Crop control Afghans angered by UN ditching drug project
Rory McCarthy in Islamabad - The Guardian Saturday September 23, 2000
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan rounded on the United Nations yesterday for pulling out of a key part of its anti-drug programme just weeks after the Islamic hardliners finally agreed to ban all opium cultivation.
Western Europe and the United States have cut funding for a surprisingly successful UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) project to provide substitute crops for farmers, who are due to begin planting again next month.
"We are wondering how the UNDCP can step out of its programme on the pretence of not having the funding," said Mullah Abdel Hamid Akhundzada, the head of the Taliban's high commission on drug control. "We have fulfilled our obligations. We demand that the agreement we made should be fulfilled up to the end."
The latest UN survey, released last week, found that Afghanistan is still the world's largest producer of opium, even though the area under cultivation was down 10% on 1999. Most of the opium floods into Europe as heroin.
Afghan farmers, who have long found the poppy a lucrative crop, produced 3,276 tonnes of fresh opium this year. Although that was down 28% on last year's record levels, the fall was mostly due to the effect of widespread drought.
Yet many in the UN sympathise with the Taliban's frustration. In the four districts where the UN programme provided an alternative crop, together with help in irrigation and marketing, the opium yield fell significantly.
Western nations have been slow to react to the July decree issued by the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, banning opium cultivation. The decree followed Mullah Omar's order last September that drug cultivation be cut by a third, a target which has still not been achieved.
A total ban would hit income for the Taliban, who impose a 10% tax on all crops. This year's opium crop brought in around £6m for the regime.
Other UN organisations have also found their Afghan funding cut, with western nations apparently reluctant to fund development projects while the Taliban are in power.
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