Drugs trade takes its toll in Mıddle East region All too frequently the death and destruction the international drugs trade leaves in its wake is regarded as a purely western problem. However, the annual report of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board released in Vienna, describes an unfolding tragedy fed by the illegal Afghan drug exports smuggled into the prosperous markets of the Gulf area. The trade has stimulated a raft of initiatives by worried lawmakers trying to mitigate the disaster, reports Thomas Land.
20 The Middle easT June 2008 The relentless increase in the production of high quality opium in the fertile poppy fields of Afghanistan has stimulated the spread of addiction, money laundering and related crime along the smuggling routes of the Middle East. Once regarded as being predominantly a western problem, recent research has shown conclusively that drug addiction has reached beyond the troubled streets of London, Paris and New York to strike at the very heart of Arab and other Muslim societies. For example, Iran – which in the first half of 2007 seized 180 tons of opium, more than any other country and 37% more than during the same period in 2006 – has launched a rehabilitation programme for female addicts centred on state-run facilities including kindergarten services. Meanwhile, other Gulf states are
The innocent children of today could fall prey to drugs in years to come if the global growing problem is not addressed urgently
tightening their drug control provisions. Some 19,000 hectares of opium poppy fields were last year eradicated by the Afghan government and its western backers, 24% more than in 2006, adds the UN Of fice on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also based in Vienna. But this amounted to only 9% of the total area under poppy cultivation. The triumph of the lucrative drugs trade has led to a swift upsurge in local addiction, even among the very young. By May, the Afghan government was forced to establish facilities for the treatment of drug abusers in 17 of the 34 provinces of the country. Many more are being planned now as a matter of urgent development priority. Campaigns for drug abuse prevention are being conducted by religious organisations and are even incorporated in the primary school curricula. Afghan opiates are smuggled mostly through Iran, Pakistan and the recently independent republics of former Soviet Central Asia. These countries, in common with all territories abused by the drugs trade, experience many acute, related social problems including corruption, organised crime and high local demands for opiates. The UN board says more than half the inmates in Iran’s prisons have been convicted of drug-related offences. The country suffers from the world’s highest addiction rate, with its drug-abusing population conservatively estimated at 2m. The drug abuse prevalence rate in Pakistan is somewhat lower, estimated at 0.7% in the population aged 15-64 years.
Building on experience gained in the operation of a string of drug rehabilitation centres for the treatment of male addicts only, Iran recently opened its first facility in Tehran for the care of 3,000 female patients as well as their infants. Since then, a second such centre has been opened in the capital and several more elsewhere in the country. Drug related crime and addiction rates are increasing throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The UN board singles out the Palestinian territories where it says injecting heroin abuse is increasing, accompanied by many other forms of addiction including poly-drug use. It estimates the number of abusers at 10,000 in Gaza and the West Bank and perhaps 15,000 in Jerusalem. One important transit zone widely used by traffickers targeting the markets of the Gulf area is Iraq. The UN board lacks reliable statistics on the current turnover of the illicit trade passing through that country. But it notes that the insurgency and consequent decline of security there coincides with a significant upsurge of drug abuse, particularly among young Iraqis. Drug seizures have increased significantly in Syria, another traditional transit zone supplying the Gulf from Iran, suggesting that the flow of illegal traffic has also intensified there. Besides opium and heroin, psychotropic drugs such as MDMA and counterfeit Captagon tablets are also being smuggled in significant quantities into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE from Jordan, Syria and
HEROIN is derived from opium. seizures of illegal consignments often concealed in legitimate cargo have more than doubled in the Central asian republics. There have been several recent international conferences leading to formal collaboration accords linking the mutually distrustful police services of the region in a common endeavour to arrest the trend. afghanistan produced an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium in 2007, 34% more than in 2006, supplying 93% of the global market for opiates, the un board says. in 2006, the total area under illicit opium poppy cultivation in afghanistan reached 165,000 hectares, an increase of 59% compared with 2005. in 2007 – the most violent year in the afghan insurgency since the Taliban was toppled in 2001 – that figure increased by another 17%. The human price of this explosive production growth is being paid by the entire middle east as well as europe.
The Middle easT June 2008 21