07/23/2004, 00.00
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Opium production plunges

UN report shows opium's Golden Triangle may soon be a thing of the past

Rome (AsiaNews) - Opium production in Laos has fallen dramatically thanks in part to a joint government-UN programme. It anticipates the end of opium cultivation by the year 2005. A senior U.N. official expects the Golden Triangle (a border region between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) to be opium-free. Laos is the world's third largest opium producer after Afghanistan and Myanmar.

In its 2004 report on opium cultivation and production in Laos the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention shows that the country is on the right path to solving this major social problem. The report is based on field research in 11 Northern provinces where the problem is the most serious.

"I believe that the whole region, namely what used to be called the Golden Triangle area, is heading toward an opium-free status within the next few years, which would be quite an historical change," said Dr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He pointed out that the success could not have occurred without the determined efforts of the Lao government.

Compared to 2003, the surface area still under opium cultivation dropped by 45% from 12,000 to 6,600 hectares. This represents a 75% decline since 1998 when the General Assembly approved in a special session the "UN Strategy to Counter Drugs and International Crime." Back then the surface given over to opium production covered 26,800 hectares.

Of the more than 425,000 households in the Northern provinces, almost 23,000 are still into opium production. But this is 43% less than in 2003.

Lower production has however led to higher prices. On the average, opium is now sold for 2,280,000 kips per kg (about US$ 218), 42% more than last year.

Laos may no longer play its traditional role as an opium exporter, but domestic opium consumption, including heroin, is still widespread. In 60% of all the villages that took part in the field study, opium is still consumed on a daily basis. On average almost 3% of residents over 15 years of age use opium.

The report points out that opium producers tend to be poorer than farmers who grow other crops. It also shows that opium trade represents only 12% of the overall household income for opium producers. The average annual income of an opium-producing household is 3,875,000 kips (about US1) compared to 4,137,289 (US$ 396) for non opium producing households.

The present trend away from opium is part of the government's goal to eradicate opium production. As part of this ambitious plan the prime minister took some steps in November 2000 against opium cultivation, production, and trafficking. His administration also adopted some measures against opium abuse. In 2001 article 135 of the Lao Criminal Code was amended making penalties against drug-related offences tougher. In October of the same year, the authorities launched a national awareness campaign encouraging local communities to abandon opium production. (MR)

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