UNITED NATIONS -- A hike in opium and coca cultivation in rebel-held areas of Afghanistan and Colombia in 2007 could put at risk progress in worldwide drug control, said a UN report released Thursday.
The World Drug Report 2008, by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), found that Afghanistan had a record opium harvest in 2007 -- 8,200 metric tons or 92 percent of global production -- which led to a near doubling of the world?s illegal opium output since 2005.
The area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose by 17 percent last year, making it the largest ever in the country, it found.
The study also noted that 80 percent of the output came from five southern provinces where Taliban insurgents profit from drug trafficking.
"Greater stability and higher economic assistance are getting rid of opium in many provinces of Afghanistan," UNDOC chief Antonio Maria Costa noted.
But he stressed that in the Taliban-controlled south, "counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency must be fought together."
In many parts of the country, opium cultivation is ending or declining to low levels, the report said, with the number of provinces free of poppy in Afghanistan up from six in 2006 to 13 in 2007.
Opium poppy cultivation also rose in Southeast Asia after six years of decline, mainly due to a 29 percent surge in Myanmar, UNDOC said.
But the opium poppy grown in Afghanistan has a higher yield than that in Myanmar and as a result, global opium production has doubled since 1998, according to the office.
Meanwhile in Colombia, coca cultivation jumped by 27 percent in 2007, mainly in areas held by leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, UNDOC said.
Its report said that despite this marked rise in coca cultivation, cocaine production in Colombia, the world's leader, remained unchanged because of lower yields.
In 2007, coca cultivation in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru rose by 16 percent.
Costa noted that the Colombian government has launched a successful campaign against armed groups and drug traffickers over the past few years, notably through massive aerial eradication of large-scale coca plots.
"In the future, with the FARC in disarray, it may become easier to control coca cultivation," he added.
Meanwhile, the report confirmed a trend noticed last year: "due to steady demand for cocaine in Europe and improved interdiction along traditional routes, drug traffickers have targeted West Africa."
"The (west African) region's health and security is at risk," it said, pointing out that an increase in both seizures and use of cocaine in the region "appears to reflect the development of new distribution routes through west Africa to western Europe."
The study also warned against the risk of growing drug use in developing countries.
"The threat to poor nations is certainly there. Weak governments cannot face the onslaught of powerful drug barons or drug addictions," Costa said.
Turning to cannabis, the report estimated 2006 herb production to be some eight percent lower that in 2004 while resin production fell by 20 percent between 2004 and 2006.
But it highlighted another disturbing trend: Afghanistan has become a major cannabis producer, perhaps overtaking Morocco.
Cannabis, 55 percent of which was produced in the Americas in 2006, continues to dominate the world's illicit drug market, with an estimated 166 million people using the drug, equivalent to 3.9 percent of the global population aged 15 to 64.
On the positive side, the report cited the containment of illicit drug use to less that five percent of the world population aged 15 to 64 as a "considerable achievement."
It also noted that illicit drugs kill around 200,000 persons a year worldwide, compared with five million people dying of tobacco use or about 2.5 million of alcohol consumption.