Taliban Wipes Out Afghanistan's Opium Crop, United Nations Says
Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations drug control officers say the Taliban regime has almost wiped out opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan after announcing a ban last year, Associated Press reported.
A 12-member UN drug control team spent the past two weeks inspecting the largest poppy-producing areas in Afghanistan and found very few poppies, AP said.
``We are not just guessing,'' Bernard Frahi, regional director for the UN program in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told AP in an interview. ``We have seen the proof in the fields.''
The Taliban, a hardline Islamic regime, controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan, which produces more than three-quarters of the world's opium. Opium is the raw material of heroin which the UN estimates is used by about 9 million people worldwide.
The Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, announced the opium cultivation ban last summer before the November planting season. He also declared a religious edict making opium cultivation contrary to the tenets of Islam.
``We have to look at the situation with careful optimism,'' AP cited Sandro Tucci, of the Vienna-based United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, as saying.
The UN drug control agency conducts an annual ground-based Opium Poppy Survey in Afghanistan during which surveyors visit all areas where cultivation has been reported, with the approval of the Taliban authorities. The Taliban controlled 96 percent of the areas under cultivation last year.
An unidentified State Department official, cited by AP, said that information the U.S. had received indicated that the crop had decreased, though he didn't believe it was eliminated.
Unidentified Western diplomats in Pakistan suggested the Taliban was simply trying to drive up the price of opium they had stockpiled, AP said.
More than 3,000 tons of fresh opium was harvested in Afghanistan last year from 82,000 hectares under cultivation, according to the UN agency. This crop was worth about $98 million, it said.
Militia enforced the ban by threatening to arrest village elders who allowed poppies to be grown, AP said. About 1,000 people in Nangarhar province who tried to defy the ban were arrested and jailed until they agreed to the destruction of their crops.
Farmers were growing wheat or onions where they once grew poppies, Karim Rahimi, the UN drug control liaison in Jalalabad told AP.
Drug earnings were hugely important to Afghan farmers and traders who have now lost up to four fifths of their earnings, the British Broadcasting Corp. said.
Frahi has said that donors were ready to help farmers in the drought-stricken country once they switched crops. The UN agency implemented an alternative development pilot project in three districts in Qandahar province last year.
Opium is produced from drying the resin of unripe capsules of the opium poppy. Opiates produce a feeling of pleasure and euphoria, though with continued use the body demands larger amounts to reach the same sense of well being, making the drug highly addictive.
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