With talks due to start today (Wednesday) in Oslo between the Colombian government and leaders of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) insurgency it is worth reflecting on the wider damage caused to the environment by the ‘drug war’ element that destabilises so much of society in both South and Central America.
The massive environmental cost of supplying drugs, from growing through to distribution and the socio-economic impact, comes with the additional costs of counter-measures and enforcement.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton unveiled an unprecedented $16 billion anti-drug initiative that included applying herbicides to crops in drug-producing nations. The U.S. initiative followed protocols outlined in the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.In producer countries, crops of coca, opium poppy, and marijuana have replaced native vegetation in an area covering over 1 million hectares (ha), often in protected areas such as species-rich rain-forests and erosion-prone cloud forests.
Additional environmental damage ensues from the cultivation and processing of these crops, which involve large volumes of pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic processing chemicals, generally dumped into rivers by farmers or washed into them by heavy rainfall.
Illicit crop plots replace native vegetation on government-owned lands; often these areas have been set aside to protect valuable natural resources, but such protection is unreliable because the parklands are frequently very remote, transportation is difficult, and land tenure laws are inadequate.
In the late 1970’s, Mexico used equipment and training supplied by the United States in an aerial eradication programme using Paraquat provided by the Mexican
government: Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide that affects the lungs, liver, kidneys, and cornea. It has caused many human deaths, some of which were reported in the
March-April 1993 issue of Archives of Environmental Health in an article describing 16 deaths between 1988 and 1990 from poisoning in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
However the exposure earlier this year of money ‘laundering’ by HSBC bank of the profits generated by the Mexican drug cartels shows how institutionalised the ‘drug war’ has become, whether these institutions are legal or illegal entities.
Appearing at the same time as the HSBC expose another report appeared highlighting how Mafia groups in Italy have made billions from ‘eco-crime’: dumping of toxic waste, illegal logging and trafficking of endangered species are just some of the many crimes according to a report called ‘Eco-Mafia 2012’ by Legambiente. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre