The war on drugs isn’t working and is destroying the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, according to a new report from the charity Christian Aid.
Criminals running the illegal drug trade have gained so much power that they are “virtually shaping the economies, governance and social fabric of entire nations.”
Drug lords are able to reap such rich rewards from their activities that they have little to fear from law enforcement and can use their wealth to gain new recruits and extend their influence across borders, says Christian Aid.
The report cited five studies demonstrating how the drug trade harms governance and development in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mali and Tajikistan, with the first two being producer countries and the second two being major transit points.
In all four countries, the drug industry was found to be a key jobs-provider and was significantly more attractive than alternative legal industries. Poor families often relied on cultivating and selling drugs for their primary income, and so needed to depend on criminal syndicates for their protection amid poor governance and weak institutions.
The connection beween the total breakdown of local institutions and the illegal drug trade was powerfully illustrated by the case of Tajikistan. Filippo de Danieli’s study, cited by Christian Aid, “Inadvertent Impact: Heroin and stability in Tajikistan,” revealed that the government was so weak, organized criminal groups intimately involved in the drug trade are relied on to impose order and stability where the government couldn’t.
One of the studies cited by Christian Aid examined Afghanistan and revealed that anti-drug efforts had unintended consequences, strengthening rather than diminishing the drug trade. The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit found that a Food Zone initiative, which was intended to draw farmers away from growing poppies, made the situation worse.
“The program triggered the mass migration of land-poor households out of the Food Zone and into the desert, where they opened more fields for opium poppy cultivation,” said Christian Aid.
Mali, which is a major transition point for cocaine being smuggled from South America into Europe, has had its governmental institutions wrecked by drug lords. The situation has become so bad that local people can hardly distinguish “whether state agents were behaving like criminals, or criminals were behaving like the state.”
Looking to the future, Eric Gutierrez, Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser on Accountable Governance said, “the options that development agencies could consider are not limited to prohibition or legalisation.”
Next year, the United Nations General Assembly will meet to address the problem of illegal drugs. The conference is being held three years ahead of schedule, thanks to urgent requests from Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala. All three countries have been devastated by the drug war. Since 2007, 164,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels.
“It is urgent to review the approach so far maintained by the international community on drugs, in order to stop the flow of money from the illicit drug market,” the three governments said in a joint statement to the U.N.
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