The world’s deadliest drug trade: facts and figures Afghanistan gets 5% the world’s heroin money and 100% the blame International Forum on “Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Challenge to the International Community” PDF Print E-mail
UNODC Speeches (2002-2010)

Moscow, 9 June 2010



Mr. President

Ladies and Gentlemen,


How nice to be back in Moscow, almost half a century from my studies at the Moskovsky Gosudarstvenniy Universitet imeni Lenina (MGU). 


I was honoured to join this Forum:  indeed, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is well-placed to talk about drugs in, and from Afghanistan.  Our opium surveys are an unrivalled source of information on how much opium is cultivated, where is going, and how it affects health, crime and insurgency within and beyond the country’s borders.  Here is the latest information.

Afghan drug output is down


In 2008-09 opium cultivation in Afghanistan fell by a third (32%). Production fell by a fifth (18%) to 6,900 tonnes. The number of poppy-free provinces rose to 20, with 92% of the total cultivation concentrated in 5 Southern provinces where insurgency is most active.


The gross export value of Afghan opium also declined in 2009 to $2.8 billion, with less money for war-lords and terrorists in Afghanistan and abroad.


The downward trend looks will continue in 2010.  While cultivation in terms of hectares is broadly the same as last year, a blight is wiping out poppy crops in the South.  A decline of 25-30% nation-wide would have important consequences.


First, you may have heard rumours that foreign forces have engaged in a sort of bacteriological warfare aimed at destroying the drug right in the fields.  My view is straight-forward:  this is not a man-made outcome.  It would be a counter-productive initiative since the farmers whose drug output is wiped-out – facing hardship – may be tempted to join insurgency. 


Second, and related, a drop in supply means an increase in prices.  This is already happening, with farm-gate prices up by more than 50% this year.  Most worrisome is the consequent re-evaluation of the 12,000 tonnes of unsold opium, to the advantage of those who own these stocks:  farmers (a little), criminals (for sure), and Talibs insurgents (on a large scale).


Hence, andthird, the fungus that is destroying the opium crops is an act of nature, the erratic consequence of weather conditions as well as the excessive single-purpose exploitation (no crop rotation) of Afghan soil.  As such, the blight will not generate an outcome (much lower yields) that is sustained over time.  To reduce further the severity of the Afghan opium problem we need something more costly, more politically committed and more time-consuming.


What should be done?  Let’s examine the entire heroin chain: supply (in the poppy fields), trafficking (along the many routes), and demand (in rich countries).


In Afghanistan, eradicate poverty, not just poppies


First, about supply.  I have long argued that in Afghanistan, counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency go hand in hand. The provinces of highest instability in Afghanistan coincide with the areas of highest opium cultivation. Increased security is therefore essential:  this is responsibility of both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and NATO forces.


Some observers – from Russia in particular – have asked for more intensive NATO engagement against the Afghan drugs.  I agree, but we need to get this right:  we must contain the undeniable emotions stirred up when we see photos of heavily armed soldiers crossing poppy fields unperturbed. 


Afghanistan’s farmers – some of the poorest people in the world – do not deserve napalm bombing:  they need development assistance.  In Afghanistan, we must eradicate poverty, not just poppies.  Therefore NATO troops should not engage in counter-narcotic activity at the farm level.  Yet, and this is crucial, since the drug economy in Afghanistan is providing $200-400 million per year for arms, equipment and foot soldiers, NATO should engage pro-actively against high-value targets, destroying open drug markets, labs, stocks and convoys.  This strategic goal will bring economic benefits:  if the links between (domestic) supply and (foreign) markets are cut, opium prices in Afghanistan will decline, restraining cultivation.


Too many people are dying because of Afghan drugs


What about the demand side?  Let’s look at what happens on the streets of our cities – Moscow, Berlin, London, Rome etc.  The numbers are overwhelming:  nearly half of global heroin consumption takes place there. 70 tonnes of heroin, worth $13 billion, is consumed in Russia every year, making it the biggest national market.  The European Union in-takes an even grater volume of Afghan drugs, for a total market value of almost $20 billions.


Ladies and gentlemen, are you aware that, every years, more drug addicts die in the street of Western Europe from Afghan heroin than the number of  NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the current conflict in 2001?  In other words, do you know that Afghan opium is over 10 times more lethal than Taliban bullets and IEDs?


Similarly, and I’m sorry to be so frank in this friendly audience, every year more young Russians are killed by Afghan heroin than the total number of Red Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the entire decade of the 1980s.


I therefore appeal to European and Russian leaders to do more about this carnage:  your countries need progress in drug prevention and treatment.


Improve cooperation to improve interdiction


If security and development in Afghanistan can reduce supply of opium, and health measures can reduce demand, we also need to stop the traffickers.  And this can only be done through improved law enforcement, and cross-border cooperation.


At the moment, benign neglect, incompetence and corruption enable narcotics to move from one of the poorest (landlocked) countries in the world, to the main streets of some of the richest nations in the Euro-Asian land mass.


The problem starts in Afghanistan which produces more than 90% of the world’s opium, but seizes less than 2% of it. Central Asia only seizes 5% of the 90 tons of heroin that cross their territory directed to Russia, that also seizes a meagre 4% of this flow. The figures are even worse along the Balkan route, where less than 2% of the heroin trafficked there is confiscated.


The solution is improved criminal justice to fight all types of organized crime, particularly drug trafficking. As has been stressed at past high-level meetings in Moscow, counter-acting trans-national threats requires multi-lateral cooperation. That is the logic of the Paris Pact. There is also a growing role for the CSTO, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the OSCE, and others, not least in strengthening capacity among border guards and drug control officials. 


UNODC is establishing information sharing centres in Central Asia, the Gulf, and between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. More work also needs to be done on disrupting the money flows.  I call on your support.


Now a few shared responsibilities


First, health


During the past half century, at the United Nations, Member States have committed themselves to place health at the centre of drug policy.  The rhetoric has been right.  In reality, all too often prevention and treatment programs have lagged, the result of capital shortages as much as of inadequate political investment.


The overall socio-economic context has also played a role.  I urge all countries represented here, to work hard to attaining the goal of universal treatment to all drug addicts, so as to finally bring under control a health and social problem that is killing more than wars.


We must not only stop the harm caused by drugs:  let’s unleash the capacity of drugs to do good.  This radical idea goes back to the origins of drug control.  The Preamble of the Single Convention recognizes that … the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensible for the relief of pain….  I therefore invite all countries to support the goal of universal access to palliative medicine, namely to the attainment of the noble goal of UN drug policy: freedom from physical pain.


Second, security and development 


As part of a balanced approach, we must promote security and development.


As illustrated in the soon-to-be-released UNODC report on The Globalization of Crime, drug trafficking causes instability; in turn, instability attracts smuggling and violence.  Indeed, 2/3 of the countries least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals are in the midst – or emerging from – conflicts, crime and violence.  Effective drug control induces stability, and vice-versa. This is why UNODC works with governments and development institutions to promote drug policy, crime control and terrorism prevention as goals complementary to security, justice and development -- and we do this in the Balkans, Central and West Asia, meso-America, West and East Africa.


Third, human rights


Last but not least, we face shared responsibility of protecting human rights.  Around the world, millions of people caught taking drugs are sent to jail, not to treatment.  In some countries, drug therapy amounts to cruel, degrading treatment -- the equivalent of torture.  People are sentenced to die for drug-related offences, or are gunned down by extra-judicial squads.


As human beings, as well as members of the community of civilized nations, we have a shared responsibility to put an end to this.  People who use drugs, or are behind bars, have not losttheir humanity or their human rights.


In conclusion:


Ladies and Gentlemen, the opium problem can not be dealt with in Afghanistan alone. It starts at home, by reducing demand. It must be tackled along trafficking routes. And we must assist Afghanistan to overcome its poverty. 


This is shared responsibility.  I thank you for you attention.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2011 13:36