Crime & Justice

Opium production thrives amid crisis in Afghanistan

Kabul, Jan 13 (EFE).- Thousands of people have been pushed into drug addiction in Afghanistan – the world’s largest producer of opium – amid the ongoing economic crisis since the Taliban came to power in August last year.

The crisis, with a shortage of food, employment and liquidity, has prevented the Taliban from keeping their promise of outlawing opium production in the country.

A thick fog smelling of burnt drugs rises from under one of Kabul’s bridges, where a crowd gathers daily in the dry riverbed to buy and consume opium.

Under the bridge, where many of the people reside, they sit in groups and consume drugs, while street vendors walk around selling tea, cigarettes and cakes.

Nearby, there lay a corpse covered with plastics, without anyone paying too much attention to it. “There’s another body there, go and look,” said one of the addicts.

The body was carefully wrapped in rags next to an open path along the dry river bed.

“It’s been lying here for a week already, no one is taking the body,” explained one of the addicts, before walking off in search of drugs.

The significant increase in the number of drug addicts is mainly due to the severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan following decades of conflict and severe drought.

The situation has been aggravated by the Taliban’s arrival in power on Aug. 15, which resulted in the suspension of aid and reconstruction funds as well as freezing of its foreign assets.

The lack of international support, coupled with the withdrawal of many humanitarian agencies, led to the closure of most drug rehabilitation centers, further hampering the Taliban’s attempts to curb addiction.

The current capacity of rehabilitation centers is less than half that of previous years, where more than 40,000 people came to be treated every year.

“Despite our efforts to find financers for the treatment centers, we couldn’t find donors to support the efforts toward decreasing the number of addicts in the country,” Mohammad Nasir Sharifi, head of the government’s Drug Demand Reduction program, told EFE.

In Afghanistan there are currently “between 3.5 and 4 million drug addicts and financial shortage is the main challenge for their treatment,” Sharifi added.

Among them is Ghulam Maroof, a 50-year-old former metalworker addicted to drugs since the age of 15, who survives on the meager money he collects from begging and cleaning cars, while neglecting his six-member family.

“I got addicted due to unemployment as I was with friends and started smoking cigarettes and hashish to pass the time and relax a little,” he told EFE.

Although the Taliban had consistently announced in the past that they would end opium poppy cultivation in the country when they returned to power, Afghan peasants continue their production, in part because no one has told them otherwise so far.

“We haven’t received any message from the government on banning the cultivation of poppy and currently the cultivation of poppies has increased due to unemployment,” Ismatullah, a farmer in southwestern Nimroz province bordering Iran, told EFE.

“Earlier, if 100 kg opium was being smuggled per day to Iran, now it has increased to 2,000 kg,” he stressed.

Abdul Nasir, another farmer from the southern province of Helmand, confirmed to Efe that “most people have resumed poppy cultivation, since there are no other means of livelihood.”

The official spokesman of the Taliban Government, Bilal Karimi, told EFE that the order to ban opium cultivation in the country has not yet been issued because they are trying to find “alternative livelihoods to poppy cultivation for farmers, through domestic income, employment and international support.”

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