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UN Urges Action To Tackle Surge In Afghan Opium

UN anti-drugs chief urges stepped-up action to tackle surge in Afghan opium

The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has called on the international community to step up its efforts to reign in Afghanistan's booming opium production, which not only accounts for over half the country's gross domestic product but is also funding insurgents in the strife-torn nation.

Presenting UNODC's final report on opium production in Afghanistan, the world's leading drug producer, Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told a gathering in Brussels that the total export value of opium and heroin being trafficked to neighbouring countries this year is $4 billion, an increase of 29 per cent over 2006.

That means that opium now accounts for more than half - 53 per cent - of the country's licit GDP, according to one of the findings of the Afghan Opium Survey 2007, a provisional version of which was presented in August.

Approximately one quarter of this amount, or $1 billion, is earned by opium farmers, while the rest is made by drug traffickers, the report noted. Since the drug increases in value with ever border it crosses, by the time it hits the streets of major Western countries, it could be worth 50 to 100 times as much as in Kabul.

As a result, while opium is profitable to some Afghan farmers, these sums - though significant in relation to the local economy - are only a fraction of the major profits that are being made world-wide by criminals, insurgents and terrorists.

Mr. Costa urged Afghanistan's international partners, including NATO and the UN Security Council, to boost their counter-narcotics efforts, especially if they wanted to address the insurgency that is threatening the fledgling democracy. He also stressed the need for greater development assistance, noting that the drug problem cannot be tackled solely by counter-narcotics measures.

In addition, he urged greater cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, as well as the countries of Central Asia, emphasizing that drug trafficking is not a threat that States can address solely on their own.

"The threat is real and growing, despite a foreign military presence in the tens of thousands, billions of dollars spent on reconstruction, and the huge political capital invested in stabilizing a country that has been in turmoil for a third of a century," Mr. Costa wrote in the foreword to the report.

"The Afghan opium situation looks grim, but it is not yet hopeless," he added. "It will take time, money and determination - worthwhile investments to spare Afghanistan and the rest of the world more tragedies."


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