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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 15:26 GMT
UN concern over Afghan drug revival
Opium harvest
Afghan's farmers have turned to poppy growing again
By the BBC's Pam O'Toole

The United Nations' drug control agency (UNDCP) has expressed deep concern over what it says is the current high level of drug production in Afghanistan.

If there is a drug problem in Afghanistan then there is a drug problem all over Europe

UNDCP spokesman
The agency, which has just carried out a preliminary survey in drug-producing areas of the country, says the level of production is not only high, but widespread.

"The problem is serious, in the sense that Afghanistan used to be the source of 70% of global production of all opiates and up to 90% of all heroin in European markets," UNDCP spokesman Kemal Kurspahic said.

"So, if there is a drug problem in Afghanistan then there is a drug problem all over Europe."

The agency's comments come as British officials express fears that this year's opium crop from Afghanistan could equal the huge levels reached in 1999 before bans imposed first by the Taleban, and then by Afghanistan's new interim government.

Back to the poppy

Last summer international drugs control agencies reported a 94% drop in Afghanistan's opium production on the previous year.

A Taleban soldiers guards poppy field
Drug production fell dramatically after the Taleban ban

It appeared that a ban imposed by the Taleban was almost completely effective.

But by autumn the picture had changed dramatically.

With the Americans now bombing Afghanistan and the Taleban on the run, the country's impoverished farmers, struggling after years of drought, turned again to poppy cultivation.

Alarm bells

So far no-one has come up with any practical solution.

The new interim government's ban on drug production and trafficking came too late to have any effect.

heroin seizure
Drug seizures soared in 1999 along with production

And anyway, the administration has yet to establish control in many of the areas where the poppies are being grown.

In the longer term, the international community is working with the Afghan government on ways to make the ban stick.

But unless a short term solution can be found, large amounts of Afghan-produced heroin could be hitting European markets again soon.

Kemal Kurspahic, UNDCP
"They are resorting to the only means they have"
The BBC's David Loyn
"Poppies are an attractive option during the worst drought for thirty years"
See also:

30 Sep 01 | South Asia
West fears heroin flood
15 Sep 00 | South Asia
Drought hits opium output
09 May 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan's opium harvest
04 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The heroin trail
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