World Bulletin/News Desk
Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres), will embarrass Afghanistan's aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban.
"The short-term prognosis is not positive," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan.
"The illicit economy is establishing itself, and seems to be taking over in importance from the licit economy."
Afghanistan is the world's top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. Last year, it accounted for 75 percent of global supply and Lemahieu had previously said this year it might supply 90 percent.
The increase in the crop was caused by various factors including greater insecurity as foreign troops pull back in preparation for withdrawing next year, a high opium price last year and a growing lack of Afghan political will to tackle the problem.
That will is particularly weak as an April presidential election approaches, Lemahieu said. President Hamid Karzai cannot stand again, leaving the field open to a range of rivals, some linked to power-brokers who have profited from poppy in the past.
The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares (477,000 acres) were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tonnes of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tonnes in 2012.
Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product.
The new figures are part of an annual assessment of opium production by the UNODC and the Ministry for Counter-Narcotics.
The report revealed that two northern provinces, Balkh and Faryab, were again growing poppy after being deemed poppy-free last year. Eradication fell by almost a quarter.
Afghanistan has a serious drug addiction problem but most of its output is smuggled abroad, particularly to Europe.
UNODC first measured opium production in Afghanistan in 1994, when the hardy plant with reddish, pink and purple flowers was grown on 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres).
The area rose to more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) for the first time the year after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
Last month, UNODC chief Yuri Fedotov told Reuters the drug problem in Afghanistan was threatening to overwhelm the state.Last Mod: 13 Kasım 2013, 11:21