Afghanistan saw a 10 per cent jump in opium cultivation this year, a sharp rise owing to favourable weather, growing insecurity and a drop in international support for counter-narcotics operations, the UN said on Saunday. Cultivation dropped last year owing to drought conditions but it has been on the rise in the past decade, fuelling the Taliban insurgency and spurring a growing crisis of drug addiction despite costly US-led counter-narcotics programmes.
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High levels of cultivation this year meant the total opium production soared 43 per cent, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), citing better yield because of favourable weather conditions.
“The cultivation has increased by 10 per cent this year compared to the same time in 2015 — from 183,000 hectares to 201,000 hectares,” counter-narcotics minister Salamat Azimi told a joint press conference with the UN.
“Ninety-three per cent of the cultivation has taken place in the southern, eastern and western parts of the country.”
Officials also cited falling international donor support and growing insecurity as the main reasons for the increase in cultivation.
Afghanistan saw a drop in opium cultivation last year for the first time since 2009, a UN report said, citing drought conditions as a key reason for the decline.
Poppy farmers in Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of opium, are often taxed by the Taliban, who use the cash to help fund their insurgency against government and NATO forces. “Most of the wars in Afghanistan are financed by income from poppy. Anywhere you see poppy in Afghanistan you see fighting there,” said Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, deputy minister of interior for counter narcotics.
International donors have splurged billions of dollars on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade, including efforts encouraging farmers to switch to other cash crops such as saffron. But those efforts have shown little results.
Addiction levels have also risen sharply — from almost nothing under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime — giving rise to a new generation of addicts since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.