Afghanistan has bore the brunt of the COVID pandemic amidst the outbreak in Iran spreading to the destabilized nation. Without an adequate healthcare system and continued violence, the coronavirus has ensured the state economy would take a drastic hit. After a 2.9% increase in GDP in 2019 and promising weather conditions expected for this year for the agriculture sector, the 2020 projection is that the Afghan economy will contract by roughly 4% with a decline in per capita income and increase in the basic needs poverty rate. One sector of the agricultural industry is being hurt worse than others: the opium trade.
The harvest season for the poppy fields started in March and ran through June, right during the heart of the first wave of the pandemic. Thus, its impact resulted in the opium market decreasing by 38% compared to 2018. This comes as no surprise as yet another case study of the larger global decline of narcotics production because of the virus. In Afghanistan’s particular case, this was a result of a variety of components in the system being affected. First, the decline and blockading of global trade has put a halt to the supply of acetic anhydride, a key ingredient critical to making heroin, not made in Afghanistan.
The majority of the labor force for harvesting the poppy fields has been halted from entry into the country due to border shutdowns, particularly the Pakistan border. That figure is around 100,00 such field workers who are out of work at this moment in time. The closing down of borders and increased security also put a halt to imports and exports. This enforcement has resulted in an increase in seizures and a freeze in cargo movement. As of April 2020, over 1,900 shipping containers en route to Afghanistan were reportedly stuck at the port of Karachi.
It was not unexpected that the Afghan economy would feel the burden of these effects in the industry. In 2018, the estimated value of the Afghan opiate economy was between $1.2 and $2.2 billion, which put it at between 6% and 11% of the national GDP. This dangerous trend is troubling in that the pandemic exposed the reliance of opiates, particularly in rural areas, to the economy. However, a majority of the proceeds don’t actually go to the workers, but rather smugglers, transnational crime organizations, and insurgent groups who all profit off the instability of the nation. This issue may continue to worsen as the Afghan people seek opportunity in the illicit markets in lieu of the economic downturn, strengthening this industry while hurting the licit.
Praescient Analytics can help to mitigate this problem in Afghanistan by utilizing data analytics to identify trends mirrored in both the opiate and overall economy. Praescient can help organizations gain information on Afghanistan’s economic reliance on opium with our capability to showcase intelligence products. This is done through OSINT synthesization and ArcGIS models that highlight where the issue is most prevalent and ultimately lead to policy action.