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Drugs and Poverty in AfghanistanThe tension in war-torn Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban has exacerbated underlying conflict. The collapse of the economy and lack of humanitarian aid have exposed the link between drugs and poverty in Afghanistan, and there are ongoing concerns from international agencies that the epidemic could spiral out of control.

The Origins of the Drug Epidemic

Historically, Afghanistan has been one of the world’s largest producers of opioids, heroin and methamphetamines. However, the Taliban banned opium poppy farming in July 2000, and a UN report in May 2001 stated that there had been a “near total success of the ban.” 

After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there was a notable spike in opium production, with a high of 8,750 tons of opium produced in 2017. Currently, Afghanistan is responsible for more than 80% of global opium production.

Despite most of the drugs being smuggled outside, Afghanistan is home to nearly 4 million drug users, amounting to 10% of the population. 

Decades of war have fueled the link between drugs and poverty in Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban worsened the humanitarian crisis as major donors, such as the U.K. and the U.S., froze Afghan assets and refused to hand over billions of dollars worth of aid. Two-thirds of the population do not know where their next meal may be coming from, and it is the dire circumstances that have pushed people into both drug production and consumption.

Food Poverty

Poverty is impacting more than 90% of Afghan people, with more than half relying on humanitarian aid. About 91% of the average Afghan household’s income goes toward food expenditure, primarily due to the increased inflation levels. 

Around 17.2 million Afghans are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity, and nearly 3.4 million are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity, as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification categorized.

In an alarming report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in June 2010, an estimated 50% of drug users also gave their children the same narcotics. Many argue that the substances prevent hunger and remove starvation pain.

It has been reported that drugs not only create both behavioral and social problems but increase the likelihood of petty crime. In addition, there are also growing concerns about the risk of HIV spreading, as the sharing of contaminated needles used to inject drugs can cause diseases to spread. 

There have also been reports of sex being traded for drugs, and the stigma within the conservative country has led to fears of many of these cases going under the radar. 

The Scale of the Damage

Ultimately, Afghanistan’s drug problem is a lucrative business for many. The country itself has good connections to regional and global markets, and drugs that people manufacture in Afghanistan can end up all over the world. 

 Despite the Taliban enforcing a theoretical ban on the growing of opium poppy which helps synthesize the drugs, there has been a lack of practical enforcement as the sector generates around $2.7 billion annually for the Afghan economy. At a time when the country is on the brink of economic collapse, farmers who would otherwise have no source of income to feed themselves and their families desperately need the money.

For many Afghan farmers, if they can produce more money from growing opium poppy rather than traditional crops, it does appear to be the more obvious answer. While farmers can earn only 30 cents from 7 kilograms of tomatoes grown, they can earn almost $360 from selling 1 kilogram of opium, the United Nations reported in June 2023. The money that people earn from selling the drugs is what keeps families from falling deeper into poverty.

According to the UN, drug treatment and rehabilitation centers in major cities, including Kabul, have been overrun with recovering addicts and are struggling to cope. Kabul’s main treatment facility has 1,000 beds, and since the arrival of the Taliban, international funding has disappeared, and staff have poor training. A lack of food and medication has also meant that addicts have been shocked into detoxing, which can be catastrophic for recovery. 

The UNODC’s Efforts

Given the fragile political climate, it has been difficult for developmental organizations to enter Afghanistan. However, in May 2023, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) brought professionals together in neighboring Uzbekistan to establish its Information Centre for Researching and Analysing Transnational Threats Related to Drugs and Crime. Salome Flores heads the Centre. Flores told the UN her team’s mission is “to produce knowledge that is objective, impartial and well-integrated for the right people at the right time.” Using satellite imagery and other tools, the Center aims to build an accurate picture of the scale of Afghanistan’s drug problem, which will help relevant parties to make informed decisions.

The Centre receives data from governments, social media, academic research and counterparts on the ground in Afghanistan to build an accurate picture of the scale of poppy farming in the country. In addition, the team combines ground surveys with satellite imagery to pinpoint where people are producing and cultivating the opium poppy. 

The Centre is working to build the capacity of farmers and vulnerable communities in Afghanistan through partners and highlighting the importance of providing farmers with sufficient alternative income-generating crops and activities to ensure they do not turn to farming other illicit crops.

Looking Ahead

While the link between drugs and poverty in Afghanistan remains rife, there remains hope that the work of the Information Centre for Researching and Analyzing Transnational Threats Related to Drugs and Crime Centre can reduce the scale of the problem. Amid the rule of the Taliban, hope remains that with collective help, the international community can help address the issues plaguing Afghanistan and other countries impacted by the drug trade while bearing in mind the links between drugs and poverty in Afghanistan.

– Maryam Rana
Photo: Flickr

Technology in Human Trafficking
For years, technology has pervaded trafficking spaces as a dangerous tool that traffickers use for surreptitious recruitment, advertisement and exploitation of victims. With reports illustrating the online inventories traffickers utilize to exhibit their victims as commodities that others can purchase and exploit, it is evident that the role of technology in human trafficking is one that provides perpetrators with an unsettling advantage. There is a strong link between poverty and human trafficking as traffickers often target the most vulnerable, marginalized and impoverished people.

How Traffickers Utilize Technology

The threatening reach of perpetrators even extends to children. According to the Shiva Foundation, online demand depicts that there could be as many as 750,000 users across the globe seeking to sexually exploit children online. Social media also plays a role in enabling traffickers to target, contact and lure potential victims into exploitative deals, as indicated by the 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

In addition, GPS software in phones, alongside video surveillance and live streaming technology, assists perpetrators in keeping constant control of their victims’ movements. Furthermore, post-captivity, victims who have permanent images and reminders of their sexual exploitation etched in the online space may struggle with recovery.

The Role of Technology in Human Trafficking Amid COVID-19

The virtual recruitment of trafficking victims has become significantly more prevalent with time, as outlined by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Particularly, following the global outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, people around the world began relying on technology and social media to interact with others amid social distancing protocols. During this time, traffickers used online social media platforms to lure victims. This danger rendered offenders more difficult to trace to a concrete physical location.

In Save the Children’s 11th edition of the report “Little Invisible Slaves,” which documents child trafficking, the organization highlighted that, in 2020, Western and Southern Europe noted the highest number of confirmed child trafficking cases globally—a total of 4,168 child victims. Furthermore, numerous cases involved the sexual exploitation of young women, with 27.5% of incidents hailing from Tunisia. The report also marked a rise in the cases of trafficked women with children, primarily from Nigeria, which rose to 12% in 2020 in contrast to 6% in 2016.

In 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the U.S. saw a “125% increase in reports of recruitment into trafficking through Facebook and a 95% increase in reports of recruitment on Instagram compared to the previous year.” Considering this link between technology and human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports the “internet as the top recruitment location for all forms of trafficking.”

The Positive Role of Technology in Human Trafficking

While social media can be a dangerous space for traffickers to gather intel on and recruit victims, it can also be beneficial in raising awareness, informing and educating the general populace on the issue. Technology plays a crucial role in undercutting human trafficking through techniques such as data aggregation, which refers to the synthesis of relevant online trends. For instance, in 2022, Thomas Reuters collaborated with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to examine whether an online demand exists for the exploitation of particularly vulnerable groups, such as Ukrainian women facing the impacts of the conflict in Ukraine.

The results of their investigation pointed to a spike of up to 300% in online interest in the sexualization of Ukrainian women following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. As Ukrainian women face high risks of becoming victims of trafficking n their attempts to escape wartime strife, this illustrates the necessity of technology and data aggregation in identifying online trends and in victim identification.

Moreover, through the use of data analysis and aggregation to pinpoint vulnerable groups, technology can provide a platform for the launching of campaigns that promote safety and spread awareness. Notably, in light of the increased risk of trafficking for Ukrainian women, the OSCE and Thomson Reuters launched the “Be Safe” campaign in 2022. The online awareness campaign targeting Ukrainians critically outlines warning signs of trafficking, minimizes the risk and guides potential victims to local sources of assistance.

Using Technology in Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

Love Justice International, funded by the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking (UNVTF), uses technology to intercept trafficking situations. “By combining its own data on previous potential victims with road network graphs from OpenStreetMap (a collaborative open-source geographic database), [Love Justice International] has created route heatmaps showing the road segments that are likely to be most heavily used for human trafficking in certain areas,” the UNODC website explains.

Love Justice International establishes transit monitoring stations to identify potential victims of trafficking and intervene before the trafficking occurs. In 2006, the organization began its human trafficking interception work at the border of India and Nepal and in Bangladesh. Since then, it has established transit monitoring sites in several countries with high human trafficking rates. In 2022, monitoring extended to Romania, Moldova, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Burundi, Mexico and Indonesia. Love Justice International now has 78 transit monitoring sites and has intercepted more than 46,000 potential victims of trafficking. The organization’s trafficking work has led to more than 1,300 arrests.

In July 2023 in a video message published on the UNODC website, Ghada Waly, executive director of the UNODC, says, “To protect people, we need to protect digital spaces from criminal abuse.” Exploring the role of technology in human trafficking shows that technology does provide certain advantages to traffickers. However, as seen in the activities of Love Justice International and other organizations, technology also plays a significant role in efforts to combat human trafficking.

– Katrina Girod
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Comoros
Human trafficking is an issue that plagues most of the world, but in some nations, it is more prevalent than in others. The archipelago of Comoros – located off of Africa’s east coast in the Indian Ocean – is a Tier 2 Watch List country making its citizens some of the most at-risk for human trafficking.

Notable Numbers

The Human Trafficking Institute’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) ranks countries in three tiers – the third being the worst. Tier 2 means that the respective government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for combating trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. However, the designation “Watch List” means that the number of human trafficking victims in Comoros is increasing or there is no evidence of heightened efforts from the previous year.
 
Most Comorian children ages 3 to 7 – and some as old as 14 – often study at unofficial neighborhood schools directed by private instructors, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation as domestic servants or field hands. Without formal schools to educate, children are often left in the hands of the corrupt.
 
The estimated 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied children on the island of Mayotte are especially susceptible to domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Due to a corrupt government, inadequate border control and international criminal networks, there is a high risk for transnational and domestic human trafficking in Comoros.

The 2022 TIP Report found that during the reporting period, the Comorian government investigated four trafficking cases – three of which were for forced labor, and one involving both labor and sex trafficking.
To combat human trafficking in Comoros, the government partnered with local NGOs and international organizations to provide support for the eight victims identified in 2022. MAEECHA is an NGO located in Moroni, Comoros that works to protect minors in isolation and much more. Between 2014 and 2015, MAEECHA identified 514 minors in a situation of vulnerability – 220, or 43%, were in isolation. About 68% of these children were under 12 years old.

Diplomatic Relations

The U.S. established diplomatic relations with Comoros in 1977 and has maintained its presence in some capacity through a strong bilateral relationship with the U.S. ambassador in Madagascar. Additionally, the Peace Corps re-established itself in the island nation in 2015.
 
In 2022, Comoros upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List based on achievements, including investigating trafficking crimes for the first time since 2014 and initiating the country’s first trafficking prosecution. Though this may seem insignificant, a country as impoverished as Comoros taking these steps could mean major progress in the coming years.
 
That being said, when a country is Tier 3, they may no longer be subject to foreign aid from the United States, so Comoros receiving international support is conditional upon it remaining in Tier 1 or 2.

Progress for Comoros

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that local community engagement is a recent initiative from Comoros in the war against trafficking. With the support of UNODC through informational workshops, parliamentarians and Islamic leaders have been working to spread awareness of human trafficking. With this type of movement underway – and hopefully, more to come – there is optimism that progress will occur in ensuring the safety of Comorians, especially the youth.

The U.S. Department of State financed the previously mentioned workshops as a part of the UNODC Enhancing Criminal Justice Responses to Trafficking in Person in Eastern Africa project. The main focus of the project is aligning different regions’ national legislation on TIP.

Although Comoros is making progress as a nation with regard to human trafficking, there is much more that needs to occur for all its citizens to have safety and everything they need.
 
– Stella Tirone
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Zambia
In 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, approximating that 24.9 million individuals are victims of human trafficking around the world. This prediction includes 20.1 million labor trafficking victims and 4.8 million sex trafficking victims. Globally, the ILO estimates 99% of victims to be women and girls. The World Population Review states, “Child trafficking is very common in Africa…where approximately 100% of all human trafficking victims are children.”

Causes and Effects of Human Trafficking

As mentioned, human trafficking is mainly an issue in developing countries, rather than developed countries. This is mainly due to the various political, social and economic differences between the two groups. Included are various causes and effects of human trafficking, all of which inhibit a developing country’s ability to overcome human trafficking.

Causes:

  • Poverty: Poverty offers a vulnerable position for families, thus becoming the target of traffickers. This factor is often due to the poor condition of a country’s economy and/or social inequality.
  • Unemployment: Traffickers often use the desperation of the unemployed to persuade them to leave their country. Traffickers use these unknowing individuals to manipulate them into forms of forced labor and sexual exploitation, as victims get threats with potential reports to an immigration officer.
  • Displacement: War, political instability and natural disasters force victims into vulnerable positions, thus allowing traffickers to easily prey on individuals and embed them into human trafficking.

Effects:

  • Mental Trauma: Victims often face dehumanization and objectification, thus leaving them in a state of mental degradation. Victims often experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame. These mental conditions can lead to suicide and abuse, forever inhibiting the victim to become economically independent.
  • Physical Trauma: Many victims experience physical abuse in the trafficking process. Individuals often face rape, beating and subjecting to other abuses over an extended period of time. Sexual exploitation, a common form of human trafficking, also leads to the increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. These physical injuries can lead to an inability to work and death.
  • Ostracism: Victims of human trafficking often experience social isolation from friends and family due to personal feelings and cultural beliefs. In the case of Africa, loved ones often blame or shun victims of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Zambia

Despite the Government of Zambia’s inability to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, the U.S. State Department ranks Zambia on the Tier 2 Watch List, as it is making tremendous efforts to do so.

The most vulnerable population to human trafficking in Zambia is mainly women and children. A poor economy and low social status encourage traffickers to use women and young girls for sexual exploitation, while they often use young boys for forced labor in agriculture, textile production, mining and other profit-inducing businesses.

Due to the high rate of migration within Africa, traffickers are also prone to exploiting immigrants desperate to cross borders into another region. The U.S. State Department reports, “Traffickers exploit women and children from neighboring countries in forced labor and sex trafficking in Zambia, including transiting migrants whose intended destination is South Africa. In recent years, traffickers lure Rwandan women to Zambia with promises of refugee status, coerce them into registering as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) nationals seeking refugee status in Zambia, and subsequently exploit them in sex trafficking and threaten them with physical abuse and reporting them to immigration officials for fraudulent refugee claims.”

Efforts to End Human Trafficking in Zambia

The U.S. State Department applauds the Zambian Government for its efforts to end the practice of human trafficking, as it states, “The government…[has] launched various awareness campaigns via billboards, radio shows, text alerts and pamphlets in rural and border areas to educate local communities on human trafficking.”

Additionally, on December 19, 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) partnered with the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) to validate the Anti-Human Trafficking Act No.11 of 2008. The review was associated with revamping the 2002 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol).

The Road Ahead

Reducing human trafficking in Zambia is a daunting task. Despite this, the Zambian government has made significant efforts to improve. By raising awareness and developing plans to advance socially and economically, the prevalence of human trafficking in Zambia can reduce.

– Sania Patel
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Croatia
In 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that almost 25 million cases of human trafficking existed across the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, mostly among girls and women. Southeastern Europe, which includes countries such as Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria, has a high prevalence of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. In terms of human trafficking in Croatia, the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State ranks Croatia as a Tier 2 country, meaning “Croatia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report

The government of Croatia created the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) to oversee the conduct of police authorities at the country’s borders and ensure that human rights are upheld at all times. The IMM “may help potential victims self-identify to authorities and reduce future opportunities for traffickers to exploit migrants and asylum-seekers,” the TIP 2022 report said.

However, Croatia had inadequate screening processes in place for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. A few judges also required several testimonies from trafficking victims, leading to re-traumatization. Furthermore, the legal system charged some traffickers with less serious crimes.

Preventative Measures

The Croatian government has taken a series of steps to raise awareness of human trafficking and increase prevention measures.

  • Holding monthly virtual meetings to oversee the implementation of Croatia’s 2018-2021 national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking.
  • Hosting awareness campaigns in high-risk areas and targeting at-risk groups.
  • Running an anti-trafficking hotline that received 678 phone calls, which led to six human trafficking investigations.
  • Croatia prompted labor inspectors to conduct inspections in several fields of work to ensure there are no legal infringements.
  • The law mandates that employers cannot charge recruitment fees to workers and implements fines in this regard.
  • Labor inspectors in Croatia are able to issue fines or impose criminal charges against employers who withhold salaries from workers.

The U.S. Department of State indicated that although efforts supporting the elimination of trafficking have increased, the government still falls short of meeting the minimum standards.

From the Perspective of Croatia’s Youth

The majority of the victims experiencing human trafficking in Croatia are women and children. Adolescents are susceptible to trafficking due to their vulnerabilities and lack of knowledge. A study led by Zora Raboteg-Šarić and others in 2007 utilized a survey to test the human trafficking knowledge of 950 students.

The results differed between different parts of the country. Students from larger towns had more knowledge of human trafficking than those from smaller towns. Slightly more than 50% of respondents believed that human trafficking in Croatia is not a major concern. Females and older students generally see human trafficking in Croatia as a more serious issue than males and younger students.

On the Right Track

Despite several setbacks in reducing human trafficking in Croatia, the Croatian government has made several efforts to improve. With commitments to raising awareness and supporting preventative efforts, the prevalence of human trafficking in Croatia can reduce.

– Madison Stivala
Photo: Unsplash

The Correlation Between Drugs and Poverty
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about
284 million people globally undergo drug abuse between the ages of 15 to 64. The correlation between drugs and poverty takes a variety of different stances.

The Problem

Although drugs do not discriminate against anyone, in particular, they tend to favor the lower-income population the most. People in poverty sometimes use drugs to cope with their living situation. The stress of being in poverty often inspires a feeling of hopelessness that leaves the individual vulnerable to substance abuse.

The act of substance abuse can lead someone who is wealthier into poverty as well. For instance, drug addiction often inspires a lack of motivation. This can be especially harmful in the workforce where the desire to work hard and meet deadlines is crucial. If terminated from a job, it can be very difficult to find a new one. Considering that, most people will waste away the rest of their money in an act of despondency.

The Lack of Resources

Unfortunately, many people living in poverty lack the funds they need to access support for drug addiction. In fact, in Pakistan, 99.7% of the people seeking help for drug addiction, cannot afford it.  

One case shows a boy at the young age of 14 who was unable to seek the help he needed to get over his addiction. Due to the steep prices and lack of space, the boy was denied a spot at this rehabilitation center in Pakistan. Many know this South Asian country for its lack of drug support centers. The number of opium users bypasses the number of support groups, leading to an increase in the amount of poverty seen throughout the country. This further indicates the correlation between drugs and poverty.

The Solution

Many countries have already taken action to counteract these effects. For instance, several South Asian countries brought public awareness over drug abuse on World Drug Day. Communities joined together in activities that helped people recognize the importance of acknowledging drug abuse. Organizations from across the globe united as one to address the issues that follow drug addiction and are also working to ensure the services and medicine necessary to assist drug addicts end up in place.

The Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation (KKAWF), established in 2015, focuses to raise awareness about drug abuse in Pakistan. KKAWF served more than 5,000 people with the activities it developed in 2018, including sports events, workshops and campaigns that focused on raising awareness. The Foundation engages politically by urging the authorities to address “the challenges of drug trafficking and the spread of substance abuse.”

Several South Asian countries have attempted to monitor and confiscate drugs more often. However, drugs still continue to be sold illegally due to the large percentage of crime taking place throughout South Asian countries. To counter this problem of illegal drug trafficking, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) composed the Regional programme to aid the factors contributing to the selling and buying of drugs.

Looking Ahead

Although there is no direct correlation between drugs and poverty, it is evident that the two tie together. By recognizing the link between the two, elected officials can begin to take drastic action in fighting off this devastating loop.

Madison Stivala
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

alternative-developments-dismantling-the-peruvian-cocaine-industry
Being abundant in the controversial coca leaf, Peru is one of the world’s leading producers of cocaine. In coordination with international groups, the Peruvian government has set the stage to dismantle the Peruvian cocaine industry.

Understanding the Coca Plant and the Peruvian Cocaine Industry

Coca is relatively abundant among the three major cocaine-producing nations of the world: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. The indigenous peoples of the Andes have traditionally used the coca plant for centuries. In its raw form, the plant performs as a benign stimulant often compared with coffee, suppressing a user’s pain, appetite and exhaustion and treating altitude sickness. However, when synthesizing the coca plant, the result is a highly addictive stimulant known as cocaine. Today, millions of people throughout the Andean and Amazonian regions chew coca leaves and brew tea from them.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Peru is the world’s second-largest producer of cocaine. Most of the cocaine that Peru yields either undergoes distribution throughout Latin America or goes to Europe, the United States, Mexico and Asia. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peruvian cocaine industry reached peak coca cultivation at 88,200 hectares, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reported. In 2021, there was a documented decrease in production from the previous year at 84,400 hectares. The present quantities of production emphasize the need for better termination efforts and more stable alternative economic development strategies for the rural citizens of Peru.

Peru is an economically developing country. As a result of its stable economic growth and investments in health, education and infrastructure, Peru has reduced hunger and poverty rates in the last 10 years. Currently, a quarter (22%) of Peru’s population lives in poverty and experiences food insecurity, especially those residing within the country’s rural areas. In these impoverished rural areas, the Peruvian cocaine industry thrives as desperate citizens turn to drug selling as a means of income.

Carving a Path to Alternative Development

The Peruvian government is making serious efforts to eradicate cocaine from its borders and develop safer and more sustainable economic opportunities for rural residents. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has coordinated with Peru’s counternarcotics and law enforcement to enhance the Peruvian justice system.

Before the pandemic, the INL aided the Peruvian government in eliminating more than 25,000 hectares of coca and approximately 220 metric tons of cocaine from their markets. This was a major victory as they were able to rid the Valley of Apurímac, Ene and Manraro River (VRAEM) of coca. VRAEM is vital to the Peruvian cocaine industry, as the area produces two-thirds of all cocaine in Peru.

For more than 25 years, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been a key supporter and sponsor of alternative development in Peru. UNODC directly collaborated with more than 8,000 farming families that were once heavily dependent on coca plant farming. This was possible through the creation of forestry administration, indigenous ecosystem protection, livestock breeding and the development of legally sustainable economies in coffee, cacao and palm oil. In recent years, UNODC has implemented programs that bolstered residents’ social and economic situations in coca cultivating sectors via “farmer-led” small enterprises that contribute to the overall economy.

USAID

USAID has also played a crucial role in alternative development campaigns against the Peruvian cocaine industry. The agency backed the Peruvian National Counternarcotics Policy by arranging alternative strategies for the growing of coca plants and by building Peru’s capabilities to challenge drug cartels. Like with UNODC, USAID supports previous coca-reliant regions to develop legitimate sources of income via farming investments in coffee, cacao, bananas and lumber. In 2021, USAID uplifted more than 70,000 families to shift to legal and sustainable economies. In addition, the agency has coordinated with several companies in Peru’s private sector, local governments, communities and investors to integrate millions of dollars into the growing economies and the protection of the Peruvian Amazon.

PRISMA

PRISMA is a Peruvian organization centered on empowering Peru’s most exposed citizens and providing access to opportunities via alternative development efforts. The organization started in 1986 and began with the purpose of reducing food insecurity among the nation’s children. It collaborates will all levels of government, international aid organizations, universities, interested members of the private sector and mobilized communities. PRISMA mainly operates in Peru but has been active in Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay and Equatorial Guinea through its many years of service.

The Peruvian government continues making significant strides in transforming rural citizens’ livelihoods. The nation views the cocaine endemic as a national and international security issue. Peru and its collaborators continue to bolster the coca-reliant rural communities to transition into safer, legal and reliable economic development.

– Ricardo Silva
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Laos
Laos, or Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of the poorest countries in the region. However, its economy has significantly increased in the last 20 years. While it continues working to improve economically, Laos faces a large amount of corruption, ranking 128 out of 180 in the Corruption Perceptions Index in 2021. With the problem still being prevalent, the Lao people suffer the consequences of corrupt officials, creating a lack of confidence in the Lao government. Citizens also suffer from corrupt police officers, who often will detain, bribe and intimidate people. Thankfully, the Lao PDR works to combat corruption by improving the State Inspection Authority’s practice of investigations, doing United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Reviews and Lao officials having in-person training with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to investigate finances and firings of corrupt state officials and authorities.

How Does Corruption Affect the Poor?

With the World Bank’s goal to end extreme poverty by 2030, it has stated that corruption is a major challenge to overcome all around the world. Corruption disproportionately affects the poor in terms of price gouging and reducing access to social services such as “health, education and justice.” Because corruption is still prevalent, there is a disconnect between the citizens and their trust in government, continuing to perpetuate “discontent that leads to fragility, violent extremism and conflict,” according to the World Bank. This makes poor peoples’ lives more difficult when a country’s government does not invest in its “human capital.”

What is Happening in Laos?

Laos is still developing as a country, resulting in many weak laws and authorities neglecting enforcement. A 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Laos, that the U.S. Department of State conducted, reported officers practicing arbitrary arrests due to a “provision of the law that permits warrantless arrests in urgent cases,” which makes it easier and allows officers to continue to extort people for bribes or as a tactic for intimidation. Employers fired more than 1,300 low-ranking police officers nationwide from their jobs after they took bribes from drug traffickers and motorists in 2016 under then Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulthin. The results of doing this may help impoverished Lao citizens from intimidation by cops all around the country and partially eliminate corruption in Laos.

The State Inspection Authority reported that the Lao government lost funding for multiple types of currency equaling around $732 million since 2016 due to corruption. Inspectors found that Lao state officials and company executives were misusing funds for various state projects. They also found that road and bridge construction projects as a major activity for graft. Embezzlement lessened the funding going directly to these projects. Because of this, the optimal level of implementation of projects for construction and better roads is not possible, which makes transportation and quality of living difficult for Laos’ citizens.

Companies are at higher risk of facing corruption in Laos when acquiring permits, especially as the regulations implemented in Laos are “often vague and conflicting,” resulting in legislation not being well implemented and enforced under the law. Bribery and incentivizing undocumented extra payments can be more common for public utilities, especially when government officials have low wages.

Solutions

The State Inspection Authority continues to investigate targets as well as state investment programs to account for losses from corruption. Over a span of five years from 2016 to 2020, it had prosecuted 140 employees involved in government, state-owned enterprises and private companies. The office of the President is now directly supervising the State Inspection Authority to effectively investigate government performance and civil servants. There also was a State Inspectors Authority Inspectors Anti-Corruption workshop that took place in February 2022. It focused on “the general definition of anti-corruption, forms and gift of corruption, laundering proceeds of corruption and anti-corruption lessons learned in Laos,” allowing participants to understand their role in fighting corruption in Laos.

The Lao PDR is moving forward to attempt to fight corruption, doing two complete cycles of its UNCAC Review addressing issues such as technical capacity-building needs to investigate finances. The UNODC held in-person training on anti-corruption and financial investigations, even bringing officials from seven different provinces in Laos. Doing this allows authorities to learn how to do financial investigations through online and offline sources, making it easier to expose corruption and hold both public officials and private companies accountable.

Moving Forward

While corruption in Laos is still prominent, the Lao PDR has been working to combat the issue. As Laos continues its fight, the country can invest in its “human capital” to improve its people’s quality of life, as well as make the Lao people more confident in their government. As long as there are continuous efforts to eliminate corruption in Laos, the Lao people will be further away from facing poverty in the future.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Global Opioid Crisis
Political pundits and policymakers have acknowledged the severity of the U.S. opioid crisis. However, there is also a drug that is quietly wreaking havoc on developing nations. Many have touted tramadol as a safer alternative to other opioids. However, it has instead fostered addiction in the poorest nations and bankrolled terrorists. Authorities fear that the drug’s growing popularity may even destabilize entire regions, causing the global opioid crisis.

Is Tramadol Safe?

At first glance, it is not clear how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisIn 2021, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a study declaring that tramadol has “a low potential for abuse” and has a significantly lower rate of nonmedical use than comparator opioids.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence has reviewed the drug several times. It recommended against regulation in its most recent report. The main reasons are its concerns that regulation may hinder access to the drug in developing nations.

However, a closer look at the drug and its effect on the developing world demonstrates clearly how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisTramadol is an opioid that medical professionals use to treat moderate to severe pain. It may cause nausea, dizziness, constipation, headaches, respiratory depression and even death.

Tramadol and the Global Opioid Crisis

Despite its presentation as a safe alternative to opioids such as Vicodin, there are plentiful examples of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis:

  1. The illicit market for tramadol is booming. Grünenthal, a German company, originally manufactured the drug for medicinal purposes. However, inadequate access to medicine in the developing world allowed the illicit market to blossom. Lower prices and immediate access to illicit painkillers relieved the shortcomings of poor health care structures, as UNODC reported. Most of these drugs are coming from India. Pill factories have been meeting the demand for tramadol pills by shipping them across the planet in illegal amounts. The demand for these drugs and the absence of regulation keep such illicit trade profitable. U.S. law enforcement has estimated that its seizures of tramadol tablets leaving India in the 2017-2018 period exceeded 1 billion.
  2. Tramadol addiction is rampant in West Africa. According to the UNODC report, “opioids and their nonmedical use have reached an alarming state in West Africa.” The report collected data from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger and Togo. Tramadol seized in West Africa in 2017 accounted for 77% of the tramadol seized globally. It also acknowledged that non-medical use of tramadol is ubiquitous in Niger, where it is the narcotic people are most familiar with. The number of narcotics seized in Nigeria nearly doubled from 53 to 92 tons between 2016 to 2017. The report showed that overall, tramadol is the most popular opioid as it accounts for 91% of all pharmaceutical opioids seized in West Africa in 2017.
  3. The UNODC report on tramadol in West Africa highlighted one of the most sinister aspects of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis. The report stated that “it cannot be denied…that there may be a link between tramadol trafficking and terrorist groups.” The report cited examples of Al Qaeda prompting its followers to trade tramadol to finance its terrorist operations as well as Boko Haram fighters depending on the drug before attacks. The statistics support these claims. According to CSIS, law enforcement intercepted $75 million worth of tramadol heading to the Islamic State group from India in 2017. Authorities also confiscated another 600,000 tablets bound for Boko Haram and found 3 million in a truck in Niger. In May 2017, authorities seized 37 million pills in Italy. Isis had bought them and intended to sell them for profit.

Tramadol Trouble Shooting

Despite the growing problem, many have paid attention. For instance, UNODC met in July 2019 to discuss its West Africa report. Representatives from West Africa, India, the European Union (EU), Interpol and WHO were a few of the guests that attended the meeting to discuss how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis.

Not only are organizations, nations and individuals paying attention, but they are also actively strategizing to mitigate the crisis. The meeting highlighted the need for international cooperation and increased law enforcement. Lastly, there was great emphasis on the need for uniform regulation of the pharmaceuticals, in hopes that cooperation would crush the illicit market while meeting demand.

– Richard Vieira
Photo: Unsplash

Human trafficking in Honduras
Human trafficking in Honduras is one of the most prominent human rights issues in the country. A 2020 report by the U.S. Department of State identifies Honduras as a Tier 2 country since it is making great strides in reducing human trafficking cases. However, the country still needs to meet the set baselines. With the new legislation, a new anti-trafficking plan and advocacy efforts by government-backed programs, Honduras is on its way to creating a safer society.

Causes of Human Trafficking in Honduras

The main causes of human trafficking in Honduras are unemployment, lack of economic opportunity and family issues. These issues leave people desperate to have a stable income and, unfortunately, make them more vulnerable to human trafficking. According to World Bank data, the unemployment rate in Honduras reached 10.98% in 2020, about a 5% increase from the unemployment rate of 5.7% in 2019. Often, traffickers lure victims to other countries with false promises of an escape from poverty and crime-ravaged areas, according to the 2021 report by the U.S. Department of State.

Honduras is primarily a source country for sex trafficking and forced labor. Oftentimes, traffickers exploit victims within their own communities and homes. Traffickers transport women and children, who are primarily victims of sex trafficking, abroad to experience exploitation in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and the United States. Additionally, traffickers usually transport people for forced labor to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

As the U.S. Department of State reported, traffickers force their victims to beg on the streets, traffick drugs and work in the informal sector. Children have to work in dangerous occupations such as the agricultural, construction, manufacturing and mining industries. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that 9% of children from ages 5 to 14 in Honduras are working. Around 53% of these children work in the agricultural sector, 12.7% work in the industry sector (mining, construction and fireworks production, etc.) and 34% work in the services sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation, negatively impacting economic opportunity further. This has increased the vulnerability of people to human trafficking in Honduras, according to the 2021 report by the U.S. Department of State.

Government Initiatives

The previously mentioned report shows that the Honduran government is taking action to reduce cases of human trafficking in Honduras in the following ways:

  1. Increasing funding for Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT): In 2019, the Honduran government increased funding to 5.5 million lempiras (USD 221,400). CICESCT uses this funding to provide assistance to victims such as protection and therapy. In 2020, CICESCT’s immediate response team provided 67 victims with these services. Additionally, CICESCT works with other organizations and NGOs to provide further assistance to victims such as medical care.
  2. Identifying More Victims: Law enforcement and social service providers have certain procedures to follow to identify symptoms of human trafficking and refer suspected victims to the CICEST immediate response team.
  3. Enacting a New Penal Code Provision: The definition of trafficking is now as per international law. However, the new penal code lowered the penalty for trafficking, resulting in the crime not being on par with other serious misdemeanors.
  4. Implementing the 2016-2020 National Anti-Trafficking Plan: This plan includes measures such as providing anti-trafficking training to the public (virtually during the pandemic) and providing awareness-raising campaigns through social media. The Honduran government also formed a network of 32 government agencies and NGOs to help carry the plan out.

UNODC Campaign

In 2019, the Honduran government joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Blue Heart Campaign. The idea is to raise awareness about human trafficking in Honduras and to prevent these crimes. The Blue Heart Campaign focuses on advocacy and seeks to recruit others to help prevent human trafficking crimes by building political support to take more action against it. The campaign sends its donations to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, whose goal is to aid other organizations and NGOs globally to assist victims. According to the UNODC, the campaign resulted in the rescuing of 194 people in 2019.

CICESCT

CICESCT is a Honduran government agency that aims to reduce the number of human trafficking cases and to provide care for victims. Since its formation in 2012, Honduras has increased funding for CICESCT. This allows for more aid and investigations into human trafficking cases. In 2018, more than 300 victims received aid, protection and services (mental health counseling, food, housing, legal care and medical care) to integrate back into society. Also, 28 people received prison sentences with time ranging from five to 15 years for human trafficking.

Moving Forward

There are still critical issues to resolve regarding human trafficking in Honduras. However, the country has made significant progress and is continuing to work on eradicating human trafficking from the country. If this level of progress and awareness continues, Honduras can achieve a trafficking-free society.

– Shikha Surupa
Photo: Unsplash