A Downward Spiral
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Magazine

COVER STORY

A Downward Spiral


By Tom Kramer (TNI) OCTOBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.10


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Proposed opium bans could spark a humanitarian crisis in Burma’s drug-rich north

 

United Wa State Army chairman Bao Yuxiang said on June 24, after proclaiming Special Region 2 a ‘drugs source free zone’: “How are the farmers going to survive after the poppy ban? This is the big question that every level of local authorities encounters.”     He added: “The lives of the people will become more difficult, and we do expect the international community will give us more assistance to let the people be able to overcome the difficulties and achieve the historical commitment.”

 

 

 

The Wa and Kokang regions in northern Shan State have traditionally been the major opium-producing areas in Burma, but this could change. The UWSA has declared the areas under their control opium free as of June 26, 2005. In the Kokang region an opium ban has been in effect since 2003, while the Mong La region in eastern Shan State has had a similar ban since 1997.

 

The implementation of these opium bans in one of the world’s largest opium-producing areas may sound promising to international anti-narcotics officials, but for the opium farmers living there it could spell disaster. The Wa and Kokang regions are an isolated and impoverished mountainous area near the Chinese border, and residents rely on opium cultivation as a cash crop. Most farmers can only grow enough rice to feed their families for six to eight months each year. The rest of the food, as well as medicines, clothing and access to education, are bought with the opium they grow.

 

The impact of the opium bans would probably be grave. According to a 2003 survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, an estimated 350,000 households in Shan State—or about 2 million people—stand to lose their primary source of income as a direct result of bans on opium, which constitutes 70 percent of their cash income. Alarming reports are already coming out of the Kokang region.

 

International agencies warn that the region will enter “a downward spiral of poverty, malnutrition and disease.” The most immediate concern is food security. “This area is not very suitable to growing crops other than opium,” says the UWSA township leader in Long Tan. “So after the ban the people will be very poor here.



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