Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across West and Central Africa meeting last weekend in Dakar, Senegal, criticized the United Nations (UN) and West and Central African governments for focusing on reducing the supply of drugs to the extent that they are ignoring demand reduction strategies, according to the UN news service IRIN.
The region has received increasing attention in recent months as a transshipment point for South American cocaine headed for insatiable European markets. It also produces marijuana for local consumption and export to Europe.
While money is beginning to flow into the region in an effort to suppress the drug trade, that money is not being matched with funds for treatment and prevention, said delegates to the meeting, part of a global NGO forum called "Beyond 2008" and coordinated by the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs.
"There is total disequilibrium with regards to the means given to different actors in the fight against drugs," Cheikh Diop, president of the Federation of Senegalese NGOs Fighting against Drugs, told IRIN. "So much money is invested in the fight against drug trafficking or the reduction of supply; but when it comes to reducing the demand -- or the users themselves -- organizations working on this approach have almost no financial means."
"We don't have the means to do what we want to do," said Abdoulaye Diouf, local organizer of the meeting and manager of the Senegalese Jacques Chirac drug information and awareness center.
"The fight against drugs will never succeed solely through repression," the anti-drug federation's Diop said. "How long have we been putting people in jail? And how long has the drug problem continued?"
He said there are few if any treatment facilities available for drug users in West Africa. Poverty-stricken street kids who fall into drugs need to be given alternatives and the general population must be educated about the risks of drug use, he said.
NGOs have become deeply involved in the fight to reduce drug use since the UN General Assembly special session on the global drug problem in 1998, but they complain that they lack resources, as well as training in research, analysis, and marketing. And governments too often ignore them, they said.
"There is almost no collaboration between NGOs and government," Diouf said. "When it comes to planning and implementing activities, NGOs are ignored in many countries."