Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Dealing with the opium poppy: it's time for real change

Sent to the South China Morning Post today.  I doubt they'll run it, as they usually like the letters to be about local issues, like the plastic bag levy (a long-runner), or, the most recent one exercising the minds of readers: whether or not the new economy class seats on Cathay are comfortable....

Regarding “Bashing the Poor”, by Rukmini Callimachi SCMP, 4 August 09
 Dear Sir,
There was an infamous phrase of the Vietnam war, supposedly uttered in 1968 by a US army officer: “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”  Forty years later we hear the same twisted logic, this time in Afghanistan:
‘“These poor farmers are going to get stepped on and get hurt in this effort," says... Doug Wankel, who organised [the US’]… counter-narcotics effort in the area in 2003. "But it's a pain that has to be endured for the good of the masses.”’  (Bashing the Poor, 4 Aug). 
Callimachi’s article is a generally sympathetic piece, which highlights the devastation to the livelihood of poor Afghan farmers caused by the US-led efforts to destroy the opium poppy crop, for the supposed “good of the masses.” 
I was disappointed that Callimachi made no mention of an alternative solution: legalise and control the crop, estimated to be worth some $US 4 billion per year.  The war on terror is costing the US alone some $US 11 billion per month, a total of $223 billion in Afghanistan alone to 2009 (source: Congressional Research Service, May 09).  Less than two-weeks’ worth of US expenditure would buy the annual Afghan crop.  The idea is that the crop purchase would be controlled by the UN, converted into medicinal morphine – with the construction and running of processing facilities providing jobs – and sent to poor areas of Africa which need analgesic drugs.  How much better all round this would be.  At a stroke it provides income to farmers, provides jobs to build and run processing facilities and provides medicine for the poor in Africa, while it removes the main source of illicit cash from the Taliban.
Why does Obama not live up to his slogan of “Change” and make a real change, instead of more of the same: a surge of troops and destruction of farmers’ livelihoods. Why does he not make real Change for the good of the masses of the world?