Every morning a farmer, named Tom, look out from his window to admire the beautiful view and take a long breath of fresh air. One morning he discovered that a tree was growing in front of his window so he decided to cut it. Two weeks later the tree was growing up higher and wider. Tom cut the tree again, again and again. He started to think how to solve the problem and after the whole day in his room he understood which was the real problem. They were not the branches. They were the roots: the hidden and invisible problem of the poor farmer.

I have used this apparently irrelevant story to better explain illicit drug trafficking and what there is behind this problem.  From illicit cultivation and production to trafficking and use, this issue is deeply linked to social, economic, politic and environmental concerns. Inequality, corruption, money laundering and weapons smuggling represent all the roots of the empire of drugs trafficking. They are the main reasons behind the raise of violence, insecurity and injustice.12-08-2014Myanmar_Opium.jpg

UNODC, United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime, has assisted Member States to develop and implement measures against this issues. UNODC have elaborated a brand new strategy called alternative developments, which are principal method to address illicit crop cultivation and to help the small farmers to develop licit activities. This fundamental approach can make farmer more independent from illicit activities such as opium and coca cultivation. The licit activities also provide an alternative form of income generation, which is taxable and that can raise governments’ revenues. Indeed in many developing countries, farmers totally depend on drug trafficking and on large commercial farms owned by drug traffickers. Moreover, farmers are continuously confronted with the threat of forced eradication of their illicit crops by the Government, which further exacerbates their precarious socio-economic condition.

UNODC’s mission is to eradicate the vicious circle of drug trafficking and drug production that is affecting a big number of countries, such as Afghanistan and Morocco among others. The stagnant dynamics that have fostered this type of illicit activities can be stopped thanks to sustainable development strategies. UNODC has to focus his attention and its delegates have to direct their discussion around five correlated topics, which are: social development; economic development; environmental sustainability; peaceful, just and inclusive societies and partnership. Starting from these correlated topics, this commission will easily face drugs’ concurrent issues and will propose operational actions to eradicate the roots of illicit drugs trafficking.
UNODC supports and promotes sustainable alternative development (also known as AD) in six different countries. Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Peru enjoy the full implementation of AD’s programmes and projects. However, plans and results differ in the various countries. In particular UNODC has implemented different policies in South America rather than South East Asia, showing different outcomes. Each country peculiar difficulties and issues imply the adoption of different strategies. It is also true that alternative development are long term projects that need time to produce an effective improvement. However, even it s still to soon to evaluate the outcome of UNODC’s programmes, it is possible to underline the differences concerning these issues.

For instance, in South America, particularly in Colombia and Peru, the emphasis is now increasingly put on agricultural production for export. AD projects in Colombia are almost entirely funded by Colombian Government, while Peru has increased the level of its national investment substantially. The structure and size of South American countries’ economy allow UNODC projects to focus on the correlated aspects of illicit drugs and to aim at reducing their negative effects.

On the other hand, Asian countries, in particular, are still suffering from problems caused by war. UNODC’s programmes in Lao PDR and Myanmar have aimed at reducing levels of poverty and at ensuring food security.  In Pakistan, the illicit cultivation of opium is the major obstacle to the development and the economic and social reconstruction of the country. In 2013, opium poppy cultivation reached a record of 209,000 hectares, a 36% increase over 2012. UNODC is involved in two different current projects in South Asia: building a counter-narcotic strategy and strengthening provincial capacity drug control. Thanks to the structured partnership with the Afghan government, especially with  its Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, UNODC work together with national authorities to find  the most suitable strategies. The United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime contributes to these efforts also through a team of alternative experts based in Kabul, Badakhshan and Herat. The aims of this plan is to develop counter-narcotics policies at provincial level in order to involve local authorities in planning, monitoring and evaluating efforts related to illicit drug control.

Alternatively to the AD approach, implemented in six countries, governments and local association work in partnership to ensure benefits coming from from different level of action. Unfortunately this approach also involves the use of violence to solve the problem following a famous quote form Friedrich Hacker, a prominent Austrian psychologist: “Violence is easy; the alternatives to violence are complex”. Moreover, Governments’ corruption and bad governance are feeding the vicious circle of drugs, which instead they should fight.

A relevant example of alternative methods and strategies is what Rodrigo Duterte has developed in Philippines. After his election, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to eliminate the criminality and trafficking of drugs. He started a wave of executions and extrajudicial kills. Recently, he publicly said that he has ordered to police officers to kill any drug dealer they identify. Between 3,000 and 3,500 people died during the last months due to Duterte drug war. Even if president’s supported have claimed this strategies to be effective when 640 thousand people confessed to be involved in the business of drug, UNODC delegates should think what is the price of it?

Meanwhile according to the World Drug Report roughly 200,000 people lose their lives due to causes attributed to drug use last year. The 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study (which quantified the adverse impacts on health due to of hundreds of diseases, injuries and risk factors) indicated that opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis together accounted for almost 12 million years of life lost, because of premature death or disability.

In conclusion, different approaches to deal with illicit drugs have raise implying the elaboration of contrasting strategies and policies. The United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime has proposed alternative development (AD) to cut off the roots of illicit drug trafficking and production. Social, economic, political and environmental issues are taken into account when the Office elaborates anti-drugs plans. UNODC also provides the most suitable solutions depending on the causes of drugs connected issues and to the level of collaboration established with national governments. However, the United Nations projects seemed to be less effective, or at least slower, than fiercer and more violent actions promoted by some national governments that refuse AD. Finally, more efficient and operational solutions should be taken into account to fight drugs trafficking and to interrupt the vicious circle feeding the illicit drugs market.

Will all UNODC’s delegates understand the same lesson Tom understood?

Oscar Raimondi


http://www.internazionale.it/notizie/2016/10/12/la-guerra-alla-droga-nelle-filippine  http://www.internazionale.it/notizie/2016/11/09/operazione-antidroga-nelle-filippine