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Illicit Drugs

Are Illicit Drugs a Development Issue and If So, What Should We Do about It?

Duncan Green's picture

I spent last Wednesday morning taking drugs seriously. OK that’s the last of the lame do/take drug jokes. What I actually did was have a coffee with Danny Kushlick and Martin Powell of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, and then attend a Christian Aid seminar on drugs and development. Both conversations addressed the same questions: are drugs becoming an un-ignorable development issue and if so, what should we (INGOs, aid agencies etc) do about it?

The answer to the first question is pretty obviously ‘yes’. In the rich countries the ‘war on drugs’ is getting nowhere, stymied (among other reasons) by the basic laws of supply and demand – any success in the war reduces supply, so prices rise, so supply recovers. In the producer countries, the vast sums involved ($330bn a year, by one estimate) poison politics. And increasingly, the divide between producer and consumer countries is being eroded, as drugs spill over into the slums and alleyways of the developing world – including West Africa, where transhipment and consumption are becoming major issues. Everyone gets dirty, trust is destroyed, communities turn bad. As Christian Aid’s Paul Valentin said, ‘the drugs trade cuts across everything we do – inequality, tax havens, access to services, HIV. Over half the countries we are working in are directly affected.’