Afghanistan: Press briefing by Adrian Edwards, UNAMA Spokesman, with Christina Gynna Oguz, UNODC representative
Special Representative Tom Koenigs has been in East Asia over the past week as part of efforts at strengthening regional cooperation. In Beijing he held talks among others with Yang Jiechi, China's Foreign Minister and Chen Jian, Assistant Minister of Commerce. In Tokyo, he attended the conference on disarmament. As you know, this has been an intense few weeks of foreign visits for UNAMA. Mr Koenigs was in Moscow earlier this month exchanging views on the situation here. Later this week he will be traveling to London, Paris, and Rome, where UNAMA is co-chairing the July 2 and 3 conference on Rule of Law in Afghanistan and where we are hoping to reach consensus on the need for a comprehensive National Justice Programme for Afghanistan.
Tomorrow, June 26, is international day in support of victims of torture. It is also the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Afghanistan is among states that have ratified the Convention but work on eliminating torture here still requires robust continuing. The most recent report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan notes that reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment are common, including against people in NDS [National Directorate of Security] custody, and for the purpose of extracting confessions. In his statement for this day, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has urged UN member states not only to ratify the Convention but to join its Optional Protocol, which among other things includes vital checks on torture by a system of international and national visits to places of detention [http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_cat39.htm]
Tomorrow also sees release of the World Drugs report. Christina is here today as part of our efforts to keep you up-to-date on what is happening with drugs in Afghanistan.
Christina Gynna Oguz, UNODC: Good morning everyone. Tomorrow is not only the international day in support of victims of torture, but an international day against drug abuse and drug trafficking. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is tomorrow publishing a report on the situation in the world. I will brief you now on what features in that report relating to Afghanistan. Many of you already know that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's illicit opium. We have virtually a monopoly situation. The cultivation is concentrated in the south, and Helmand province itself accounts for 42 percent of all the illicit opium that is produced in the world. In this country drugs are very much a security issue. If you make a map of cultivation in Afghanistan and then you map the security situation and then lay them over the top of each other, they are almost the same. Not completely, but extremely similar. Trafficking is also linked to cultivation of course and we have in this country a very big problem of trafficking that contributes to insecurity. There are close links between criminal networks that deal in drugs and the insurgents. Together they provide both the money and the environment for instability in this country.
If you had the chance of flying over the provinces of Badakshan, Nimroz and Helmand at night you would see a lot of small fires - these are heroin labs. A couple of years ago, most of the drugs that were trafficked out of this country were in opium form. Now more and more of the opium is being processed into morphine and heroin. This indicates a sophistication that we did not have before and also that there is large illegal import of chemicals that are needed for the manufacturing of morphine and heroin. The fact that more and more heroin is being produced within the country means that there is also an increased risk of heroin abuse in Afghanistan. A couple of years ago, UNODC made an assessment of drug abuse in this country and we estimate that at least 50,000 people are already addicted to heroin, mostly men. Many of them are returning refugees who have started to use heroin, mainly in Iran. There is anecdotal evidence that this figure is going up. It is more and more likely that as more heroin is processed here there will be leakage into the Afghan market as well.
Heroin abuse is not the only drug abuse problem the country has. We also have around 150,000 people mainly in rural areas addicted to opium. Opium addiction is closely linked to the lack of healthcare in the country. Many people resort to taking opium, for example, for back pain among carpet weavers or if their children are sick. They are not aware of the risks of becoming addicted to it.
Well so far I have given you quite a bleak picture of the situation in Afghanistan and I would like to conclude by saying that not everything is that bad. We have some strong indications of diverging trends in terms of opium cultivation. I have said already that most of the cultivation is taking place in Helmand. I have also said that the drugs battle needs to be fought together with the insurgency - and that pertains to the south. In the central and northern parts of the country, we have a stable situation and even a decrease in terms of cultivation. This represents a window of opportunity for the Government in particular, but also the international community to do something about the drug problem. It is possible to have success in areas where security is better and where there is good governance. The Government must coordinate and be focused in its efforts to invest in education, in health, in infrastructure and also in meeting the more immediate needs of the farmers to ensure that they do not go back to cultivating opium once they have left it. We have this window of opportunity to do something and to increase the number of poppy-free provinces in the country from the current six provinces to eight or ten and then from there to continue and finally create a poppy-free belt across Afghanistan.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question: Last year Afghanistan produced some 6,000 tons of poppy. Do you have a figure for this year's production? And also could you put a figure on the amount of poppy processed into heroin this year?
UNODC: We will have the final figures in late August, so I cannot give you any exact figures in terms of opium production at the moment. However, we do have quite strong indications of an increase in the south. But as I said, we also have a decrease in the north. How this will be balanced in the end is a little bit difficult to say at the current time. However, the yield is likely to go up because of the good weather conditions that we have had this year for all agriculture in the country. So I fear that we will be faced with at least the same amount as last year and perhaps even more. Around 555 tons of opium was processed into heroin. On the basis that ten kilogrammes of opium can produce one kilogramme of heroin, this is almost 90 percent. However, I will also add that these figures are only estimates and are not final.
Question - Tamadon TV (translated from Dari): We witnessed this year that the Government of Afghanistan regularly reported on the eradication of poppy fields in the south and north as having been successful. How will this impact opium processing?
UNODC: Last year there was cultivation of more than 165,000 hectares of opium and about 15,000 hectares were eradicated. This year, eradication is around 20,000 hectares, or a little bit more. If we take the overall problem of cultivation and how we can we eliminate poppy, the answer is not solely eradication. The answer is providing licit livelihoods to the farmers; making sure that you deal with corruption; making sure that you deal with the drug traffickers; and encouraging farmers to cultivate other crops. We must be talking to the farmers and persuading them. This is a most important part of the strategy. Eradication is part of the strategy, but it plays a minor role for those farmers who despite all that I have said still cultivate opium.
We do not think eradication solves the problem on its own. Eradication is part of the total policy that every country which cultivates opium has at its disposal. It is important for two reasons: one is that the cultivation of opium is an illegal activity in the country and it is important for the government to enforce the law. The second reason is that a farmer, like anybody else who is involved in an illegal activity, is making a calculation: What is the risk and what is the benefit of it? If there is enough eradication in a country then the farmers will put that into the equation and say "I will not cultivate opium because I risk too much. I will do something else". This will become part of preventing the cultivation next year.
Question - Reuters: Since 2001, when poppy was virtually eradicated, there has been an increase every year. The cornerstones of almost everyone's policy in the poppy eradication campaign were farmers' education, crop replacement and getting other economic opportunities in these areas. These efforts have all failed. Maybe it is time to say that we do just eradication as the Americans and British say? What is the UN position on this?
UNODC: I would like to say that the policy that you outlined in terms of farmers' education, economic opportunities, etc has actually not failed. It has succeeded in the northern parts of the country. The southern part is very different. There is a link between drug-trafficking and insurgents. The way we have seen it is that these two feed off each other. They provide instability and insecurity making it extremely difficult for the Government to do something about the problem.
Question - Reuters: What is the UN position if American or British troops, as a policy, say that they are going to eradicate?
UNODC: The Afghan eradication force has actually tried to eradicate in Helmand and they succeeded to eradicate about 3,000 hectares. The eradication possibility is very much linked to security and so far they have not been able to eradicate enough to be a threat to the farmers.
Question: You said that drug abuse often starts with refugees. I presume that assistance is given only to registered refugees. Many of these illegal refugees complain that Iranian authorities should give them legal status. Don't you think that these people are more prone to drug abuse?
UNODC: There are many reasons why people resort to drug abuse. One is definitely vulnerability. I am not prepared to comment on Iran's policy on refugees. But I don't think it is a question or something that is happening just now. It is more to do with the long-term difficulty of being a refugee, or being displaced, or being illegally somewhere. Actually we have more people addicted to opium than addicted to heroin. These people have become addicted within Afghanistan.
Question - IRIN: Can you tell us more about the current situation of addicts and what are your concerns? And what about UNODC assistance to the government of Afghanistan to establish rehabilitation centers?
UNODC: This is a very important issue for Afghanistan. There is a huge scarcity of treatment facilities in this country and the way we see it is that it is not only a question of building treatment facilities because these are usually very expensive to maintain. And around 80 percent of the addicted population live in rural areas so we need to make sure they can get assistance where they live. We have developed together with the Ministry of Public Health a project proposal in this way which aims at integrating treatment and addiction services into the primary health care system going from the local health post up to provincial hospitals. And we hope that this would attract donor interest because we believe that this is the only way that Afghanistan will sustain a treatment system. It would be a first in the world if they were developed because there are not many countries which actually have integrated treatment and addiction services into their health care systems.
Question - DPA: You just said that if you fly over Helmand, Nimroz and Badakhshan provinces, you will see a lot of labs that appear to be producing heroin. Why don't the Afghan government and international forces target those areas? And does it show that there is a failure in the fight against production?
UNODC: I think there are several reasons: One is the illegal import of precursor chemicals that are being used in the production of morphine and heroine. And these chemicals are not produced within Afghanistan. They are produced in Europe and in China and then they are being diverted from legal channels very often into illegal ones. And they come to this country through the surrounding countries. One aspect of this is regional cooperation and it is absolutely vital to this problem. There have been increases in the number of labs that have been dismantled and the amount of seizures. But I cannot describe the Afghan fight against drug trafficking and drug production as a success.
Question - DPA: Don't you think that these people are enjoying impunity as they can import these materials and produce inside the country without fear?
UNODC: I think it is an indication that they do not feel threatened enough. It is also an indication that they have more knowledge. They are more sophisticated than they used to be, and the capacity of Afghanistan to target trafficking is not well developed. You need more police being able to do intelligence-driven work for example. But you also need much more border control and regional cooperation. A couple of weeks ago there was a high-level meeting in Vienna which was organised by UNODC where the ministers of counter narcotics and interior from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran met and agreed to work together more and to meet on a regular basis.
Question - Xinhua: How are drugs from Afghanistan transferred to other countries, and which countries are the main destinations? Secondly, as China is a neighbour of Afghanistan and some drugs may be going out to China I want to know what percentage of the drugs is transferred to China and by which means or route?
UNODC: Most of the drugs leave Afghanistan through Iran and Pakistan, the Western border or the Southwest and maybe around 20 to 24 percent through the Northern part, Tajikistan. It depends on what we look at. If we look at seizures and if we look at opium, 70 percent of all seizures of opium in the world take place in Iran (240 tons). If we look at heroin, Pakistan is the country that is seizing most of the heroin (24 tons) followed by Iran - 12 tons - and then China and Turkey which have seized nine tons each. Traditionally the biggest markets for heroin have been in Europe. We know that in Europe, heroin abuse is going down. In Russia, Central Asia and the countries surrounding Afghanistan, it is going up. It is also going up in India, and from what we know, most likely in China too. And China is a big country so a small increase means a lot. I can not give you any information about exactly how it is being smuggled. That is part of the problem that we have in this country, which is about being able to follow exactly how the drugs are being transported and in what direction. We know that for the Western part and Southwest the border in Nimroz is wide open.
Question - Xinhua: Just now you mentioned that 24 tons of heroin was seized in Pakistan and in my country [China]. During which period were these drugs seized?
UNODC: Last year.
Question - Internews: (translated from Dari): You said just before that sometimes the eradication campaign faces threats from farmers. All sides, whether the government or others, have focused all their resources on eradication, but none of them thinks of alternative livelihoods for farmers, so that they are encouraged to abandon poppy cultivation. Why aren't measures taken to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers - poverty makes them cultivate?
UNODC: When it comes to poppy cultivation, there is need and there is greed. There are farmers in this country who have very little land and they need to borrow money to get cash. And they do that against future harvests. They borrow from drug traffickers and then they pay them back in opium. This is one example of poor farmers. There are farmers who do not have any land who are share croppers, and they lease land and the conditions that they lease under are that they not only cultivate wheat or potatoes for their own families but they also cultivate poppy for the land owner. This is another part of the vulnerable farmers population. Then there are big land owners, they absolutely do not need opium to survive or even to have a luxurious life. They cultivate it only because of pure greed or power. There is not one answer to this to tailor it to specific conditions. You must have carrots in terms of microfinance credits, -- you need other kinds of support for licit livelihoods -- and then you need to use force against those who actually have choices. So if I would simplify that is to say a good balance between carrots and sticks: in the north more carrots and in the south more sticks.
Question - Ariana TV (translated from Dari): As you have said, Helmand province is one of the biggest producers of opium in Afghanistan. Isn't this a cause of concern for you? Does not it mean that the income from production goes to anti government elements?
UNODC: It is a great concern to us and to everybody and not least to the government that we have these close links between drug traffickers and insurgents in Helmand province. It is very clear that these two do protect each other and also provide resources to each other. So I would say that coming to terms with the situation in Helmand is key to solving the problem of poppy cultivation in the country. Thank you.