NEWS

Drugs hurt poor countries, says UN report

The production of opiates and cocaine alone raked in a hefty 1.1 trillion dollars for the drug trade this year, while globally, the narcotics trade ranks second only to the arms trade in terms of profitability. The 2002 annual report by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs which monitors the drug trade focuses on the serious effects of the illegal production of, trafficking in and use of drugs, especially heroin and cocaine (given that these two substances are responsible for most problems internationally) on overall economic development. Triumphantly, the commission shoots down the myth that drugs are an important source of income for the countries involved in it. As it emphasizes, these remain very poor countries. Development On the contrary, the UN report says that drug production suppresses economic development and destabilizes the economy, because it causes inflation to rise and destroys a country’s productive capacity. At the same time, it weakens the political system through corruption and destabilizes the state and society as a whole. A flagrant example is Afghanistan, where the mass increase in opium poppy production, which commenced in the early 1990s, contributed to the sparking of civil conflict. All the evidence suggests that there was a drop in economic development and living standards. Drug production and trafficking constitute 10-15 percent of the gross national product in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the myth that drugs bring wealth is maintained by the fact that in the short term, the drug trade can have a positive financial outcome for a few people involved. It is estimated that on the production level, opium and cocaine had a turnover of 1.1 trillion dollars. But this is a relatively small sum in relation to the damage caused by drugs. In America alone, losses in 2000 from lower productivity and spending on health services [as a result of drug abuse] came to $161 billion alone. The drugs barons’ counterargument is that they provide work to hundreds of thousands of farmers and seasonal farmworkers on illegal plantations, as well as job openings to dealers on the retail side and to workers in drug laboratories. According to the UN report, only 1 percent of the money handed over by purchasers of illegal substances goes to small producers/farmers in developing countries. The other 99 percent is profit for the barons, dealers and generally all the various links in the drug-trafficking chain. This proves that the lion’s share of profits from opium and cocaine remains in the countries in which they are sold, and not in the ones where drugs are cultivated. By contrast, says the UN report, long-term economic development is not possible without an effective system for curbing drug production. A case in point is Thailand, which slashed the production of opium (from 146 tons during 1965-66 to less than 60 tons in 1982 and only 2 tons in 2000), and saw its gross national product rise. Today, Thailand is one of the most developed countries in the region. Another serious effect of the illegal production of, and trafficking in, drugs is the destabilization of the state and the spread of corruption in political systems, resulting in a drop in investments. When the safety of legal investments is jeopardized, the business climate collapses and investments decrease, with the result that long-term economic and social progress is set back. Black economy At the same time, it is difficult for governments to implement effective economic policies when there is a black economy based on drugs. Every measure that is taken to control the economy can be undermined by drug «capital.» Illegal commerce influences exchange rate parities, and perpetuates and extends an inequality of income. Moreover, in countries where there is drug production and trafficking, civil society itself is undermined. The main symptom is an increase in violent crime (murders, kidnappings, etc.). In Colombia, drug-related murders increased from 17 per 100,000 people during 1973-75 to 80 per 100,000 people in 1992. President of the UN Commission on Narcotics Philip Epafo said: «Short-term gains are for the few, but long-term losses affect many. Trafficking in illegal narcotic substances does not contribute to economic development and well-being. We call upon the various states to halt the production of illegal substances, because that will benefit them in the long term, even if there is a cost in the short term.»