Asia’s opium hubs
The opiates that addicts swallow, snort and inject often begin their journey to India from the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent. The former is Southeast Asia’s primary hub for opium cultivation. Located along the Mekong river, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge, the illicit trade thrives — exceeding $16.3 billion per year, according to a 2014 UN report. Though eradication efforts in the late ’90s and early 2000s caused the area’s opium cultivation to decline, it began surging again in 2006, partly because improvements in transportation made it easier to move the drug from place to place.
The Golden Triangle is currently the world’s second-largest opium producer. A 2014 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated the region’s opiate poppy cultivation rose to 63,800 hectares last year, compared with 61,200 hectares in 2013, nearly triple the amount harvested in 2006. Myanmar is the region’s leading opium cultivator.
Poverty and a lack of economic opportunity fuel illicit opium farming throughout the Golden Triangle, say researchers. In one survey in Burma, village farmers said they cultivated opium poppy just to provide for basic essentials such as food, education and housing. Researchers say economic development in these areas may be the best way to prevent opium growing.
The Golden Triangle was recently replaced as the world’s dominant opium producer by a new regional power known as the Golden Crescent, an area comprising Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer and Pakistan primarily serves as an illicit drug trafficking route.
A 2014 World Drug Report said war-torn Afghanistan accounted for 90 per cent of global opium production. In 2013, the country cultivated an estimated 5,500 tons of oven-dried opium, which translates into roughly four per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Further, the already substantial opium cultivation area is growing. According to the report, the farming area increased by 36 per cent from 154,000 hectares in 2012 to 209,000 hectares in 2013. This uptick in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation continues despite the fact that the USA has invested more than seven billion dollars to combat the issue. A 2014 report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction described how the country’s opium cultivation was at an all-time high, despite more than a decade of US-led counter-narcotics efforts.
Afghanistan’s illicit opium production and trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry where the Taliban-funded terrorist organisations reap the most profit. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that in 2009 the Afghan Taliban earned around $155 million from the illicit opium trade, while Afghan drug traffickers acquired $2.2 billion — a grim reminder of how drugs fuel crime and terrorism as well as addiction.