A program to eradicate opium
farming in Laos has been so successful that farmers there are in dire need
of economic assistance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
last week. Laos was the world's third-largest opium producer
in the mid-1990s, but production has dropped 93% since then thanks to the
cooperation of the Laotian government, the UNODC said.
Land-locked Laos is one of
the world's poorest countries with an average per capita income of less
than $6 a day. As part of the legendary Southeast Asian Golden Triangle
of opium, Laos and its peasant farmers benefited financially from the opium
trade. Now that source of income has largely vanished, and farmers
are hurting, UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa acknowledged.
"The progress that Laos has
made is quite dramatic," Costa said. But those who have seen their
livelihoods destroyed by eradication should be compensated, he said.
"We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the
poor are not the ones who pay the price for successes in drug control."
The country is at a "critical juncture" if it is to stay essentially poppy-free,
Opium production in the Golden
Triangle (parts of Thailand, Laos, and Burma, or Myanmar) has declined
78% in the past decade, with Thailand declared opium free in 1993 and Laotian
cultivation declining to 4,500 acres last year compared to more than 60,000
acres in 1998.
|anti-opium posters, Nejat Center, Kabul, Afghanistan
But the price of freedom
from poppies is eternal vigilance, said Costa. "Even some 10 years
after Thailand and Vietnam officially eliminated opium, they still have
to eradicate many hectares of opium poppy every year."
Meanwhile, the peasant farmers
and drug traffickers of Afghanistan have taken up the burden of supplying
the world's junkies with their fixes. That war-torn country now accounts
for nearly 90% of world supply, which is at record levels despite the dramatic
reductions in the Golden Triangle.
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