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Afghanistan Opium Cultivation Surges

Afghanistan Opium Cultivation Surges In Volatile South, Un Drug Agency Says

Opium cultivation is surging in the troubled southern part of Afghanistan and fuelling insurgency across the region, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported today.

According to UNODC's annual survey, a record 165,000 hectares were under opium cultivation in 2006, a 59 per cent gain over 2005. In the southern province of Helmand, where Taliban insurgents have intensified their attacks on Afghan government and international forces, cultivation soared 162 per cent.

UNODC notes that this year's harvest of around 6,100 tons of opium will represent 92 per cent of total world supply and exceed global consumption by 30 per cent.

"These are very alarming numbers. Afghanistan is increasingly hooked on its own drug," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa in Kabul after presenting the survey to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The UNODC chief warned that the southern part of Afghanistan, with its large-scale drug operations, terrorism, crime and corruption, was verging on collapse.

"The political, military and economic investments by coalition countries are not having much visible impact on drug cultivation," said Mr. Costa. "As a result, Afghan opium is fuelling insurgency in western Asia, feeding international mafias and causing a hundred thousand deaths from overdoses every year."

Mr. Costa called on the Afghan Government to take greater action against corruption and to arrest major drug traffickers and wealthy opium-farming landlords and seize their assets.

He added that governors and police officials presiding over opium-growing provinces should be removed and charged while drug-free areas should be rewarded with more substantial and more visible development aid.

The UNODC Executive Director also called on western governments to do more to curb drug abuse in their countries.

Ends

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