The 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, released in Kabul by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC, says the area under cultivation rose to 209,000 hectares (ha) from last year’s total of 154,000 ha – higher than the peak of 193,000 ha reached in 2007. Almost 90 per cent of opium poppy cultivation this year remained confined to nine of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, including those most affected by the insurgency. Helmand, the principal poppy-producer since 2004 and responsible for nearly half of all cultivation, expanded the area under cultivation by 34 per cent, followed by Kandahar, which saw a 16 per cent rise. In addition, two provinces – Balkh and Faryab – lost their ‘poppy-free’ status, leaving 15 provinces poppy-free this year compared with 17 last year.Calling the findings “sobering,” UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov stressed that this situation poses a threat to health, stability and development in Afghanistan and beyond. “What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda.”Farmers may have driven up cultivation by trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future resulting from the withdrawal of international troops next year, according to UNODC.“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, the results of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 should be taken for what they are – a warning, and an urgent call to action,” said Mr. Fedotov. The farm-gate value of opium production increased by almost a third to around $950 million, or 4 per cent of national gross domestic product (GDP), in 2013, UNODC noted.The agency added that, together with profits made by drug traffickers, the total value of the opium economy within Afghanistan was significantly higher, implying that the illicit economy will continue to grow whereas a slowdown of the legal economy is predicted in 2014.“If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption, and impunity,” said Mr. Fedotov.