Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Badakhstan Faces Opium Crisis

Drugs lords are leaving their southern strongholds for a remote province far out of the reach of the authorities.
By Shoib Safi

Abdul Rehman’s sunken eyes are haunted by need and despair. With great difficulty, he shifts his painfully thin body to a more comfortable position on the narrow hospital bed, and then speaks of the opium addiction that has come close to destroying his life.


“I sold my land one month ago and spent all the money buying opium,” he told IWPR. “One day I could not walk because of withdrawal pain, and my brother gave me more of the drug.


“I knew then that I had to turn my back on opium. I came to this hospital in Faizabad and have been here for a number of days, but I am still in a very bad condition. My whole family is addicted. If I get better, I will bring them here for treatment.”


Doctor Abdul Rahim is doing all he can for Rehman, whose condition he knows only too well. “Many people give opium to their babies because it helps them to sleep. For this reason, Badakhshan’s youngsters are growing up addicted to drugs,” he said.


There are an estimated 5,000 opium addicts in the north-east province of Badakhshan – one of the most productive poppy-growing areas in a country whose narcotics industry supplies much of the western world.


Its remote location means that the province does not attract the attention of the authorities. Southern-based drug lords have been relocating here in great numbers and the region is fast becoming the centre of the opium industry.


Resin is harvested from the poppies that grow in the irrigated fields alongside rivers and streams, which are fed with water from the 5,000 metre-high mountains of Badakhshan. This resin is refined with chemicals to produce a powder, which is then smoked.


It’s been estimated that in the Ishkashem region of Badakhshan, which lies on the Tajik border, around a tenth of the population, which numbers around 11,000, are addicts. Hundreds of others deny that they’re hooked but show all the symptoms of addiction.


“These people are spending 80 per cent of their money on drugs,” Dr Mohammad Akbar, chief of the public health department of Badakhshan, told IWPR.


The province’s only addiction treatment facility, the Nejat Centre, closed down two years ago because of lack of funding. This leaves the addicts with nowhere to go for help apart from the already-stretched local hospital.


“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough beds to keep them here for proper treatment. We are able to see to only five of an average 50 people who come here every month, as we don’t have the facilities,” said Dr Akbar.


Badakhshan’s governor Sayed Amin Tareq admits that there is a problem in some parts of the province. “Many people in border areas such as Zebak, Wakhan, Ashkashem, Sheghnan, Darwaz regions are addicted to opium, but in other regions, there are only a few.


“We have told the government and humanitarian organisations about the situation and we have asked them to set up health clinics in different regions of Badakhshan. But we are still waiting for them to take action.”


Shoib Safi is a Kabul-based freelance journalist


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