"The opium floodwaters in Afghanistan have started to recede," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, wrote in a foreword to the 2008 opium poppy survey, which was published Tuesday. "Afghan society has started to make progress in its fight against opium."
Poppy cultivation has dropped by 19 percent since 2007 and is now beneath 2006 levels as well, the report said. The harvest was also down, although by a lesser margin because of greater yields, falling by 6 percent, to 7,700 tons.
More than half of Afghanistan's provinces have been declared poppy free - that is, 18 of 34 provinces grow no, or very few, poppies, up from 13 poppy-free provinces last year.
The results, gathered by the United Nations through satellite imagery and checks on the ground, are a success for the government's strategy of weaning farmers off the illicit crop through persuasion, incentives and local leadership. A drought in northern Afghanistan also helped bring numbers down, although that has also increased the hardship farmers are suffering.
Nevertheless, the Afghan poppy crop remains the world's largest, and now 98 percent of the crop is grown in the lawless southern and southwestern regions that are in the grip of a virulent insurgency. Two-thirds of all opium in Afghanistan in 2008 was grown in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban control whole districts. Coordinating with government soldiers, 8,000 British troops have failed to make much headway, either in curbing Taliban activities or the drug industry.
"If Helmand were a country, it would once again be the world's biggest producer of illicit drugs," Costa wrote.
- I am afraid that I have lost many of your recent emails, specifically any sent to me between 15th August 2008 and 26th August 2008. Obviously I am annoyed at my stupidity, but also offer my apologies for all those people who took the time to write to me at what is, for most people, a busy time of year.
- If you did write to me between the above dates, I can only apologise, and ask you to re-send your email to me.
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