By Secunder Kermani
Underneath a busy bridge in Kabul, among piles of discarded rubbish and a stream of filthy water, lives a drug-ravaged community of homeless men.
“It’s no place for a human being,” said Khudadad, who is 48. “It’s not even fit for a dog.”
Khudadad has been addicted to both heroin and methamphetamine – known as crystal meth – for the past five years. Heroin has long been a problem in Kabul but now many are turning to meth, a cheaper but equally dangerous drug.
“When I first started, meth wasn’t very common,” Khudadad said. “But over the past few years more and more people have begun taking it.”
A new report released on Tuesday warns that Afghanistan is becoming a significant global producer of methamphetamine. The country’s opium poppy fields are already the source of the majority of the world’s heroin, and now this report, by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), warns that crystal meth could eventually become just as big an industry.
The boom is the result of a discovery by drug traffickers that a plant commonly found growing wild in parts of Afghanistan, ephedra, can be used to create the key component of meth: ephedrine.
“The realisation that you could produce methamphetamine from a wild crop in the mountains has been a fundamental gamechanger,” said Dr David Mansfield, an expert on Afghanistan’s drug industry and lead author of the report.
Dr Mansfield said drug traffickers previously used to extract ephedrine from more expensive imported medicines, but were now able to use this far cheaper alternative and some “simple chemistry”.
The ephedra plant has been used to create crystal meth in other parts of the globe too, but not on the scale that has been discovered in Afghanistan. Using satellite images, as well as interviews with Afghan drug producers, Dr Mansfield and a team of researchers have mapped out more than 300 suspected ephedrine labs in just one district in western Afghanistan, Bakwa. The area has become the hub of the meth trade in the country, but Dr Mansfield has also begun identifying labs elsewhere.