Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An opium year in Afghanistan

L. Dean Webb, writing in the great Sobaka:
The UN recently announced proudly that opium production in Afghanistan "dropped". When pressed about why the word "dropped" was in quotations, the UN spokesman wet his pants and ran away from the reporters. Or something like that.

In truth, the only thing that really dropped in Afghanistan was that the acreage under poppy cultivation in 2004 dropped by 21%. The opium harvest itself was pretty much the same as last year's record haul. That means the wily Pathans (and other minorities, to be fair) are getting much more efficient at their harvesting. With one-fifth less land, they can still coax enough opium base to provide 90% of the world's supply. That would mean in one year - one year - the wily Pathans have managed to improve their productivity by 25% to compensate for the lost ground.

Or it just means this year was wetter than 2004. That's the actual story: although 2004 was a year in which all 32 of Afghanistan's provinces were cultivating poppies, a really bad drought cut production by 30%. No drought, less land, and things come out about even with last year....

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