Daily Archives: February 19, 2012

Afghan heroin production skyrockets from 185 tons to 5,800 tons per year

Thriving: An Afghan farmer collects raw opium from poppies in Balkh province, Afghanistan. Heroin production in the country has increased by 61 per cent in the last year

Afghan drug war debacle: Blair said smashing opium trade was a major reason to invade but 10 years on heroin production is up from 185 tons a year to 5,800

Daily Mail | Feb 17, 2012

By David Williams

The West is losing the heroin war in Afghanistan – ten years after Tony Blair pledged that wiping out the drug was one of the main reasons for invading the country.

Despite spending £18billion and a conflict which has so far cost the lives of almost 400 British troops, production of the class-A drug by Afghan farmers rose between 2001 and 2011 from just 185 tons to a staggering 5,800 tons.

It increased by 61 per cent last year alone.

Such has been the failure to combat the problem that more than 90 per cent of the heroin sold on Britain’s streets is still made using opium from Afghanistan.

The United Nations yesterday warned that the situation was out of control.

Declaring that the West had lost its war against the drug, a glum UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added: ‘Time is not on our side.’

The UN figures make grim reading for those who backed the invasion.


‘US marines involved in Afghan drug trade’

Cutting the supply of heroin was one of the prime reasons given by then-prime minister Tony Blair in 2001 for sending in British troops.

Three weeks after the attack on America’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Mr Blair said: ‘The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets. This is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy.’

But ten years later, the UN figures reveal how the outcome has been so dramatically different.

Some 15 per cent of Afghanistan’s Gross National Product now comes from drug-related exports – a business worth up to £1.6billion each year, it was claimed.

Officials say there is clear evidence that the opium trade is being orchestrated by the Taliban, with vast profits used to buy weapons and fuel the insurgency.

The warning came at a meeting in Austria of more than 50 countries.

Britain alone has spent an estimated £18billion – a further £4billion is said to have been earmarked for this year – in Afghanistan, where 398 of its troops have died and thousands have been injured.

The most recent was Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin, from 2 Squadron RAF Regiment, who was fatally wounded by small arms fire during an insurgent attack on Monday in Helmand Province – the heart of the opium industry.

Ironically, the Taliban had overseen a significant fall in heroin production in the months before the invasion. Their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar – collaborating with the UN – had decreed that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world’s most successful anti-drug campaigns.

As a result of this ban, opium poppy cultivation was reduced by 91 per cent from the previous year’s estimate of 82,172 hectares.

The ban was so effective that Helmand Province, which had accounted for more than half of this production, recorded no poppy cultivation during the 2001 season.

However, with the overthrow of the Taliban opium fields returned, despite the destruction of crops by coalition forces and initiatives to persuade farmers to switch to other produce.

There was some success but, commanders said, the ‘reality’ was that forces were too thinly stretched to focus on crop destruction – a move that, anyway, turned farmers against the troops.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the 2006 harvest was around 6,100 tons, 33 times its level in 2001, a 3,200 per cent increase in five years.

Cultivation in 2006 reached a record 165,000 hectares compared with 104,000 in 2005 and 7,606 in 2001 under the Taliban. This fell in figures for 2010 because of crop disease, but the UN figures show that it increased sharply again last year when 131,000 hectares were under cultivation, producing some 5,800 tons of opium.

The rise came even though the Afghan government and Nato have boosted crop eradication measures by 65 per cent and made significant seizures in recent months. The UN says there are now 17 provinces in Afghanistan affected by poppy cultivation, up from 14 a year ago.

Experts say the Taliban’s involvement in the drugs trade ranges from direct assistance – such as providing farmers with seed, fertiliser and cash advances – to distribution and protection.

In his opening address to the Vienna conference, the UN Secretary General warned that the problem extends beyond those who abuse drugs and is threatening Afghanistan itself.

‘Drug trafficking and transnational organized crime undermine the health of fragile states, (and) weaken the rule of law,’ he said, ‘Above all, the Afghan government must prioritise the issue of narcotics.’

A report by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said revenue from opium production in Afghanistan soared by 133 per cent last year to about £900million after the crop recovered from a 2010 blight and approached previous levels.

Ban Ki-moon, in his opening comments, cited a 2011 UN survey saying that poppy cultivation has increased by 7 per cent and opium production by 61 per cent in the past year.

Zarar Ahmed Moqbel Osmani, the Afghan minister, said his country understood international concerns but noted that ‘95 per cent of poppy cultivation takes place in nine insecure provinces’.

He urged the international community to work hard in preventing the components needed to turn opium into heroin from entering Afghanistan from neighbouring countries.

Nepal: Communist dictatorship is the ultimate goal‚ says party leader


ITAHARI: UCPN-Maoist General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ announced today that his party will capture the state through a people’s revolt and impose one-party communist dictatorship in the country.

Badal, speaking at the party’s gathering on the 17th anniversary of the ‘People’s War’ in Itahari, threatened to dismantle all feudal structures of the country through an armed struggle. We fought the state security forces for the country and the people, he maintained.

In a different context, Badal argued that latest unity at the party’s central committee is the victory of the revolutionaries over the opportunists in the party. Maintaining that the Maoists had launched the people’s war in 1996 after the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government refused to address their logical demands, the Maoist leader threatened to launch a new war if regressive elements try to derail peace and constitution-making processes. Noting that the Constituent Assembly has just three-and-a-half-months to promulgate the constitution, Badal called on the political parties to draft the statute within the extended deadline of the CA. At the same time, he called on the people to press the political parties to complete peace and constitution-making processes on time.

UCPN-M for peace, constitution: Prabhakar

Butwal: UCPN-Maoist politburo member Janardan Sharma ‘Prabhakar’ said at a programme in Dang headquarters Ghorahi on Monday his party is committed to ending the revolution envisioned by the party. “As peace and constitution are means to reach the goal of revolution, the party is wholeheartedly devoted to completing the twin tasks of peace and statute.” On the occasion, the Maoist leader argued that intra-party rift will not split his party at any rate. “Ideological debate will make the party even stronger,” he added. Sharma pledged to incorporate the rights of marginalised and backward community in the new constitution.

Maoist leader and Minister for Local Development Top Bahadur Rayamajhi said in Butwal on Monday that the government is dedicated to peace and statute.

At a function in Butwal to mark the 17th anniversary of the People’s War, Minister Rayamajhi said constitution will be promulgated by May 28. Chief adviser to PM Baburam Bhattarai Devendra Poudel threatened to revert to the war if parties bar the Maoists from setting agendas of his party.

Minsk Struggles with The Coldest Days on Record

belarusdigest.com | Feb 14, 2012

The frosty winter which is paralyzing many European capitals has hit Belarus hard. While public services work efficiently in the capital, many in various regions and the homeless suffer from the cold. In Minsk, the city administration has taken measures to deal with the cold weather which is exceptional even for Belarus. In the small villages, however, people often end up being cut off from the rest of the world by snow.  

While public life does not come to a standstill in Belarus because of the winter, it is still unusually cold. Last week, on 2 February, the country has seen the coldest day and night since the beginning of weather recording in 1917. On that day, the average temperature in Minsk was -21 °C.

The Belarusian capital is well equipped to deal with snow and ice. In contrast to Western European cities like Rome, where the traffic stands still as soon as snow is falling, Belarus has efficient mechanisms to deal with snow. Special vehicles clean the roads and bring the snow out of town.

Traditionally, the Belarusian state fights unemployment by sending people to do public works. They work in orange vests, clean streets, shovel snow,  and weed flower beds. There are thousands of them, working in parks, in courtyards and on the roofs, from where they remove loads of snow and the icicles.

Minsk Residents Asked to Volunteer In Shoveling Snow

However, the economic crisis has made itself evident this winter. For the first time, announcements at entrance doors of many houses are asking Minsk’s citizens to volunteer for snow shoveling.

The mayor of Minsk, Mikalai Ladutska, has repeatedly called on the residents of the capital for help. Apparently, the Belarusian state can no longer afford to employ an army of people and pay them to do work that is done by the population in most other countries.

It is not surprising that there are not many people that would like to clear away 30 cm of snow from the paths of their courtyard for free. People in orange vests have been paid for by the state for years.

The result of the volunteering campaign has been disappointing and the city administration came up with another idea. The Minsk city executive community, recently adopted a new directive. Apart from people registered as temporarily unemployed, students and staff of city enterprises will from now on work to help the public.   Apart from this group of people, prostitutes who have been sentenced to render community service are supposed to help shoveling snow as well as some media report.

For residents of Minsk, this winter means that they have to cope with a temperature difference of around 50° C between their flats and the world outside. Most flats in Minsk have central heating regulated by the city authorities. Heaters do not have thermostats. In flats it is often around 25° C. But some houses, especially recently-built are badly insulated, so it is rather cold in these flats and a draft makes it impossible to get warm after you come home from the street.

The situation is especially problematic for families with small children. It is nearly impossible to take a bath in a cold flat. Young families suffer more impediments from the cold winter. Doctors recommend not going outside with little babies when it is colder than -10° C. Many people decide not to let their children go to the kindergartens because it is simply too cold to leave the house and because many kindergartens and schools are not heated. Schools, however, are closed only when temperatures drop to lower than -25° C during the day.

Sixty Already Died from Cold this Winter

In Minsk, an old hospital on Bahdanovich street has been transformed into a home for homeless people. It has 55 beds, and homeless people get warm clothes, tea, blankets and hot soup. The home will work until 1 April, and social workers and doctors are there to help the homeless people who come there. However, everybody who wants to find shelter there has to go through a medical examination.

Outside Minsk the situation is even worse. In small villages, many houses do not have central heating. The villages are cut off from the rest of the world because the roads are not cleaned from snow. As mainly old people live in the villages, there is a risk that the people will freeze or starve to death. Caritas and other humanitarian organizations bring food and wood to some of the villages, but of course it is impossible for them to get to every village in the country.

According to the website of the newspaper Nasha Niva, 129 people have suffered from frostbite this winter and 60 people died from cold. And those are only the officially recorded statistics. According to Caritas, some homeless people cannot come to the soup kitchens because they do not even have shoes.

If you have a business trip to Minsk coming up in the next days, stick to our three survival hints for Belarusian winter. The weather forecast announces temperatures around -25° C for the next week.

Harsh Afghanistan winter kills 40 children

Children outside in the snow at a temporary shelter for refugees in Kabul Photo: S.SABAWOON/EPA

Almost 40 children have been killed by a harsh winter in Afghanistan in the past month, most of them from refugee camps in Kabul.

Afghanistan has suffered its coldest winter in 15 years.

Telegraph | Feb 19, 2012

Twenty-four children lost their lives in camps on the outskirts of the capital which houses thousands of Afghans fleeing war and Taliban intimidation in southern Afghanistan.

Others died from cold in the central highlands, public health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noorughli told the AFP news agency.

“Over this past one month we have 40 deaths recorded. All have died from cold and are mostly children,” he said.

Afghanistan, a landlocked and mountainous country, has suffered its coldest winter in 15 years.


Nearly -40° in Europe

Cold weather wreaks havoc in Turkey

International children’s charity Save the Children warned on Sunday that weather conditions were expected to worsen, threatening the lives of more children in the camps.

“Save the Children is warning that even more could die from cold in what is Afghanistan’s worst winter for 15 years,” the charity group said in a statement, adding that temperatures were expected to drop as low as 1.4F (-17C).

“This has been a brutal winter and children have little to protect them from the biting cold,” Bob Grabman, Save the Children’s country director in Afghanistan, said.

“Many are trying to survive without decent shelter or blankets, without fuel, food, warm clothes or shoes,” he added.

“At night the temperature falls dangerously low, threatening the lives of newborns and small children. It’s crucial we get urgent help to families so children are protected,” Grabman added.

According to the charity about 20,000 people, fleeing insecurity caused by a Taliban-led insurgency, are living in more than 30 informal settlements in Kabul under extreme hardship. Most live in flimsy tents.

Despite the flood of billions of dollars in aid from the international community after the collapse of the Taliban Afghanistan remains among the poorest nations in the world.

No effect from CO2 on Sierra Snowfall over the last 130 years

Christy on Sierra Snowfall over the last 130 years – no trend, no effect from CO2

wattsupwiththat.com | Feb 18, 2012

by Anthony Watts

Image above from data supplied by Dr. John Christy and rendered by the San Francisco Chronicle from their story here. An excerpt:

John Christy, the Alabama state climatologist who authored the study, said the amount of snow in the mountains has not decreased in the past 50 years, a period when greenhouse gases were supposed to have increased the effects of global warming.

The heaping piles of snow that fell in the Sierra last winter and the paltry amounts this year fall within the realm of normal weather variability, he concluded.

“The dramatic claims about snow disappearing in the Sierra just are not verified,” said Christy, a climate change skeptic and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It looks like you’re going to have snow for the foreseeable future.”

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Shocker: dirty electric cars

From the University of Tennessee at Knoxville  comes this surprising bit of research. Taken in entirety, and electric vehicle has a greater impact on pollution than a comparable gasoline vehicle.

wattsupwiththat.com | Feb 13, 2012

UT researchers find China’s pollution related to E-cars may be more harmful than gasoline cars

by Anthony Watts

Electric cars have been heralded as environmentally friendly, but findings from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, researchers show that electric cars in China have an overall impact on pollution that could be more harmful to health than gasoline vehicles.

Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, and graduate student Shuguang Ji, analyzed the emissions and environmental health impacts of five vehicle technologies in 34 major Chinese cities, focusing on dangerous fine particles. What Cherry and his team found defies conventional logic: electric cars cause much more overall harmful particulate matter pollution than gasoline cars.

“An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles,” Cherry said. “Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to. Prior studies have only examined environmental impacts by comparing emission factors or greenhouse gas emissions.”

Particulate matter includes acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. It is also generated through the combustion of fossil fuels.

For electric vehicles, combustion emissions occur where electricity is generated rather than where the vehicle is used. In China, 85 percent of electricity production is from fossil fuels, about 90 percent of that is from coal. The authors discovered that the power generated in China to operate electric vehicles emit fine particles at a much higher rate than gasoline vehicles. However, because the emissions related to the electric vehicles often come from power plants located away from population centers, people breathe in the emissions a lower rate than they do emissions from conventional vehicles.

Still, the rate isn’t low enough to level the playing field between the vehicles. In terms of air pollution impacts, electric cars are more harmful to public health per kilometer traveled in China than conventional vehicles.

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Was the Northeast Passage first navigated in 1660?

In 1570, Abraham Ortelius, encouraged by Mercator, compiled the first modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. As seen in the image, the entire northern coast of Asia is also given as navigable.

wattsupwiththat.com | Feb 13, 2012

by Anthony Watts

If true, it suggests periods of reduced Arctic sea ice during that time that made this feat possible.

Reposted from the blog Ecotretas with permission


A graphical comparison between the North East Passage (blue) and an alternative route through Suez Canal (red)

David Melgueiro, a Portuguese navigator, might have been the first to navigate the Northeast Passage (known now as Northern Sea Route), between 1660 and 1662, more than 200 years before Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld, who did it in 1878. One of the most detailed accounts for this voyage is given by Eduardo Brazão in The Corte-Real family and the New World (French version here), 1965, in which he describes in pages 68 and 69:

Yet it is interesting to mention here the imaginary (so we believe) voyage of our Melgueiro, in which people believed for some time. On this topic we quote Duarte Leite (op. cit., vol. II, p. 261 et seq.):


«At the end of the 17th century the french naval lieutenant La Madeleine was in Portugal, on a mission from his minister, Count Louis de Pontchartrain, to get information on Portuguese navigation and trading in the East. In the course of his mission he heard, from a Havre sailor who lived in Oporto, of an extraordinary voyage from Japan to Portugal effected by a Portuguese with whom the French sailor was personally acquainted. In January 1700 he communicated the information he had got from him to his minister, who had it archived. It was reproduced in a memoir in 1754 by the French Philippe Buache, the distinguished royal geographer of Louis XV.

The French sailor told that on 14 March 1660 the Dutch sailing ship «Padre Eterno» under the Portuguese David Melgueiro was ready to set sail from the Japanese port of Cangoshima. It was loaded with rich oriental goods and carried passengers, Dutch and Spanish and perhaps also Portuguese, since they had already entered the Nipponic empire in the previous century. At that time Europe was in the throes of war, Holland against France, Spain against Portugal, Spain against England, Portugal’s ally, who was fighting for her independence. The Atlantic and the eastern seas were infested by armed warships, to which pirates should be added. If the tried to return by the sole route till then used, via the Cape of Good Hope it was almost certain to be taken, so that Melgueiro decided to risk taking the other route open to him, by the arctic seas surrounding the old continent. He thus sailed up the current which washes the eastern coasts of Japan and goes up as far as the Anian-Bering strait, sailed round the coast of North Siberia, presumably far off shore, since he did not know the area. He reached the latitude of 84º N, passed between Greenland and the Spitzberg archipelago and sailed down Norway, where he sailed to windward of Ireland and thus reached a Dutch port, where he disembarked his passengers and goods. His mission thus brought to a happy end, he set off in his ship for Oporto, ending his long and adventurous voyage at a date not known. In that city he died, shortly after 1673, and the Havre sailor had attended his funeral.

To his 1754 memoir Buache added the copy of a Portuguese map of 1649, by one Teixeira, which he examined in the French naval archives, on which he drew what he considered to have been Melgueiro’s itinerary. It goes from Japan via the Anian-Bering strait as far as the extremity of Siberia, then so far offshore that it goes beyond the pole and comes down between the islands of Greenland and Spitzberg, then down to the European coasts passing off Ireland».

This plan is nowadays considered to be impossible but in 1897 the scholar and diplomat Jaime Batalha Reis gave it a new form (in «O Comercio do Porto*, 3 February 1897, later re-edited in the collection of articles by the author, published posthumously, Lisbon, 1941) by moving it over to Siberia.

Recently, however, Teixeira da Mota has been able to identify the cartographer mentioned («Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica» vol. IV), and the possibility, hitherto considered implausible, of La Madeleine’s having seen a 1649 Portuguese map by one Teixeira in France is now admitted. But it remains to be found out whether at the date given a Dutch sailing vessel of the name «Padre Eterno» sailed from Congoshima and even more if there was any Portuguese of the name David Melgueiro, which hardly seems to be a Portuguese name. Perhaps it should be «Melguer».

This problem will remain for future study in the vast archives of historical fantasies.

This text refers to the writings of Philippe Buache, a French geographer. The original writings of Philippe Buache are in “Considérations Géographique et physiques sur les nouvelles découvertes au Nord de la grande mer“, 1753, and are available here. The interesting references to Melgueiro are available between pages 137 and 139.

Several expeditions seeked the Northeast Passage, many of them with few historical references. To find more about the real possibilities of Melgueiro’s voyage, we must understand who preceded him. Starting in the north of Russia, the Pomors entered the White Sea during the 12th century, through the Northern Dvina and Onega estuaries. From their base at Kola, they explored the entire Barents Sea, including Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya. Later, the Pomors discovered and kept the Northeast Passage between Arkhangelsk and Siberia. With their ships, called koch, specialized for navigation in the difficult conditions of the Arctic, the Pomors reached far-away places in Siberia, as Mangazeya, east of the Yamal penínusula. In this excellent document by Nataly Marchenko, we find a very interesting map of the Pomor navigations:

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