Afghanistan leads world in opium production: UN report

Despite more than 30,000 international troops in the country, Afghanistan now produces 92 per cent of the world's opium, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

Despite more than 30,000 international troops in the country, Afghanistan now produces 92 per cent of the world's opium, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The 2007 World Drug Report, which was released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that production in Afghanistan increased nearly 50 per cent in the last year.

Production of opium, the main ingredient for heroin, grew from approximately 4,000 tonnes in 2005 to more than 6,000 tonnes in 2006, the report said.

Afghanistan's shareof world production increased to 92 per cent from 70 per cent in 2000. The higher opium production in the country also brought the global total to a record high of nearly 6,600 tonnes, a 43 per cent increase from 2005.

In addition to producing more opium, more land in the country is being used for production. In 2005, nearly 1,000 square kilometres were used for poppy cultivation, while in 2006, it increased by nearly 60 per cent to more than 1,600 square kilometres.

"This is the largest area under opium poppy cultivation ever recorded in Afghanistan," the report said.

Helmand province alone accounts for nearly 42 per cent of world opium production.

"Helmand province is on the verge of becoming the world's biggest drug supplier, with the dubious distinction of cultivating more drugs than entire countries such as Myanmar, Morocco or even Colombia," said the report.

The report also said that control over the opium market is necessary to bring security to the already troubled region.

"Curing Helmand of its drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic, and go a long way to bringing security to the region," said the report.

Christina Gyanna Oguz, UNODC representative in Afghanistan, agrees.

"There are close links between criminal networks that deal in drugs and the insurgents," she said Tuesday in Kabul. "Together they provide both the money and the environment for instability in this country."

As Afghanistan's production rises, with expectations for continued increases in 2007, opium production and land use for poppy growth in Southeast Asia have dropped for the sixth straight year.

Since 1998, the region's share of opium production has dropped from 67 per cent to just 12 per cent, the report said. The region's opium production in 2006 was 335 tonnes.

Report finds drug use 'stable'

The annual report found that the estimated level of global production, trafficking and drug use has remained relatively stable for the third year in a row.

In 2006, about 200 million people, or five per cent of the world's population aged from 15 to 64, used drugs at least once. Of those, an estimated 25 million had drug dependencies.

Cannabis continued to account for the bulk of global drug use, consumed by 160 million people. This is a slight decrease, said the report, because of ongoing declines in North America and first-time declines in Western Europe.

"Although it is too early to speak of a general decline, signs of stabilization of cannabis use at the global level are apparent," the report said. "For the first time in years, we do not see an upward trend in the global production and consumption of cannabis."

The second-most widely consumed group of substances were amphetamine-type stimulants, including ecstasy. Over the last year, 25 million people used amphetamines at least once, about the same as the previous year.

"This does not mean that the drug problem has been solved or that we can become complacent. Nor is the good news universal. Progress made in some areas is often offset by negative trends elsewhere," the report said. "But overall, we seem to have reached a point where the world drug situation has stabilized and been brought under control."