U.N. report says drug trade doesn't help poor nations

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- Far from making poor countries rich, illicit drug production keeps most people in developing countries trapped in poverty, says a United Nations report being released today.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board -- an independent U.N. body that monitors the global drug situation -- called the idea that countries grow rich through the production of illegal drugs a dangerous myth.

"Generally, only 1 percent of the profits remains in the country of origin," Rainer Wolfgang Schmidt, a member of the INCB's board, told reporters. "Most money is made from the distribution of the drugs in developed countries."

Schmidt said that illicit drug production is a major factor in hindering long-term economic growth and destroying the fabric of society.

"It leads to an increase in violent crime, and the rule of law is compromised," he said. "Corruption distorts the climate for investment, and conspicuous consumption by a small elite leads to inflation."

Despite being labor-intensive, drug production failed in reality to provide widespread employment, according to the report. In Bolivia and Peru, only 3 percent of the population was employed in the illegal drug sector when production was at its height in the late 1980s.

The report pointed to Afghanistan and the countries of Central Asia as typical examples of the negative effects of production.

"Afghanistan is a prime example," Schmidt said. "As poppy growing has increased, the economy has slowed down."

In the 1990s, drug production fueled civil strife and living standards fell, the report says. In Pakistan and Iran, where poppy production was significantly reduced, economic growth proved positive and more sustainable.

The change of regime in Afghanistan has done little to change the situation, Schmidt added, and attempts by international agencies to address the problem have been thwarted by increased fighting between local groups.

The report called on European governments to extend more aid to Afghanistan to fight the problem and for the Afghan government to introduce tighter controls on drug production.

"The drug problem has to be considered in the overall economic and development context of a country ... and not just as a social problem," it says.

Calling economic development critical in tackling the problem, the report also called for greater international assistance for small-scale farmers to help them switch from illicit drug production to growing legal crops.

In the United States, illegal drug prices have been forced up by shortfalls in supply caused by increased security at airports and ports due to the fight against terrorism. The United States continued to be home to the highest number of drug users in the world, the INCB said; it did not offer a figure.

The report warned that the perceived easing of drug legislation in Western countries could send a misleading message to the rest of the world, often leading young people to believe that drug usage was now legitimate.

Elsewhere, the report says illicit marijuana cultivation is widespread in Africa, particularly in Morocco. Cocaine use is rising in almost all the countries of southern and western Africa, particularly Nigeria and South Africa, and these regions are being used as supply routes for cocaine deliveries from South America to Europe and North America.

In Central America and the Caribbean, seizures of heroin and Ecstasy have increased although drug trafficking in the region mostly involves marijuana and cocaine, the report says; around 10 percent of passengers on flights from Jamaica to Britain are reported by authorities to be smuggling drugs.

In Colombia, guerrilla and paramilitary groups retain control of drug trafficking and are exchanging illicit drugs for firearms, although the anti-drugs initiative Plan Colombia, supported by the United States, seized more than 1,500 illicit drug laboratories and destroyed 55 clandestine runways in 2001 alone, the report says.


On the Net: INCB, www.incb.org

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: