Winter in Afghanistan over the last few years has been lacking much in the way of snow, and this is the major source of water for the farmers in the provinces. However, as the world warms up, the snow is decreasing dramatically, and it is likely that drought will become the new normal. In 2012, the nation was classed as one of the most vulnerable to climate change1.
Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s economy is based on agriculture, and farmers depend on year-round sources of surface water to irrigate their crops and water their livestock. This water comes from the snow melting on the mountains, and it is this snow that is decreasing1. Recent climate difficulties have decreased the usable arable land. Indeed, the Taliban insurgency, which used to stop its campaign over winter largely because of the heavy snow, now continues into winter, because they can remain mobile, unimpeded by the deep snow that used to cover the mountains. So what happens when a farmer loses his livelihood because the melting snow doesn’t deliver what it used to do? He joins the Taliban, because they pay their fighters, and often, this will be his family’s only source of income.
Where does the Taliban get its money? They get it from extortion, reportedly extorting protection money from Telecom companies and surprisingly, the US Army, and by kidnapping, ‘taxation’ and ‘fining’ of members of the general population in areas they control2,3. In another outcome of climate change, wheat and potatoes, being heavily dependent on the availability of water are often unsustainable, but opium poppies, which require less water and less field preparation, are more easily grown and more hardy, and less likely to die during a drought4. The Taliban either tax the poppy farmers or tax drug traffickers for access.
While the source of heroin in Australia has often been the ‘golden triangle’ in Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Laos and Thailand), there is increasing evidence that a significant amount of Australian heroin has come from the ‘golden crescent’ of Afghanistan and Pakistan5. This was especially after the bumper crop in Afghanistan in 2008. The Karzai government in Kabul attempted to eradicate poppy crops after urging from its allies in the struggle against the Taliban, but climate change conspired to defeat this plan.
Opium poppies are grown extensively and legally in Tasmania and Victoria, and they are grown either to provide opium, which is processed to provide pharmaceutical painkillers (morphine, oxycodone, codeine and naloxone), or they are grow for research purposes. Poppy seeds are also supplied to the culinary market for use in breads and muffins6.
Now for the irony: Conservatives think all drugs are bad (except those they like, such a; ethanol, nicotine, caffeine) and there is no way that making them legal will happen while right wing nut jobs have any power. This is precisely what drug traffickers want. Criminals want to keep it illegal, just like they wanted to keep abortion, prostitution and homosexuality illegal, because they were all a source of income for them either by running it or by blackmail. Keeping things illegal forces the market underground and leaves it ripe for criminal exploitation, and can lead to enormous profits. So, conservatives are in effect aiding an abetting the Taliban in their pursuit of control of Afghanistan.
The problem with conservatives is that they are not particularly intelligent and evidence is not something that makes much of an impression on them. Indeed, some of them seem to believe that a moderate amount of domestic violence is acceptable (presumably such that no bruises remain), and that homosexuality, prostitution and abortion should be recriminalised. The human cost of doing so, doesn’t enter into the argument. A large proportion of these people are driven by religious fervor and to them, people are unimportant.
In 2001, Portugal faced a huge heroin problem; it was estimated that 1% of its population were addicted, and it had the highest rate of drug-related AIDS deaths in the European Union. So, what did the government do? It decriminalised all drugs; marijuana, cocaine, heroin. According to conservatives, in Australia, this sort of radical action lead to an explosion of drug use, just like same sex marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality. However, in Portugal, an explosion in drug use didn’t happen. But what did happen was a dramatic decrease in drug-related deaths, from nearly 80 per annum, to an average of less than 20 over the 2004-2012 interval. Portugal didn’t just go open slather. What they did was, instead of treating it as a law enforcement issue, they treated it as a health issue. A national minimum income targeted the link between poverty and drug abuse, while treatment facilities were also massively increased. In Portugal, trafficking drugs is still illegal, and any personal user caught with drugs has to front a panel comprising a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker, all of whom decide on the best course of treatment for the person7.
Many Australian politicians of most persuasions are too stupid or gutless to try anything this radical despite clear indications that it works. They are afraid they may upset someone and it might impact either their popularity or donations to their political party. However, it is conservatives in the Australian political landscape who are the worst offenders here. Being conservative, they are unable to think laterally and use ideology as their guide. Ideology is something you have when you are lacking in intelligence.