June 26, 2007 / 2:06 AM / 11 years ago

Afghan Helmand province becoming main drug supplier

VIENNA (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Helmand province, heartland of Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO forces, is about to become the world’s largest drug supplier, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Opium poppy flowers are in full bloom in a field in the eastern Afghan province of Ningarhar April 9, 2007. Afghanistan's Helmand province, heartland of Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO forces, is about to become the world's largest drug supplier, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Helmand, a province in the south of Afghanistan, cultivated more drugs than entire countries such as Myanmar, Morocco or even Colombia, the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) said in its 2007 World Drug Report.

“Helmand province, severely threatened by insurgency, is becoming the world’s biggest drug supplier. In Afghanistan, opium is a security issue more than a drug issue,” UNODC Director Antonio Marias Costa said in the report’s preface.

“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.”

While the amount of land under illicit poppy cultivation fell by 10 percent globally between 2000 and 2006, global opium production soared by 43 percent to a record high of 6,610 tons in 2006 from a year earlier.

This was due to a shift in output from inferior Southeast Asian fields to more productive ones in Afghanistan — which in 2006 produced 92 percent of all opium in the world.

Other worrying signs came from Africa, suggesting the impoverished continent could find itself at the crossroads of international drug crime.

AFRICA “UNDER ATTACK”

“There are warning signs that Africa is also under attack, targeted by cocaine traffickers from the west — Colombia — and heroin smugglers in the east — Afghanistan,” the report said.

“This threat needs to be addressed quickly to stamp out drug-related crime, money-laundering and corruption, and to prevent the spread of drug use that could cause havoc across a continent already plagued by other tragedies.”

The cultivation, production and abuse of almost every kind of drug around the world — cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants — had stabilized overall.

“Progress made in some areas is often offset by negative trends elsewhere,” wrote Costa. “But overall, we seem to have reached a point where the world drug situation has stabilized and been brought under control.”

With some 160 million annual customers, cannabis provides the largest illicit drug market by far. According to U.N. estimates, global cannabis herb production eased by some 6 percent to 42,000 tons in 2005 from a year earlier.

“For the first time in years, we do not see an upward trend in the global production and consumption of cannabis,” Costa said.

Cocaine production has remained largely stable over the past few years. It was estimated at 984 tons in 2006 amid signs of a drop in cultivation in Andean countries, especially Colombia.

Global output of amphetamine-style stimulants was estimated to have nudged down by 2 percent to 478 tons in 2005.

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