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'War on drugs' harms the poor says Christian Aid

According to a report published by Christian Aid, ill-conceived law enforcement practices and the criminalisation of illegal businesses are destroying livelihoods and negatively impacting the lives of the world's poorest people.

Karol Balfe, who leads Christian Aid's peace-building work, told Premier the current methods to prevent the production and distribution of narcotics are simply not working and "the cure has been worse than the disease."

She added: "We see crop eradication, which has caused displacement and deforestation for people from where they work and live, and actually does little to reduce the cultivation of coca or opium.

"Aerial fumigation - the spreading of carcinogenic chemicals on illicit crops, damages people's health and their environment. And the use of military and law enforcement operations has led to egregious human rights violations. The most extreme of those in countries like Philippines where we've seen 27,000 people extra judicially killed since the state launched its war on drugs."

Christian Aid argues that for some marginalised groups in countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Myanmar, illegal drug trades are a means of survival and although criminalised industries expose poor communities to violence and exploitation, they also provide income, employment, and protection.

The report, developed as part of a Global Challenges Research Fund consortium, highlights the complexity of the issue and urges new approaches to be taken on the 'war on drugs', that take into account the range of implications for vulnerable communities.

Karol Balfe insists that an approach that addresses the basic needs of the poor, such as alternative employment opportunities and access to public services, will help to deter individuals from illegal activity and build more sustainable peace within these vulnerable communities.

"We're looking at drugs only through the prism of law enforcement and crime. We need to recognise that drugs are essentially and inherently linked with poverty.

"It is only when we start to look at this issue as a developmental issue, and provide people with viable economic alternatives, provide them with access to health care and secure land tenure that we will truly see a shift away from reliance on illicit crop economies.

Christian Aid are calling on the Christian community to use their voice to speak out against the injustices of the poor and advocate for change.

Karol said: "Churches could join organisations like Christian aid, advocating that we deal with poverty, that we really understand the dynamics of power and that we hold governments to account to deliver the economic benefits that are due to those much marginalised communities."

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