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UN: Rise of production, use of opiates in Asia

High demand for drugs has lead to an increase of opium production in Southeast Asia, the UN has announced, adding more and more farmers are turning toward cultivation.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that the region accounts for about a quarter of all opiate users worldwide. The report says this goes hand in hand with findings that production has increased.

"Overall, opium poppy cultivation in the region has thus doubled since 2006," the report found, despite reports from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand that 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of poppies were eradicated in 2012.

Cultivation in Laos increased 66 percent in 2012, to 6,800 hectares, and grew for the sixth straight year in Myanmar, the world's second biggest producer, to 17 percent or 51,000 hectares, according to UN estimates. The study estimates opium produced by Laos and Myanmar to be worth $431 million (330 million euros) in 2012, a third more than the previous year.

'Peace and security'

Chinahas 1 million registered users consuming 70 percent of the region's drugs, the report found. The news casts doubt over eradication programs that were successful in driving down cultivation in Mynamar and Laos in the decade until 2006.

Farmers use land in the region for opium rather than rice, earning about 19 times more per hectare. They have pushed into remote land to avoid their crops' being destroyed by authorities, the report indicates.

Four out of every ten households surveyed in poppy-growing villages grew the crop themselves, but others participated in the cultivation and harvesting, making it vital to the economies of whole communities. Production of opium is also closely linked to the ethnic insurgencies inside Myanmar, said Gary Lewis, UNODC regional representative.

"There is no question that there is a strong connection between the conflicts in the country and the most immediate sources of revenue to purchase weapons, and in many instances this is both opium and heroin and methamphetamine pills," Lewis said. "The areas of highest cultivation intensity are also the areas of ongoing or suspended conflict. The emergence of peace and security is therefore an essential ingredient in tackling the poppy problem."

Prices per kilogram reached $1,800 (about $800 per pound) for farmers in Laos, and $520 in Myanmar. The number of people involved also rose, to 38,000 opium-growing households in Laos and 300,000 in Myanmar. The rise indicates that the latter's farmers, mainly in the northeast, will only turn away from opium cultivation if alternative livelihoods are available, the report said.

mkg/mz (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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