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Afghanistan: Drugs

Volume 685: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Further to my Written Ministerial Statement of 13 July, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced on 2 September its estimate that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan had risen to a record high of 165,000 hectares, up 59 per cent from 104,000 hectares in 2005. On 12 September in Brussels, UNODC released a summary report with a breakdown of cultivation levels by province. UNODC will publish its full annual opium survey for Afghanistan at the end of October. Although anticipated, the scale of the increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is very disappointing. Ninety-two per cent of the 61,000 hectare increase is due to a substantial rise in cultivation in Helmand and three other southern provinces; 70 per cent of the increase is in Helmand alone. This reflects the very difficult security situation and limited law enforcement capability there.

Cultivation varies considerably across the country—both between and within provinces. Three of the four highest poppy cultivating provinces in 2005 are down this year. In Nangarhar cultivation remains at negligible levels across most of the province, which in 2004 was second only to Helmand. Where access to governance, security and development have improved, reductions achieved last year have been sustained, and in some cases, cultivation has fallen further.

Having just returned from Afghanistan, I am convinced that the Afghan Government's national drug control strategy is the right one. Only by tackling the traffickers who profit from the trade, building strong and effective institutions, strengthening and diversifying legal rural livelihoods and dealing with the drug addiction that is taking hold within Afghanistan itself, can we hope to address the problem. President Karzai and his Government are committed to tackling the trade and will take action against the corruption that threatens to undermine these efforts. At the second National Counter-Narcotics Conference on 22 August, President Karzai noted that poppy cultivation and the drugs trade was Afghanistan's greatest enemy and that Afghanistan had no option but to eliminate poppy. As partner nation for counter-narcotics, the UK remains determined to work with President Karzai's Government to bring about a sustained reduction in the production of opium and heroin and rid Afghanistan of the scourge of the drugs trade.