attempts to eradicate opium, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative said.
“There is always the danger of a backlash,” Christina Oguz warned.
“For example, in Nangarhar (province), poppy cultivation is going up and down — down when promises are made, up when the aid is not delivered.”
Oguz stressed that the anti-drugs campaign should be adapted to the different local contexts in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.
The “religion message” — that opium is not allowed in Islam — carries for example different weight in different areas.
In Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east it is powerful, Oguz said.
In the far northern province of Badakhsan, it is less so, with people more convinced by the links between opium and unrest.
In a country where television coverage is confined largely to towns and many people cannot read because of high illiteracy rates, “the most powerful media communication is word of mouth,” the official said.
“We believe influential public figures and mullahs should be encouraged much more to spread these messages,” she added.
Farmers generally do not see the link between opium and terrorism, Oguz said.
But according to the UN and Washington, a good part of the profits from the drugs go towards the Taliban who also earn money from protecting fields and trafficking routes.
“Poppy cultivation is no longer an Afghan problem,” Oguz added.
“It’s a problem in the south and the southwest,” she said, pointing out that 98 percent of production is concentrated in seven out of 34 provinces which are also among those most affected by the insurgency.
Poverty is the main motivation for opium production, the UNODC representative said.
“Many people use opium as the main source of cash income, they rely more on opium sales than on wheat production to satisfy their needs.”
UNODC figures say that despite the 19 percent drop in the area used to grow opium this year, output only dipped six percent because of better yields per hectare with an estimated annual harvest of 7,700 tonnes.
Washington issued more optimistic figures last week, saying it estimated output had dropped to 5,500 tonnes this year compared with 8,000 in 2007.
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