Despite the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has remained the world's chief exporter of opium. A new UN study shows that drug use is on the up in the war-torn country and has already reached dramatic proportions.
Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium
Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw material used for making heroin. The crop is estimated to be worth almost three billion US dollars a year. Moreover, drug addiction in the country is soaring.
"What we have are staggering, astonishing results," said Sarah Waller from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Kabul at a news conference. "The increase in heroin use is up by 140 percent in comparison to the 2005 survey."
Most Afghan drug addicts are young and male
The new study issued by the UN and the Afghan government states the number of regular opium users in the war-torn country has jumped by over 50 percent in the past five years. Moreover, Afghans are increasingly addicted to cannabis, painkillers and tranquilizers.
Twice the global average
The study findings show that drug addiction in Afghanistan is twice the global average. Robert Watkins, the second-most senior UN official in the country, said the picture was "bleak" with "8 percent of Afghans – mostly young, mostly male – affected by this problem."
He added that a new generation of addicts was being created by the minute because "parents who don't have means to provide medicines for their children use narcotics as a way of softening the pain, the discomfort that children are experiencing as a result of whatever illness."
Although there have been consistent campaigns to combat the drug trade in Afghanistan and international troops have launched offensives against drug dealers and manufacturers, poppy fields are often left alone.
An Afghan farmer deriving opium from a poppy bud
There is a reluctance to anger small farmers by taking away their livelihoods. Attempts to persuade farmers to plant different crops have not always been successful.
Many police recruits test positive for drug addiction
"Something that is also of great concern to us is that drug use within the police force is very high," Watkins added. "Varying from province to province, the report shows that between 12 and 41 percent of Afghan police recruits test positive for some kind of drug addiction. Clearly we're not just concerned about the safety, security and well-being of those individuals but we're concerned about the security and well-being of an entire nation."
A significant proportion of police recruits are found positive for drug addiction
The US-led international troops in Afghanistan have repeatedly said they will only be able to leave when the Afghan security forces and police are capable of keeping the situation under control.
In the meantime, observers fear the number of drug addicts will continue to rise because drugs are so easy to come by in the devastated country where many are traumatized by decades of war.
Author: Kai Kuestner / act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein