October 15, 2010

Afghanistan's Child Drug Addicts

I watched the report by Ramita Navai on drug addiction amongst the population of Afghanistan last night (Channel 4’s Unreported World). Difficult to watch at times, it was a brilliant piece of reporting about a desperately tragic subject.
Children as young as 3 are addicted to morphine or heroin and the problem is widespread. The drug is often cheaper than food and eliminating pain, hunger and the psychological effects of war must seem an appealing alternative. Entire families can be addicted.
Children on the streets will beg, steal and prostitute themselves for money to buy the drug. For child prostitutes this brings about its own dangers. Apart from life-threatening STD’s the males among them also run the risk of being shot if caught, in a country where homosexuality is taboo!
A combination of war, the rise of warlords, and poverty are to blame. Morphine or heroin were often the only available drugs to treat injuries sustained in bombings and suicide attacks and it was cheap.
Because of the shame and dishonour brought on the families with addictions, the problem is difficult to treat. There is only one treatment centre, and that is in Kabul. The problem is nation-wide. The doctors and staff who work for the Nejat Center have been heckled and beaten up on their visits. Their visits can bring problems to the families as well, as close communities want to know what the doctors are doing there.
The taboos inherent in this subject made this a brave piece of reporting. There must also have been courage among the people who spoke out in this programme.
Extracts from Wikipedia >>
“As the Afghan government began to lose control of provinces during the Soviet invasion of 1979-80, warlords flourished and with it opium production as regional commanders searched for ways to generate money to purchase weapons, according to the UN.”

“In July 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, collaborating with the United Nations to eradicate heroin production in Afghanistan, declared that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world's most successful anti-drug campaigns. As a result of this ban, opium poppy cultivation was reduced by 91% from the previous year's estimate of 82,172 hectares. The ban was so effective that Helmand Province, which had accounted for more than half of this area, recorded no poppy cultivation during the 2001 season.

“War, economic instability, and poverty caused changes in the way villagers maintained their villages. Competition for scarce land and resources resulted in unsustainable practices, causing soil erosion and therefore making the land less productive.
The cultivation of poppy, however, generated greater profits than wheat farming for the farming villagers due to the higher yielding possibilities with less land (less irrigation of poppies than wheat is necessary), and greater demand for the profitable drug trade of the highly-valued opium, prepared from poppies.
Many migrants to places such as Pakistan and Iran witnessed the profitability of poppy cultivation in land development, through association with local landowners and businessmen, and were inspired to bring about the same economic improvement in their own lives and villages. Also, opium trade proved to be more cost-efficient than livestock trade, since large amounts of opium are easier to transport than livestock. Local shopkeepers used capital, which was acquired from buying opium resins from farmers and selling them to dealers at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, to invest in their own small shops thereby generating further income.
Poor villagers saw this as a good investment opportunity, as it meant more efficient farming of one product, with the possibility of creating economic stability in their villages.”
Sources: Channel 4, Nejat Center, Wikipedia,  

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