Poppy field in Bala Baluk, Afghanistan. Photo via Flickr/CC.
Not like that should surprise anyone. As my colleague Meghan Neal has reported, Afghanistan is for all intents and purposes already a narco state. But the latest numbers from the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime really hammer it home.
On Wednesday, the UNODC, together with the Ministry for Counter-Narcotics, said that opium poppy cultivation has hit an all-time high in the landlocked country. The area currently under poppy has seen a 36 percent bump from 2012, the anti-drugs agency reports. That dwarfs the previous record of 477,000 acres, set in 2007, and comes out to an estimated 5,500 tons worth of opium. Compare that to 2012's 3,700-ton total output from Afghanistan—the world's No. 1 opium supplier, according to the UNODC's 2013 World Drug Report (pdf)—and it's small wonder that Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the UNODC in Afghanistan, said the "short-term prognosis is not positive" in the war-stricken nation.
Lemahieu added that the illicit opium economy is so establishing itself in Afghanistan that it "seems to be taking over in importance from the licit economy." To wit: Farm-gate poppy profits are set to hit $1 billion, or 4 percent of Afghan GDP, the UNODC report adds. Taliban warlords take a modest cut of those earnings, of course, to fuel insurgencies. It's a sore spot among Western officials, who quietly accuse ranking members of Afghanistan's government of taking a slice of the opium pie.
To that point, it's a quickening decrease in foreign funding as international forces fully pull out of Afghanistan after over 10 years of, well, not much of anything, that has some of those Afghan leaders nodding to poppy profits as a source of aid. "When it comes to the illicit economy there is very little difference between the insurgents and the people on the other side," added Lemahieu.
His announcement comes just a month after Yury Fedotov, chief of the UNODC, said that should nothing be done to stem Afghanistan's booming opium harvest, the landlocked nation would continue evolving into a "full-fledged narco state." Tragically, that evolution seems complete.