TOPICS > World

Afghan Opium’s ‘Devastating’ Impact Outlined in U.N. Report

BY Larisa Epatko  October 22, 2009 at 10:15 AM EDT

Poppy plants in Afghanistan

A new U.N. report describes Afghanistan as producing 92 percent of the world’s opium market, feeding 15 million addicts and funding Taliban insurgents and terrorist organizations.

“We have identified the global consequences of the Afghan opium trade. Some are devastating,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which released its report Wednesday.

“I urge the friends of Afghanistan to recognize that, to a large extent, these uncomfortable truths may be the result of their benign neglect,” he said, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Much of the opium revenues are helping fund Taliban insurgents, the report says. The UNODC estimates that the Taliban earned $90 million to $160 million per year from taxing the production and smuggling of opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009, as much as double the amount they earned while in power nearly a decade ago, reported the Agence France-Presse.

“The Taliban’s direct involvement in the opium trade allows them to fund a war machine that is becoming technologically more complex and increasingly widespread,” Costa said.

He called the Afghanistan-Pakistan border “the world’s largest free-trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit — drugs of course, but also weapons, bomb-making equipment, chemical precursors, drug money, even people and migrants.”

Less than 2 percent of the opium and heroin is seized by authorities before it leaves Afghanistan, with 40 percent of the heroin trafficked out of the country through Pakistan, 30 percent into Iran and about 25 percent through Central Asia, Reuters reported.

Central Asian nations intercept just 5 percent of the drugs flowing into their countries, as opposed to 20 percent in Iran and 17 percent in Pakistan, the report says, according to the AFP.

Worldwide, only 20 percent of Afghan opiates are intercepted before reaching addicts, while twice as much cocaine from South America is seized, the study said.

Of the 15.4 million opiate users worldwide, 11.3 million use heroin, while the rest use opium, the thick paste from poppies that is used to make heroin, reported Reuters.

Nearly half the world’s heroin is consumed in Europe and Russia, and 42 percent of the world’s opium users are in Iran.

Heroin and opium cause up to 100,000 deaths a year. Opiates are also helping spread HIV at an unprecedented rate through users sharing needles, the report said.