Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer after Afghanistan. Shan and Kachin, affected by longstanding conflicts between the military and ethnic rebel groups, have seen production rise, this according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia has doubled since 2006 because of higher demand for heroin in Asia, especially China.
The UN report notes that opiate users in East Asia and the Pacific Ocean region account for about one quarter of the world's total. China alone has more than a million registered heroin users, but that figure could be much higher.
With prices rising, cultivation in Laos soared 66 per cent to 6,800 hectares in 2012, and by 17 per cent to 51,000 hectares in Myanmar, primarily on the border region with Laos and Thailand, the infamous 'Golden Triangle'.
The UN study estimates opium produced by Laos and Myanmar to be worth US$ 431 million in 2012.
The number of people engaged in cultivation also rose; up to 38,000 "opium growing households" in Laos, and at least 300,000 in Myanmar.
In Myanmar, production is concentrated in Kachin and Shan, home to important ethnic minorities, where poppy cultivation is "linked to the absence of peace and security, which indicates the need for both political and economic solutions," the UN report explained.
A few years ago, Myanmar adopted a plan to eradicate opium by 2014, but the UN study, which used satellite, helicopter and ground surveys, suggests the target is falling away.