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Trillion-pound drugs war is a disaster, says Christian Aid

19 July 2019


A soldier holds a lanced poppy bulb to show how to extract the sap, which is used to make opium, during a military operation to destroy a poppy field in the municipality of Coyuca de Catalan, Mexico, in 2017

A soldier holds a lanced poppy bulb to show how to extract the sap, which is used to make opium, during a military operation to destroy a poppy field ...

THE global trillion-pound “war on drugs” has been counter-productive and has had disastrous consequences for poor and marginalised communities, Christian Aid says in a new report.

The report, Peace, Illicit Drugs and the SDGs: A development gap, published with SOAS, University of London, on Thursday of last week, states that the “counter-narcotic policy” of destroying illicit crops and militarising the fight against drug gangs has been a “disaster”. It calls on governments instead to support “development and peacebuilding” to combat drug economies in impoverished, fragile, borderland regions.

The report estimates that the global value of the illicit drug market could be between £200 and £500 billion a year. Opium production has doubled since the turn of the century, it says, and, in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Myanmar, illicit drug cultivation has continued to grow, despite the signing of ceasefires and peace agreements.

“Globally, the fragile consensus surrounding the ‘war on drugs’ is falling apart. There are increasing efforts to establish counter-narcotic strategies that prioritise pro-poor development, align anti-drugs policy with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and move away from the militarised approach. . . The evidence base to support such policy reform remains weak.”

The failure to consider illicit drug economies to be an “explicitly relevant factor in peacebuilding” has consequences for ordinary people, the report warns, because, while communities are exposed to violence, dispossession, and exploitation, these economies can also offer “an income, employment and protection amid violence, insecurity, and poverty”.

Christian Aid recommends that governments cover the “blind spot” in the SDGs by recognising how people “mitigate risks” through illegal activity. The human rights of marginalised communities must be upheld before livelihoods are destroyed, it says, and the violent approaches to tackling drug use abandoned in favour of peace processes.

Karol Balfe, who leads Christian Aid’s peacebuilding work, said: “Illicit drug economies are sometimes the only way out for people who find themselves in desperate circumstances, because they have been excluded from markets and unable to obtain state protection. . .

“Peace agreements are more likely to build sustainable peace if they address marginalisation and exclusion, particularly in forgotten borderlands. They must provide people with secure land tenure, access to public services, and alternative economic opportunities to address the factors that attract poor subsistence farmers to illicit activities in the first place.”

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