Deputy Secretary William J. Burns today reported that UNODC study last year found that traffickers and criminals around the world profited a shocking $61 billion from Afghan opiates, while placing almost 16.5 million people at risk, including in Russia, Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, and Afghanistan itself.
In his remarks at the Third Ministerial of the Paris Pact Initiative in Austria, Mr. Burns said the meeting confronts a complex and entrenched problem one that funds terrorism and violence, blocks the emergence of legitimate livelihoods, and ruins lives at every point in the supply chain.
“Were the drug trade easy to dislodge from Afghanistan, we would have done it already. And so we start with a dose of humility, befitting a daunting task.” -Mr. Burns
He stresses that if the world dares to envision a different future for Afghnaistan, the international community must re-establish Afghanistan as a hub for regional growth and trade play critical.
He notes that despite U.S. best efforts, the metrics are not always heartening.
He cites that in 2011, the world faced the loss of several poppy-free provinces amid the highest opium prices in Afghanistan since 2004.
“While the Afghan drug trade begins in Afghanistan, its causes and consequences extend far beyond its borders. So must our responsibility for solving it. This is a global problem that demands a common response, rooted firmly in the full implementation of the three UN drug conventions.” -Mr. Burns
Mr. Burns underlines that the United States is committed for multi-pronged approach to reduce production at the source, expand regional cooperation, target illicit financial flows, and invest in demand reduction and drug abuse prevention.
“While poppy cultivation remains high, we remain hard at work to reduce production at the source and in some cases, we have real progress to show.” -Mr. Burns
He notes that across Afghanistan, USAID has invested $541 million over the past three years in alternative livelihoods assistance, including high-value crops, agricultural and agribusiness training, and agricultural credit.
According to Mr. Burn, these programs serve over 300,000 rural households each year. In Helmand, the largest poppy-cultivating province, the Afghan government is driving forward an innovative Food Zone program that, with international support, has reduced cultivation by over 36 percent since 2009.
He reports that more Afghan provinces than ever before lead their own law enforcement efforts today. The Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ Governor-Led Eradication program expanded into 18 provinces in 2011.
He states that conversation at the Pact Initiative meeting is fundamentally different than the ones they had in Paris in 2003 or Moscow in 2006.
He stressed that the world has changed, both inside Afghanistan and around it. He adds that the world has all seen how drug abuse weakens communities and economies and fuels instability and conflict.
“We no longer imagine what Afghanistan’s line ministries might look like, or how they might work together today, they are our leading partners, often risking their lives as they implement Afghan-led solutions on development, security, justice, and public health.” -Mr. Burns
Mr. Burns emphasizes that the Paris Pact’s response today must rise to a new challenge.
“We should no longer debate the nature of the drug trade, or who is responsible this threat is complex, respects no boundaries, and threatens us all. Instead, we need to ask and answer a more important set of questions: What do we intend to do about it? When we reach 2015, how will Afghanistan, its neighbors, and their international partners sustain this fight?” -Mr. Burns
He stresses that a brighter future for the Afghan people is within reach. He says Afghans are taking responsibility for their own security, pursuing reconciliation, and planning for a stable economic future.
“America will stand firmly by their side. Our work here together is critical to the aspirations of the Afghan people for a sustainable living and security for their families. We cannot waver from this fight; our enemies will not, and we must use all the tools at our disposal to stop them.” -Mr. Burns
The cultivation in Afghanistan of opium poppies, the crop used to make heroin and other drugs has increased by 7 per cent in 2011 because of continued insecurity and higher price.
Cultivation reached 131,000 hectares, compared to 123,000 hectares in the previous two years, and the amount of opium produced rose from 3,600 tons last year to 5,800 tons.
Opium production forms a significant part of the Afghan economy. The country also suffers from one of the highest rates of opium consumption in the world, with a prevalence rate of 2.65 per cent.
The increase in Afghanistan’s illicit drug production correlates with a rise in drug abuse among its neighbors. According to the World Drug Report 2006, Afghanistan’s neighbors in South and Central Asia are among the countries with the highest drug use.