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article imageUN Raises Concerns Over Soaring Opium Crops in Afghanistan

By Nathalie Caron     Aug 27, 2007 in World
Quantities of opium produced in Afghanistan have reached “frightening record levels”, stated the United Nations earlier today. The country is responsible for 93% of the world’s opium, up one percent since 2006.
Afghanistan’s opium poppy crops are so important, they now occupy more land than those devoted to drug culture in Columbia, Bolivia and Peru combined, explained the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Opium production has steadily increased since 1985, going from 31% of the world’s production to 79% in 1999. New data shows the country is now responsible for 93% of all opium found worldwide.
“The area of Afghan land where opium poppies are grown rose by 17 percent to 193,000 hectares in 2007 from 165,000 last year and this year's harvest was 8,200 tonnes, up from 6,100 tonnes in 2006,” states a Reuters report.
The province of Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, is responsible for more then 50% of the country’s opium crop.
"Helmand has single-handedly become the world's biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries like Colombia (coca), Morocco (cannabis) and Myanmar (opium) which have populations up to 20 times larger," said the UNODC.
Afghanistan is trapped in a vicious circle where drug money powers both the Taliban insurgency and official corruption which in turn weakens the government's hold of large parts of the country, therefore leading to a greater opium “industry”.
“Between 70% and 90% of the heroin found in Europe has been processed from opium produced in Afghanistan,” states a UNODC fact sheet.
The UN introduced a four-year pilot program for Afghanistan in 1997. The four-art project included poppy crop reduction, a poppy monitoring system, capacity building for drug control and drug demand reduction support.
The UNODC established a direct link between national insecurity and drug production and believes that tackling the Taliban insurgency is key to stemming opium cultivation.
And the United States has budgeted $449 million to tackle opium production in Afghanistan in this year alone, said Reuters.
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