The UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a report today showing that the cultivation of opium has dramatically increased in Afghanistan. Afghanistan now accounts for 87% of the world supply of opium, up from 76% a year ago. According to the Associated Press:
Opium is now the "main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples,'' according to the report. It valued the trade at $2.8 billion, or more than 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product.
Of course the cultivation of opium is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, where people face limited economic opportunity and there is global demand for the product. The report calls for greater efforts to control the production of opium and for international engagement against corruption. But none of these strategies is likely to eliminate the problem if a more fundamental problem with "reconstruction" is not addressed: people can only take advantage of economic opportunities that actually exist. If there are no alternatives, all that is left is to use what is available.