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NEWS: ecological degradation, water taken for cannabis crops, poverty,and Afghanistan
by Mark Douglas Whitaker
21 October 2002 02:38 UTC
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"So, while opium cultivation is monitored to the acre, neither Interpol, 
the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention nor the U.S.\'s Drug 
Enforcement Agency can offer even rough estimates for how much hashish 
Afghanistan produces or what the trade is worth. "


Story from the www.indymedia.org:8081 newswire

Checkout independent media coverage of politics, protest, and life
at: http://www.indymedia.org:8081

This message was sent to you by: Mark



Saturday 19 Oct 2002

Summary:Afghanistan\'s villages are drying out—because hash farmers need 
the water.


Reference at indymedia website: 

October 21, 2002 / VOL. 160 NO. 15

Ask the villagers of Dalicharbolak how bad things are in the desert and 
they show you a boy named Saifudden. He is five, but looks two. He is too 
weak to walk, crawl or do anything but loll in his bearer\'s arms. He is 
bald, and his arms and legs are like sticks. Mohammed Akbar, 48, says 
Saifudden is an orphan. \"Well, soon anyway.\" Akbar explains that 
Saifudden\'s father fled this ravaged village three months ago because of 
the drought and that his mother is dying fast. Ask about food and the 
villagers say that, born in the year the rains first failed, Saifudden has 
never tasted fruit, vegetables or meat. Ask about water and their anger 
boils over. \"They\'re killing us here,\" says Akbar, pointing over the 
horizon to the lush plains upstream. \"They\'re taking all the water. I 
haven\'t seen water in our ditches for four years. And all for chaars.\"

Chaars is charas—hashish, pressed cannabis resin. Production is booming 
here in Afghanistan, aggravating a famine brought on by years of drought 
and war.

A healthy field of hemp needs plenty of water. Dope growers in the 
mountains siphon off the streams that still flow, while hash farmers in the 
plains dig wells up to 100 meters deep to reach the water table.

The combined effect of drought, reduced water from the hills and the 
cannabis cultivators\' new boreholes is catastrophic, says Bertrand 
Brequeville of French aid group Action Contre la Faim.

\"It\'s only the rich drug producers who can afford the pumps to irrigate 
the land. They pump all day, and all the wells in the villages around them 
dry up.\"

Driving west from Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan\'s main city, you 
catch the smell almost immediately. Baking in the midday sun, marijuana 
bushes the size of a man give off the same dank stench that permeates hip 
parties from New York City to New South Wales. For the decade before the 
Soviet army invaded in 1979 [sic, the U.S. was there about six months 
earlier than the Soviets--this after all is a Time Magazine article 
originally ;-) ], the teahouses of Afghanistan were the toking tourist\'s 
hangout of choice. And even during 23 years of war, when the Afghans fought 
the Soviets and then one another, the hash trade thrived.

\"Afghan black\" remained a staple sale for cannabis dealers across the 
world. Mazar-i-Sharif gave its name to a particularly potent variety.

And last year, in the final weeks of the Taliban, Amsterdam\'s coffee-shop 
owners even boasted they were doing their bit for the war on terror by 
buying blocks stamped with a golden Northern Alliance stencil reading 
\"Freedom for Afghanistan.\"

Now, as Afghanistan emerges from war, dope farming has never been so 
good—and the drought never so bad. The Taliban banned hash production, 
but in the postwar chaos of lawless fiefdoms that dot the land, growers and 
traders across the country are finding themselves free once again to 
cultivate and export hashish without fear, and often with warlord 
protection. Moreover, the international perception that cannabis is a 
relatively benign drug—prompting some authorities across Europe and 
Australia to decriminalize its use—has persuaded drug-policing agencies 
to largely ignore it.

So, while opium cultivation is monitored to the acre, neither Interpol, the 
U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention nor the U.S.\'s Drug 
Enforcement Agency can offer even rough estimates for how much hashish 
Afghanistan produces or what the trade is worth.

But around Mazar it\'s almost impossible to find a field where hemp is not 
being grown, either openly or poorly hidden behind watermelons or knee-high 
cotton plants.

\"Everybody\'s farming chaars now,\" says former Taliban fighter Faizullah, 
27, watering a verdant six-hectare oasis of hemp surrounded by desert. 
Cannabis used to be outlawed by the Taliban.

\"But now,\" says Faizullah, \"it\'s a free-for-all.\"

Once grown and pressed, Afghan hash is sold to freelance truck and jeep 
drivers who take it to Tajikistan or Kabul, where it is resold at four 
times the price. It\'s then smuggled via Central Asia or Pakistan to the 
West, where Afghan hash finds many eager buyers. But as dope smokers 
celebrate the new \"enlightened\" view of pot, any thought of the distant, 
parched land where it is grown has been lost in the haze. Back in the 
dust-bowl fields around Mazar, the growing foreign demand and new freedom 
to exploit it translate into a rare chance at riches. While prices are 
minimal compared with the eventual $3,000 to $8,000 a kilo that Afghan hash 
fetches in the West, Northern Alliance commander Akbar Khan says farming 
anything except cannabis makes little sense. \"A kilo of wheat sells for 
20,000 Afghanis (40¢),\" he explains. \"But a kilo of chaars will sell for 
10 million ($200).\"

The choice to grow drugs may be financially astute, but the effect on water 
supplies is disastrous.

There hasn\'t been significant rain in most of Afghanistan for five years.

Action Contre la Faim says even in Kabul only 30% of residents have 
sufficient water, defined as 15 liters a day for washing, cooking, farming 
and drinking and less than 250 people per water access point. That figure 
drops to 10% in large swaths of the north and even zero across the south.

With dope growers exacerbating the shortage, centuries-old water holes and 
underground courses have evaporated. Crops downstream of hemp fields have 
withered and failed. With nothing to eat or drink and plagued by choking 
dust, entire villages and towns have emptied. \"Whole parts of the country 
are turning into desert,\" says Brequeville. \"And that\'s 
irreversible—there\'s no way back from the desert.\"

Tensions over water have even led to murder. Last month, in a village 
called Shakhshirale close to the Turkmenian border, hash farmers shot dead 
a man who walked all day to demand two buckets of water.

And in Saifudden\'s village of Dalicharbolak, the men there admit that 
after 12 people died of malnutrition over the summer, some among them 
gunned down two cannabis growers who were hoarding water upstream.

An hour\'s drive to the east of Dalicharbolak, a village headman says his 
is the only settlement out of 38 nearby that has potable water—in effect, 
a single half-meter-wide well must provide for 60,000 people.

The headman claims that anyone is welcome to use his well, but the guards 
fingering AK-47s and a mounted heavy machine gun around the borehole 
suggest otherwise.

Perhaps the starkest illustration of what cannabis is doing to Afghanistan 
is to be found at the village of Deh Naw, half an hour to the north of 
Mazar along Afghanistan\'s main north-south highway. Just out of sight of 
the hash hills upstream, the desert is swallowing Deh Naw whole. 
Five-meter-high sand dunes have crashed over the village\'s mud walls like 
desiccated tidal waves, burying houses, blocking streets and suffocating 
the vines and the mulberry, fig and pomegranate trees that once blossomed 
here. The 600 villagers survive by gathering desert thornbushes—used for 
lighting fires—and trading them for access to fetid water from a ditch 
half a day\'s ride away by donkey.

Abdul Shakur, 63, says every few weeks a huge sandstorm traps him, his wife 
and their 11 children inside their hut for days on end. Four months ago, 
the storm came at night and lasted four days; Shakur and his neighbors dug 
out a family of five after a dune enveloped their front door and all their 

\"The storms are terrible,\" he says. \"Even if you have something to eat, 
you can\'t open your mouth or it just fills with sand. All you can do is 
hide and sleep.\" Shakur has given up blaming anyone for Deh Naw\'s 
troubles. He knows the landowners for whom he once worked the fields around 
Deh Naw are the same people who now deprive that land of water for the sake 
of greater profits in the hemp-rich hills. But after 23 years watching a 
succession of conquerors—the Soviets, the Taliban, and now the Northern 
Alliance and the Americans—come and go, he has learned to focus on survival.

\"I don\'t know about governments or armies or landowners or chaars,\" he 
says. \"All I know is sand, and all I dream of is water.\" 

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