U.N. proposes eliminating drug crops Plan would end growth of coca, opium plants


UNITED NATIONS -- With President Clinton and other world leaders coming here tomorrow for a special session of the General Assembly on the world's drug problems, the United Nations' top anti-narcotics official has submitted a two-pronged strategy that moves beyond the conventional approach of intercepting illegal drugs and arresting traffickers.

Pino Arlacchi, the executive director of the U.N. International Drug Control Program, proposes the ambitious target of eliminating opium poppies and coca plants, the raw ingredients of heroin and cocaine, in 10 years as well as substantially reducing marijuana.

He advocates so-called alternative development programs that would induce opium and coca growers to switch to less profitable legal crops by bringing roads, hospitals, schools and a better life into remote rural areas that depend on drug crops to survive.

Additionally, he has proposed that nations reduce the demand for drugs by half over the next decade through prevention and treatment programs. Neither idea is new, but Arlacchi said they had proved promising enough to try on a broader scale.

What is needed, Arlacchi said, is political authority to enforce eradication and development involving more than crop substitution.

"We would propose an alternative way of life," he said. "They can be rich peasants if they grow opium, but they can die if they don't have roads and hospitals."

Peru and Colombia have tried alternative development, Arlacchi said, and Peru has reduced its coca fields by 40 percent in two years.

Arlacchi said the cost would run far less than potential donors such as the United States anticipate. With some programs already in place, he estimated, alternative development would require an additional amount of less than $250 million a year over the next decade. In comparison, the U.S. government's annual drug control budget exceeds $16 billion.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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