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Under US Occupation, Afghan Opium Industry Surges to Record Levels

'This has never been witnessed before in the history of Afghanistan'

Common Dreams staff

The cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan—a nation under the military control of US and NATO forces for more than twelve years—has risen to an all-time high, according to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released Wednesday by the United Nations.

According to the report, cultivation of poppy across the war-torn nation rose 36 per cent in 2013 and total opium production amounted to 5,500 tons, up by almost a half since 2012.

“This has never been witnessed before in the history of Afghanistan,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the outgoing leader of the Afghanistan office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which produced the report.

Fueling the ongoing military conflict in the country, the opium epidemic has also spurred a growing crisis of drug addiction in Afghanistan.

“This is a tsunami for our country,” said Dr. Ahmad Fawad Osmani, the director of drug demand reduction for the Ministry of Public Health, in an interview with the New York Times. “The only thing our drug production has brought us is one million drug users.”

Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, called the overall findings of the report "sobering," and warned the situation poses a threat to health, stability and development inside Afghanistan, across the region, and beyond.

"If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption and impunity," said Fedotov.

Though the opium industry is well known to help fuel the insurgency against US and NATO military forces, most opium farmers in Afghanistan continue to say that it is simply the only way they can make a living. Meanwhile, despite having spent billions on eradication efforts in the country, the U.S. military has allowed poppy cultivation to continue in order to appease farmers and government officials involved with the drug trade who might otherwise turn against the Afghan Karzai government in Kabul. Fueling both sides, in fact, the opium and heroin industry is both a product of the war and an essential source for continued conflict.

"Its high sale price continued to be the most important reason for cultivating opium poppy cited by farmers in 2013 (72%), as it was in 2012 (44%)," reads the report. "High income from little land, improving living conditions, and the provision of basic food and shelter for the family were other important reasons cited by farmers."

Read the full report here (pdf).

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