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The humanitarian impact of opium bans

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Title: From Golden Triangle to Rubber Belt ? - The Future of Opium Bans in the Kokang and Wa Regions
Date of publication: July 2009
Description/subject: "In the Kokang and Wa regions in northern Burma opium bans have ended over a century of poppy cultivation. The bans have had dramatic consequences for local communities. They depended on opium as a cash crop, to buy food, clothing, and medicines. The bans have driven poppy-growing communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security. Very few alternatives are being offered to households for their survival... Conclusions & Recommendations: • The opium bans have driven communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security and access to health care and education. • The Kokang and Wa authorities have promoted Chinese investment in mono-plantations, especially in rubber. These projects are unsustainable and do not significantly profit the population. • Ex-poppy farmers mainly rely on casual labour and collecting Non-Timber Forest Products as alternative source of income. • Current interventions by international NGOs and UN agencies are still limited in scale and can best be described as “emer-gency responses”. • If the many challenges to achieving viable legal livelihoods in the Kokang and Wa regions are not addressed, the reductions in opium cultivation are unlikely to be sustainable. The Kokang and Wa cease-fire groups have implemented these bans following international pressure, especially from neighbouring China. In return, they hope to gain international political recognition and aid to develop their impoverished and war-torn regions. The Kokang and Wa authorities have been unable to provide alternative sources of income for ex-poppy farmers. Instead they have promoted Chinese invest-ment in monoplantations, especially in rubber. These projects have created many undesired effects and do not significantly profit the population. The Burmese military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has also been unwilling and unable to provide assistance. The international community has provided emergency aid through inter-national NGOs and UN agencies. However, current levels of support are insufficient, and need to be upgraded in order to provide sustainable alternatives for the population. The international community should not abandon former opium-growing communities in the Kokang and Wa regions at this critical time..."
Author/creator: Tom Kramer
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Insititute (Drug Policy Briefing Nr 29)
Format/size: pdf (217K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.tni.org/briefing/golden-triangle-rubber-belt

Date of entry/update: 11 August 2010

Title: Withdrawal Symptoms - Changes in the Southeast Asian drugs market
Date of publication: August 2008
Description/subject: The Golden Triangle is closing a dramatic period of opium reduction”, wrote UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa in his preface to the 2007 survey on Opium Poppy Cultivation in South East Asia. “A decade long process of drug control is clearly paying off.” According to the survey, the region produced one-third of world opium production in 1998, now down to only about 5 percent. The once notorious region “can no longer be called Golden Triangle on the reason of opium production alone.” There has clearly been a significant decline in opium production in Southeast Asia over the past decade in spite of a resurgence in Burma (Myanmar) in the last two years. In this study, we try to assess the causes and consequences, and come to the conclusion that the region is suffering a variety of ‘withdrawal symptoms’, leaving little reason for optimism. The rapid decline has caused major suffering among former poppy growing communities in Burma and Laos, making it difficult to characterise developments as a ‘success story’. Meanwhile, the market of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) has increased rapidly and higher heroin prices are leading to shifts in consumer behaviour. While the total numbers of opium and heroin users may be going down, many have started to inject and others have shifted to a cocktail of pharmaceutical replacements, representing largely unknown health risks. Confronted with harsh domestic repression and little support from the international community, both farmers and users in the region are struggling to find coping strategies to deal with the rapid changes. Drug control officials have presumed that reducing opium production would automatically lead to a reduction in drug consumption and drugrelated problems. The reality in Southeast Asia proves them wrong. Had quality treatment services been in place, more drug users may have chosen that option. In the absence of adequate health care and within a highly repressive law enforcement environment, however, most are forced to find their own ‘solutions’. Harm reduction services are still only accessible to a tiny proportion of those who need them in the region, even though most countries have now adopted the basic principles in their policy framework. China, especially, has started to significantly scale up needle exchange and methadone programmes to prevent a further spreading of blood-borne infections. In 1998, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting signed the declaration for a Drug-Free ASEAN by 2020 and two years later even decided to bring forward the target year to 2015. Countries elaborated national plans to comply with the deadline putting huge pressure on rural communities to abandon poppy cultivation and traditional opium use and on police to arrest as many users and traders as possible. This also led to the 2003 ‘war on drugs’ in Thailand in which thousands of drug users and small-scale traders were killed. The 2008 status report on progress achieved towards making ASEAN and China drug-free, “identifies an overall rising trend in the abuse of drugs”, however, and acknowledges that “a target of zero drugs for production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs in the region by 2015 is obviously unattainable”. This TNI publication makes extensive use of the research carried out by our team of fifteen researchers working in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Yunnan province in China. Hundreds of interviews were conducted with farmers, users and traders. We cannot thank them enough for their motivation and courage. Most prefer to remain anonymous and continue their research to detect new trends and help fill gaps in knowledge that have become apparent while writing this first report. A more detailed publication incorporating their latest findings is due at the end of this year. We intend to discuss our outcomes with authorities, civil society and researchers in the region with a view to contributing to a better understanding of the changes taking place in the regional drugs market and to design more effective and humane drug policy responses for the future.
Author/creator: Tom Kramer, Martin Jelsma
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute (TNI) Debate Papers No. 16
Format/size: pdf (688K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.idpc.net/publications/changes-in-southeast-asian-drugs-market
Date of entry/update: 11 August 2010

Title: A Downward Spiral
Date of publication: October 2005
Description/subject: Proposed opium bans could spark a humanitarian crisis in Burma's drug-rich north... "United Wa State Army chairman Bao Yuxiang said on June 24, after proclaiming Special Region 2 a �drugs source free zone"How are the farmers going to survive after the poppy ban? This is the big question that every level of local authorities encounters."The lives of the people will become more difficult, and we do expect the international community will give us more assistance to let the people be able to overcome the difficulties and achieve the historical commitment." The Wa and Kokang regions in northern Shan State have traditionally been the major opium-producing areas in Burma, but this could change. The UWSA has declared the areas under their control opium free as of June 26, 2005. In the Kokang region an opium ban has been in effect since 2003, while the Mong La region in eastern Shan State has had a similar ban since 1997. The implementation of these opium bans in one of the world's largest opium-producing areas may sound promising to international anti-narcotics officials, but for the opium farmers living there it could spell disaster..."
Author/creator: Tom Kramer (TNI)
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 13, No. 10
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 30 April 2006