A new report, jointly produced by the World Bank and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) stresses that a poppy eradication strategy in Afghanistan risks increasing support for anti-government forces. Published yesterday the report argues that;
"Eradication (destruction of poppy while it is growing in the fields) is a blunt instrument that must be used cautiously and judiciously, and aerial spraying – which is currently being advocated in some quarters – would be counterproductive as it would further alienate the rural population, increase the gap between Afghans and their government, likely stimulate popular support for anti-government interests, and further worsen insecurity…. If adequate means of livelihood are not available, eradication will undermine the goals of state building and development."
This emphasis on boosting economic development as a long term strategy to reduce the damaging dependence on opium production is in contrast to US proposals to carry out widespread aerial spraying of poppies. William Byrd, a World Bank economist and one of the report’s authors told a press conference: "International experience suggests [spraying is] not sustainable, either politically or economically."
The Afghan Government and the UK, which runs the international counter-narcotics strategy in the country, have long argued against using aerial eradication, a policy that the US has championed in South America (for coca production) despite its striking failure to reduce overall production.
The World Bank/DFID report highlights the need for a proper development strategy in order to convince farmers not to grow poppies and emphasises the close links between not only opium production and security, but also eradication policies and support for (or not) the NATO project in Afghanistan. The report also emphasises that attempts to rid Afghanistan of opium production is a long term approach that will take ‘one to two decades’ to achieve rather than a quick-fix solution. It is argued that the need is for long-term commitment rather than short-term expediency, with truly effective counter-narcotics efforts being a combination of economic development, the provision of services and infrastructure, and better governance and the rule of law. Reinforcing the development effort right away is essential, but to achieve results will take considerable time, massive and sustained financial commitment, and political vision and stamina.However, the development solutions presented by the World Bank / DFID report, whilst appealing relative to certain US sponsored military/eradication alternatives, and arguably offering localised solutions for certain communities in Afghanistan, cannot address the demand for illicit opiates, the production of which - even if the World bank / DFID proposals were successful - would simply displaced to other regions. Such is the reality of unregulated illicit markets which offer such spectacular potential profits.
This is of course one side of this issue with which the report fails to engage; the stark reality that Afghanistan's opium production is entirely the product of international drug prohibition. If legal opium production for medical use - which already accounts for 50% of world opium production - were expanded to supply legal opiates for non-medical use then the demand for Afghanistan's opium harvest woud dwindle and disappear. The one solution that would truly address the issue illicit Afghan production remains taboo.
At this point in the global political discourse substantially developing this option is clearly not practical, but there are some small signs of progress with legal heroin prescribing in a number of European countries, Canada and Australia, (as well as more surprising policy initiatives such as opium prescribing in Iran). These policies do however, whilst only a drop in the ocean at present, demonstrate that legally regulated production and supply of opiates can potentially reduce demand for illicit supplies and the problems such demand creates in producer countries. The key point is that there already exists working models for the legal production, supply and use of opium and heroin in a non-medical context (or rather quasi-medical - at this point we are only talking about maintenance/ substitute prescribing) .
The development solutions presented by the World Bank / DFID report, whilst appealing relative to certain US sponsored military/eradication alternatives, and arguably offering localised solutions for certain communities in Afghanistan cannot address the demand for illicit opiates, the production of which - even if the World bank / DFID proposals were successful - would simply displaced to other regions.
Medical use of Afghanistan's opium wont solve the problem Transform writing in the Guardian