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Opium cultivation in Southeast Asia has doubled since 2006 with significant increases in Burma and Laos this year, according to a UN report issued Thursday.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said the lack of security, political stability and sustainable development was the key reason for a 16 percent increase in the amount of land sown with poppies in 2011 since just last year.
“Unfortunately, the situation in the region is not positive,” said Yuri Fedotov, executive director of the UN agency, in a preface to the report.
He said the picture “grows dimmer” when combined with the fact that amphetamine-type stimulants are also a growing problem in Southeast Asia.
“To reverse this situation, the international community needs to better understand the nature of transnational organised crime and drug control in the region,” he said.
The estimated value of opium production in Burma, Laos and Thailand — the countries where most of the region’s cultivation takes place — rose 48 percent in 2011 from last year to 319 million dollars, according to the UNODC.
Fedotov said that high prices for opium had made it more attractive for farmers in the region.
Some 91 percent of the region’s opium cultivation takes place in military-dominated Burma, which remains the second largest opium poppy grower in the world after Afghanistan, according to the report.
Among the major contributors worldwide, Burma accounted for 23 percent of opium cultivation in 2011, while Laos accounted for two percent — although its cultivation rose by 37 percent from 2010.
The opium poppy, which has long been grown in Southeast Asia as a medicinal and cash crop, remains a village-based and very “low tech” economy, the report said.
It warned that food insecurity was generally high in opium-growing “risk” areas, calling for increased investment in programmes supporting alternative development for opium poppy growers.
In September, a US narcotics official warned that Burma was expected to grow as a global source of heroin and methamphetamines in the years ahead as efforts to stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan take effect.
Burma has said it aims to eradicate illegal drugs by 2014.