Warnings of Myanmar’s expanding drugs trade tumble out of the offices of the UN annually, but these days rarely draw a frown. The reports have become a hackneyed reminder that for all the bravado of the government’s anti-drugs programme, the problem is as intractable as ever: cultivation of poppies has increased year-on-year since 2007, despite promises from Naypyidaw that it’ll eliminate the practice by 2014, while militias operating in the mountainous east continue to pump out millions of methamphetamine pills each year, leading some experts to warn that Myanmar could be the world’s largest narcotics state.
To date the government has largely rejected accusations that it is lax in its approach to the situation. Last month however a police officer in the drugs control department described the problem as “very dangerous now” and getting worse, a candid and unusual admission from an official that Myanmar’s much-touted “war on drugs” is a spectacular failure.
This is something observers have known for a long time. Last year, around 610 tonnes of opium were produced, with only Afghanistan recording a higher output. The amount of acreage used for growing poppies is also on a continual rise – 14 per cent between 2010 and 2011, according to the UN – suggesting that a reinvigorated campaign to rid the country of opium farming has not found its target. But opium is no longer the main problem: production of methamphetamine is so vast that Myanmar is most likely a world leader in a market that neighbouring countries have identified as fuelling one of the great regional crises. (more…)