W Africa transit for $1bn coke

2009-07-07 22:18

New York - West Africa remains a major transit point for cocaine smugglers who annually channel 20 tons of the drug valued at $1bn from Latin America to final destinations including Europe, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Tuesday.

The volume of cocaine passing through the region has declined by about half over two and a half years, but there is no guarantee that the downward trend will continue, said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC's executive director, during a session with the UN Security Council.

About 40 tons of cocaine transited the region to Europe in 2006, UNODC said. The reasons for the huge drop were not clear, but more details may be available on Wednesday when the full report is released.

"We must therefore keep the spotlight on the situation and continue to provide assistance," Costa said. "Perhaps drug flows have only been temporarily disrupted as criminal groups lie low to minimise risk."

The region has also become a haven for other illicit trade in cigarettes, counterfeit medicines, arms, women, toxic waste, electronic waste, oil and other natural resources including hardwoods and diamonds.

Illicit trade hub

Costa said recent turmoil in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea (Conakry) and the infighting among groups over lucrative smuggling activities underline how attractive West Africa is as an illicit trade hub. Even if the drug trade has declined, violence continues to destabilise the region's security, the report said.

He said UNODC is teaming up with other UN organisations and Interpol to assist the region in strengthening its criminal justice and crime-fighting capacity.

The value of the trade exceeds in some cases the gross domestic products of the host state. UNODC said that revenue from 45 million counterfeit anti-malarial tablets worth $438m is greater than Guinea-Bissau's GDP, for example.

Cigarettes smuggled through the region are worth $775m, more than Gambia's entire legal economy.

Bunkering - or stealing - oil and trafficking in cocaine each accounts for billions of dollars of trade each year as it transits through West Africa to other countries. The revenues are equivalent to the GDPs of Cape Verde or Sierra Leone.

Nigeria loses 55 million barrels of oil a year, or one-tenth of its production, to theft and smuggling, known as oil bunkering. The phenomenon is a source of pollution, corruption and revenue for insurgents and criminal groups in the Niger Delta.

According to the report, as much as 80% of the cigarettes sold in some West and North African countries are illicit.

At least half or more of all medications used in West Africa may be sub-standard or counterfeit, a source of increasing health risks in a region that has high demand for anti-infective and anti-malarial drugs. Counterfeits can contribute to the development of drug resistant strains in some illnesses.

West Africa is a dumping ground for electronic waste, including old computers and mobile phones which contain heavy metals and other toxins.

UNODC said the European Union produces alone 8.7 million tons of e-waste a year.