US pledges $151M to help stem Afghanistan's thriving drug production
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 14, 2012
KABUL — The U.S. has pledged an additional $151 million in funding for programs that include a faltering effort to fight Afghanistan’s thriving drug production.
Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium producer despite more than a decade of efforts that have included eradication campaigns and programs to persuade poppy farmers to switch to other crops, such as wheat.
Poppy cultivation has held steady for the past three years, with a 7 percent increase between 2010 and 2011, according to this year’s annual opium survey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The report predicts a decrease in cultivation in only one province, Kandahar. The Taliban’s spiritual heartland and a center for poppy production, Kandahar province has seen some security gains with a surge of U.S. troops over the past three years.
In neighboring Helmand Province, another center for production and an insurgent stronghold, cultivation is expected to remain steady. In three provinces previously declared “poppy-free,” the report warns of potential increases in production.
At a signing ceremony Saturday, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin announced the additional funding, some of which will also be used for boosting women’s participation in the legal sector and improving prisons and the criminal justice system.
The funding from the State Department is in addition to $238 million already pledged this year.
“The documents we will sign demonstrates America’s commitment to the Afghan people and their representatives,” Cunningham said. “The U.S. funding will continue to support programs that hope to reduce supply and demand for opium.”