DVB Interview International spoke to Jason Eligh, the Country Manager for the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Burma, about the rise in poppy cultivation, and the role of the government, military and ethnic militias in both Burma’s drug problem and solution.
The UNODC Southeast Asia Opium Survey, published in December, claimed there has been a 13 per cent increase in poppy cultivation in Burma since 2012. Jason Eligh said there were many factors that attributed to this increase.
“We know for sure that we are talking about people who are not bad people,” Eligh said. “They are poor people, they are people in debt. They are people who feel that they really have no other option available to them but to grow poppy.”
Finding a substitute cash crop for farmers to grow instead of poppy was one way to help, but Eligh said this did not get to the root of the problem.
“You’ve got to really look at the underlying causes of the difficulties in the communities and a solution for one community is not going to be the same as a solution for another,” said Eligh.
The UNODC were looking at long-term cash crops such as tea and coffee as well as short term crops such as paddy crop, field rice and potatoes that could be used for sustenance.
“Something else that comes out of the survey is the issue of food security. A lot of these households just don’t have the capacity to grow enough food to feed themselves for a year,” said Eligh.
In 1999 the Burmese government introduced a plan to eradicate drugs by 2014. Now, the government has introduced a new five-year plan which Eligh welcomes.
“They [the government] recognise the practicalities of having to do proper efforts, interventions, development support in these areas,” said Eligh.
“Five years is enough to put a plan together, to fund it, and to try and begin the process to try and turn things around. To begin the process of containing the problem.”
Eligh said the easiest way for the international community to get involved with Burma’s eradication plan, would be through development projects and drug treatment services.
“If people were to come forward and say, look we would like to support initiatives to expand HIV services, to expand access to drug treatment services, to better train the police, to support alternative development initiatives for farmers, then certainly there would be space for everyone involved,” Eligh said.
Eligh said it was “vital” that Burma worked together with neighboring countries, “they won’t achieve success alone.”