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Ghor administration fails to address poppy cultivation issue

FEROZKOH (Pajhwok): The government has failed to eradicate poppy farms even in areas under its control in western Ghor province due to increased insecurity and a presence of illegal armed men there, officials acknowledged on Wednesday.
Provincial counternarcotics authorities say the Ghor administration has been unable to win the annual prize for Zero Poppy Cultivationamounting to one million dollars for the past three years, as cultivation of the illicit crop has resumed in the province.
The Ministry of Counternarcotics allocates $1 million every year for the development of a province where poppy cultivation is zero. The level of poppy cultivation in Ghor is not high, but most common in areas under Taliban or illegal armed men’s control.
Currently 2,600 Taliban militants and 4,500 other illegal gunmen are active in the province. Counternarcotics Director Mohammad Yousuf Wakili says the poppy crop in Ghor was affected by a disease this year. But he blames the government for taking no action against the illegalcrop.
Based on his information, the level of poppy cultivation in 2014 and this year remained the same at around 1,000 hectares of land. The outlawed crop has been cultivated in Chahardara, Dawlatyar and Pasaband districts and the outskirts of Ferozkoh, the provincial capital.
“Unfortunately, security forces failed to eradicate poppies even in the areas where theyare fighting against rebels,” Wakili deplores.
Ghor provincial council members believe the province would have seen more development projects if the level of poppy cultivation had been lowered to zero in the past three years.The council head Fazal Haq Ehsan says the money people received from their poppy products is less than a million dollars, an amount provided by the Ministry of Counternarcotics to each poppy-free province.
“Poppy growing just harms people, farmers should stop sowing it and thereby prevent their children walking into the trap laid by the enemy,” Ehsan argues, estimating a farmer can collect only three kilograms of opium from his fields annually despite his hard work that does not let him grow legal crops.
He blames the government for paying no attention to development projects and providing job opportunities for the people.Most of youth travel to Iran and return addicted or join militants due to poverty, he explains, asking the authorities to address the problem on a priority basis.
A number of Ghor residents are ready stop growing poppies if the government implements reconstruction projects and provide job opportunities in their areas.
A dweller of Pasaband district, Mohammad Gul, told Pajhwok Afghan News: “The government has completely ignored his area, where no development projecthas been executed.” The Taliban who took control of the district last year encouraged people to grow poppies.
Gul thinks people would no longer cultivate poppies if the government distributes improved seeds to farmers and help them set up orchards.
Syed Nasim, a resident of Dawlatyar district, many people do not grow poppies, not because they are afraid of the government. The reason is that the plant does not have a good yield.
A counternarcotics campaign by local officials and influential individuals was recently launched in Ghor. Governor Seema Joyenda callsthe cultivation and smuggling of narcotics an unfair practice, creating social and security problems for the community.She says the illicit commerce caused addictionto 50,000 Ghor youth, leading them to illegal activities like robberies.
It is a collective social responsibility, particularly of religious scholars, to campaign against cultivating and consuming narcotics, she says, warning the number of addicts will double if they are not paid due attention.
A recent survey shows the number of drug addicts in Afghanistan has increased from 1.6 million in 2012 to 3 million in 2015 -- about 11% of the population.The drug addicts also causeconcern and harm to their own and other families.
A woman wishing not to be named says: “My cousin had spent 13 years working in Iran but returned addicted to drugs. I was unaware about his addiction before my engagement to him.”
She recalls her husband worked as architect with a good earning potential but most of the money he earned is spent on drugs.“I know my husband would not be able to continue working in the next few years and I would be responsible for looking after my six children,” she comments.
Despite millions of dollars spent on rehabilitation efforts, only three percent of drug addictsare treated while the rest have to live in miserable condition, with some dying on roads.
However, the Ministry of Counternarcotics says hospitals could treat only one percent of drug addicts last year but after enforcementof a new counternarcotics policy, the percentage has increased to six.
Ministry officials say the capacity of domestic hospitals will increase to treat 30 percent of drug patients in the next five years.In the past, only 50 hospitals were operative in the country to rehabilitate addicts but now 160 facilities are functional.
Provincial police chief Col. Ghulam Mustafa Mohseni says police seized 195 kilograms of opium from four individuals in Ghor this year. Insecurity in the province is directly fuelled by poppy cultivation and smuggling, he admits.
Figures from UNODC and the ministry concerned show poppies were sown over 74,000 hectares of land in 2002.But the figures gradually soared to 209,000 hectares of land in 2014, showing Afghanistan’s failed struggle against drugs.
The Ministry of Counternarcotics says Afghan growers secure only 3 percent of advantage from their poppy crops, while 97 percent benefitsend up in pockets of foreign smugglers.

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