A UN drug report suggests illegal opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan may be declining from the record levels of a year ago.
Drugs are a big, and growing, business. The 2005 World Drug Report indicates the retail value of the illegal drug market is higher than the gross domestic product of nearly 90-percent of the UN member countries, or equal to the entire domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa.
Simone Monasebian of the New York office of the UN office on Drugs and Crime says consumers are spending hundreds of billion dollars on a wide variety of illegal substances: "The drug trade is now 320-billion dollar business… Cannabis is the largest part of that, 113-billion dollars a year in cannabis, 71-billion dollars a year in cocaine, 65-billion dollars a year in opiates, 44-billion dollars in ATS, or amphetamine-type stimulants,and 29-billion dollars in cannabis resin, which is what we call hashish."
The good news in the latest UN report is that the area of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan appears to be declining from record levels of last year. Afghanistan produces two-thirds of the world's illegal opiates.
But Ms. Monasebian says the best efforts of Afghanistan's government to cut down on the area under poppy cultivation may be undercut by weather: "There is some hope with regard to Afghanistan. The elections, and the democratization, and some of the assistance provided by member states has had an impact. Unfortunately, another thing that you cannot have as much control over is weather conditions. And while there has been less cultivation, the problem is that conditions have in some instances been more ripe for crop yield."
The 2005 report also notes a long-term decline in opium poppy cultivation in southeast Asia. Production is 78% lower than in 1996, and the report's authors say it is possible that southeast Asia could become virtually free of illicit cultivation in the next few
Overall, the UN report provides a mixed picture of the war on drugs. While there are 40-million hard-core heroin and cocaine users worldwide, there was a drop in the number of countries reporting higher drug use, and an increase in the number reporting lower usage.
Progress, UN officials say, comes in small steps.