Afghan opium crop hits record high ahead of Western withdrawal: UN
KABUL - Reuters
The increase in the crop was caused by various factors including greater insecurity as foreign troops pull back in preparation for next year’s withdrawal. AP photoThe increase in the crop was caused by various factors including greater insecurity as foreign troops pull back in preparation for next year’s withdrawal.
Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said Nov. 13, with concern that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year.
The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares, will embarrass Afghanistan’s aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency.
“The short-term prognosis is not positive,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan. “The illicit economy is establishing itself, and seems to be taking over in importance from the licit economy.”
Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. Last year, it accounted for 75 percent of global supply and Lemahieu had previously said this year it might supply 90 percent.
The increase in the crop was caused by various factors including greater insecurity as foreign troops pull back in preparation for withdrawing next year, a high opium price last year and a growing lack of Afghan political will to tackle the problem.
That will is particularly weak as an April presidential election approaches, Lemahieu said. President Hamid Karzai cannot stand again, leaving the field open to a range of rivals, some linked to power-brokers who have profited from poppy in the past. The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tons of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tons in 2012. Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product.
Funneled off by Taliban
Some of those profits will be funneled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. Western officials privately accuse senior members of the Afghan state of also profiting.
A gradual decrease in foreign funding as allies grow weary of helping war-racked Afghanistan has led to some members of the Afghan elites turning to poppy profits. “When it comes to the illicit economy there is very little difference between the insurgents and the people on the other side,” Lemahieu said. Afghanistan has a serious drug addiction problem but most of its output is smuggled abroad, particularly to Europe.