Production of the poppy plant in Afghanistan, which is the key ingredient in making opium and heroin, has hit an all-time high, according to a report by US federal auditors SIGAR.
The report says that poppy farmers in Afghanistan grew 209,000 hectares of the plant in the 2013, a significant rise from the 2007 record of 193,000. The UN says that most of the poppy cultivation in the country occurs in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
“That is equivalent to more than 800 square miles — more than twice the size of all the boroughs of New York City, or 12 times the size of the District of Columbia — planted solid with opium poppies,” SIGAR had said in a January statement.
The unprecedented increase in production comes despite US spending approximately $7 billion in combating the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, which is the source of the vast majority of the world’s opium and heroin.
“The narcotics trade poisons the Afghan financial sector and undermines the Afghan state’s legitimacy by stoking corruption, sustaining criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” John Sopko, the special inspector general for reconstruction who monitors US spending in Afghanistan, said in a letter to US officials.
“In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the US government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production. However, the recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts.”