Opium Wars

Robert Draper, National Geographic magazine contributing writer, talks about Afghanistan's opium war and why weaning Afghan farmers off growing poppies is a key step to securing peace in the region. His article, “Opium Wars,” appears in the February issue of National Geographic.

The Hindu Kush mountains create hellish terrain for International Security Assistance Force troops but offer protection for poppy farmers and hidden highways for smugglers.
The Hindu Kush mountains create hellish terrain for International Security Assistance Force troops but offer protection for poppy farmers and hidden highways for smugglers.

Illicit trade routes deliver opium to Russia and Europe; with 1.5 million addicts, Russia is the largest consumer of heroin.

( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
Afghan police use sticks to destroy a poppy field in Badakhshan Province. Despite such efforts, Afghanistan is the world's top opium supplier.
Afghan police use sticks to destroy a poppy field in Badakhshan Province. Despite such efforts, Afghanistan is the world's top opium supplier.

 

 

( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
Marines unload fertilizer in the Marjah district of Helmand Province as part of a program encouraging farmers to renounce poppies for alternative crops like corn and beans.
Marines unload fertilizer in the Marjah district of Helmand Province as part of a program encouraging farmers to renounce poppies for alternative crops like corn and beans.

The goal is to bolster agriculture rather than destroy poppy fields.

( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
Sunlight pours through shrapnel holes in a shipping container in Kabul's Old City, where users gather for a hit of opium.
Sunlight pours through shrapnel holes in a shipping container in Kabul's Old City, where users gather for a hit of opium.

Eight percent of Afghans are addicted to drugs, often opium or heroin, a rate that has risen sharply in the past five years. Only one in ten addicts receives any drug treatment, because programs are rare and underfunded.

( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
 Poppies are illegal to grow but more lucrative for Afghan farmers than most other crops. At harvest, each bulb is scored to release a purplish gum.
Poppies are illegal to grow but more lucrative for Afghan farmers than most other crops. At harvest, each bulb is scored to release a purplish gum.

Once dry, the resin is scraped off with a metal tool and formed into raw opium bricks.

( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
Read more about the opium wars in the recently issued February Edition of National Geographic.
Read more about the opium wars in the recently issued February Edition of National Geographic. ( Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic )
of