Tuesday, October 14, 2014

UNODC defends poppy estimates for Kachin State after critical report

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has defended its research methods following criticism levelled against it in a recently released report which claimed that its opium production estimates for Kachin State were inaccurate.

The Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (KWAT) report claims that the UNODC's recent declaration that opium production levels in Kachin state in 2013 were down by 10% over the previous year is flawed. KWAT's report blasted the UNODC for overlooking a huge amount of opium being grown in Kachin State's Chipwe township.  

Chipwe is controlled by Border Guard Force units which were previously part of the New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDA-K), a long time ceasefire group which transformed into a border guard force in November 2009.

Although the UNODC lists Kachin State's Waingmaw and Danai (Tanai) townships as “high-risk” places for opium production UNODC does not list Chipwe township as such, a serious oversight according to KWAT.

According to KWAT's report, titled “Silent Offensive”, the UNODC's alleged failure to take into account opium production in Chipwe is “worrying, as the UNODC opium SURVEYS    are accepted internationally as the most reliable assessment of drug trends in Burma and are influential in shaping the policies of international donors”.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC's Southeast Asia representative, defended his organization's methods in an interview conducted by DVB on Wednesday. “We [UNODC] do have very good access by and large to most points of intense [opium] production and we also have extremely good [SATELLITE   ] imagery to help us identity points which need verification and ground-truthing”.

Douglas claims that this process, “allows us to draw pretty good conclusions on the [amount of] hectares under [opium] cultivation.”

Douglas also claimed the UNODC would look into the matter of opium production in Chipwe and “include any further findings in an upcoming UN survey”.

KWAT's critique of the UNODC's methods is not the first time the UN agency has come under fire for its role in Burma. Over the years the UNODC's reports on Burma have been heavily criticized by many observers including respected Burma expert and author Bertil Lintner, for overlooking the role of the army and other state backed groups in the country's profitable drug trade.

"They don’t understand what’s going on. They have no idea how the drug business is run”, Lintner told the Irrawaddy in 2003 when responding to a question about the UNODC's activities in Burma. "They are useless bureaucrats and the quality of their work is not surprising," he said.