A report by the United Nation’s Office on Drug Crime (UNODC) has found that the area used to cultivate opium in Afghanistan has increased by 63 percent since 2016. Back then, 201,000 hectares of land were being used towards this end. Today, this stands at 328,000. Poppies are now grown in 24 out of 34 provinces in that country. And it is estimated that 9,000 tonnes of opium will be produced in Afghanistan in 2017, with an estimated value of $1.4 billion.There is no easy fix to this problem. Opium makes up half of Afghanistan’s agricultural output. Numerous parties are involved in its cultivation, including the Afghan Taliban. The latter, it is estimated, ‘earned’ $3 billion dollars in revenue from the opium trade in 2016. Efforts to curb the cultivation of poppies have failed abysmally. Only 750 hectares of poppies could be cleared in 2017; though this was an improvement on the 355 hectares cleared the previous year. Of course, it goes without saying that rises in opium production pose a threat to the entire international community. Afghanistan produces some 80 percent of the world’s opium. This is then chemically processed into heroin before travelling onwards; sometimes reaching as far afield as North America. Most of the heroin in Canada reportedly comes from Afghanistan, too. However, before heroin reaches the developed world, it typically passes through either Iran or Pakistan. Opiate addiction is a major problem in both these countries and the implications of a rise in the drug trade doesn’t bode well for either.The emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan is likely to make matters worse. Suffering many reversals of fortune in the Middle East, the terrorist network has been deprived of its biggest source of income – black market oil. It is therefore highly likely that the group will now turn to the immensely profitable Afghan drug trade to make up for these financial losses. Both heroin and ISIS represent major threats to the stability of Pakistan and Iran; not to mention Russia, yet another destination for Afghanistan’s opium. Joint military actions and intelligence targeting both ISIS and Afghan heroin production as well as distribution networks could help here. However a reduction in the opiate supply lines will not impact demand at home. What is needed there is effective drug education programmes combined with more efforts to rehabilitate addicts. *Published in Daily Times, November 19th 2017.