INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY Christian Aid has published a new report, which says the international community must acknowledge that vulnerable communities in areas of violence have “little choice but to engage in the illicit [drug] economy” and calls on the EU to adopt a peace and development approach to tackling drugs.  

The report, published by Christian Aid as part of a Global Challenges Research Fund consortium alongside SOAS University of London, examined marginalised groups in Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar where illicit drug economies are prominent.

At the time of publishing, Myanmar and Afghanistan once again face authoritarian rule while in Colombia protests have been met with excessive use of force. In all three, the pandemic has compounded these developments, devastating local economies and livelihoods.

The report warns that failing to consider the tackling of illicit drug crop economies, as part of development rather than simply a law enforcement issue, leads to missed opportunities for both development and peacebuilding.

This is especially the case for marginalised communities where extreme poverty, violence, fragility and displacement are rife. Despite the violence and coercion, the report finds livelihoods, particularly for women, can depend on these illegal economies.

The EU is therefore being urged to end traditional counternarcotics measures and instead use indicators such as access to public services, poverty reduction, respect for human rights, human security, confidence in the state and access to meaningful employment.

The development charity also warns political agreements do not bring an end to violence, while market-based development does not guarantee good outcomes. Peace processes, Christian Aid says, should incorporate longer timeframes and prioritise gender dynamics.

Paul Quinn, Head of From Violence to Peace with Christian Aid, said: “In places like Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar, the research shows that drug economies are often the only way out for vulnerable people in desperate circumstances to make a living and stay safe.

“There is no easy solution, but it is evident that the war on drugs isn’t working. The old approach of prioritising hectares eradicated or the capture or killing of traffickers is not reducing violence and providing a lasting peace for innocent people.

“Christian Aid believes we need a new, alternative approach to drug policy that is linked to development, peacebuilding, the eradication of poverty and the rights of people most affected.

“Like other multilateral institutions, the EU does not have a unified approach to considering drugs and peace and instead the issue is still viewed through a security lens. To really help the most vulnerable around the world, the EU must show leadership and change.”

* Read Violence, peace and drugs in the borderlands here.

* Source: Christian Aid