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Afghanistan – Opium: a lucrative business

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More than 90% of the world’s opium production comes from Afghanistan, 60% goes to EU and US markets.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production in Afghanistan increased by 133% in 2011, compared to 2010. This generated $1,400 billion revenue, equivalent to 9% of Gross Domestic Product.
Almost three thousand million US dollars are currently generated by the profitable opium business, equivalent to a third of the central Asian country’s economy.
afg2Illegal opium cultivation proliferates in 14 provinces, above all in Helmand. The business is currently managed by the “heirs” of the warlords, including the likes of Rabdul Rashin Dostum, Atta Muhammad, Gul Agha Sherzai, Ismail Khan, and Harji Bashar. The opium business is complicit with government authorities. Among these is President Hamid Karzai’s assassinated brother, Ahmed Whali, and Izzatullah Wasafi, as well as some foreign security guards.
Opium poppy, harvested abundantly in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, is then turned into opium or heroin. It becomes a currency of exchange for weapons, such as the AK 47 Kalashnikov or the more modern version of the AK-74, the Kalakov.
According to dealers, weapons are more profitable than drugs, though figures show that in both cases, everybody makes money, including the citizens of the ISAF coalition countries.
UNODC says, “the opium trade is an important component of the Afghan economy and it finances corruption and arbitrary acts that continue to occur in the country.” Authorities intercept only 2% of all opiates produced in the country. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the world’s biggest centre for free illegal trade: drugs, weapons, chemical and bomb-making equipment, human trafficking… Other illicit opium-poppy producing countries are those in the so-called Golden Triangle: Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.
afg3Despite Myanmar’s government’s efforts to eradicate its cultivation, opium is still one of the most profitable crops. Burmese production of illegal opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, amounted to 690 tons in 2012. It has increased for a sixth successive year since 2007.
More than 90% of poppy cultivations are in the north-eastern state of Shan, bordering on Thailand, where drug trafficker armies settled 50 years ago. The government of Naiyipidò guarantees that, up to October 2012, about 24 thousand hectares of cultivation were destroyed, 17 thousand more than the previous year.
The high price of illegal drugs is the main reason for further price hikes. According to UN data, one kilo of opium costs about $460, 20 times the price paid for one kilo of rice.
It takes seven kilos of opium to produce one kilo of heroin, made in underground labs, and sold at $2,000 per kilo. The price can reach $5,000 if the heroin crosses the Tajikistan border, or even more if it enters Europe or the United States. The more borders heroin crosses, the higher its price: from about three dollars a gram in Kabul, to more than $100 in the streets of London, Milan, or Moscow. In global terms, opium poppy cultivated in Afghanistan supplies a $65 billion opium/heroin market. This reaches 15 million drug addicts and kills about 100 thousand people every year. Over the past 12 years, transnational organized crime made a profit of more than three billion dollars from the drug trade, above all in Europe.

Fahran Aftari

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