Afghanistan: staff with brains and guts PDF Print E-mail
The shaping of policy at UNODC (2002-2010)

Posted: 3 June 2008

UNODC's crop surveys on coca, opium and cannabis are considered the gold standard for reliable data on the cultivation of illicit drugs. The same goes for our reports on monitoring verification of drug eradication.

It is sometimes forgotten that there are people behind these numbers - real heroes who are out in the field (on foot, camel, horse, motorcycle, and all terrain vehicle) talking to farmers, and measuring first hand how much coca or poppy is being grown. 

From Morocco to Burma, from Afghanistan to Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia we have hundreds of specialists reporting, through UNODC, how the drug situation in evolving on the supply side. 

In Afghanistan, this year alone we have sent 131 eradication verifiers (selected and trained by our Office in Kabul) out to regions where cultivation activities are envisaged.   They measure, on a sample basis, the extent of the cultivation, the eradicated fields, collect info from GPS coordinates, draw maps, and take photographs.  With a couple of exceptions, all these people are Afghan nationals:  extraordinarily dedicated fellows who love their country and work hard at fighting the scourge of opium.

This can be dangerous work. Security incidents in Hilmand, Kandahar, Hirat, Nimroz, Kapisa, Kabul and Nagarhar provinces - including shootings and mine explosions - have resulted in the death of at least 78 people this year, about half of them policemen. A number of police vehicles and tractors have been attacked and burned. In some cases, farmers have flooded their fields to prevent them from being ploughed up. Recently, one UNODC verifier was killed, and another had to be extracted by NATO forces from a village surrounded by Taliban insurgents.

The work is therefore not only difficult: it is physically dangerous. It requires guts and brains. In Hilmand province alone, where insurgency is very active and casualties are numerous, so far this year verifiers have visited 140 villages. The reports made by the eradication verifiers are corroborated by using satellite images and photos taken from helicopter overflights.    

There are other heroes who are part of the UNODC poppy monitoring programme in Afghanistan: 200 surveyors who collect socio-economic data from villages. They help us know what motivates the farmers in their planting decisions. There are also 50 surveyors who measure over 17,000 opium capsules, in order to provide estimates on opium yield and production; over 40 surveyors who collect ground reference data and GPS locations to assist us in satellite image interpretation.  

During the past several months I met many of our surveyors - in Vienna as well as in Kabul, always impressed by the modesty, yet steel-like determination to do as accurate a job as possible. Some of them are obviously undercover, their affiliation with UNODC not known even by their families or friends. 

Next time you read an article about the drug situation in Afghanistan, or open a UNODC crop survey full of charts and data, spare a thought for the brave souls who have been on the ground collecting that information straight from the source, often at great risk. Without them, the world would lack a clear picture of the world drug situation.


Last Updated on Thursday, 20 January 2011 11:10