Opium, Poverty, War and Covid

The poppy is a beautiful flower. No doubt early humans were drawn to its bright colour and, once picked, they used their curious minds to develop uses.

Early evidence of its consumption was found in a Neolithic burial site near Barcelona, where it appears it was used for its narcotic and analgesic effects. The ancient Greeks, who held the opium poppy sacred, claimed it was Demeter who discovered it, with figurines of Poppy goddesses found in Gazi, Crete.

The poppy seeds are used today for sprinkling on food; morphine for serious pain relief and as the addictive street drug, heroin.

Opium was one of many herbal remedies discovered and catalogued by Pedanius Dioscorides.

“He was born around 30 A.D. in the town of Anazarbius in Asia Minor, in present day Turkey.  He started work on De Materia Medica around 50 A.D. and published it in 70 A.D.  Although he wrote his herbal in Greek, it was quickly translated into Latin, and subsequently into Arabic and other languages.  Dioscorides died aroung 90 A.D.

Dioscorides’ great herbal is one of the most popular medical reference works in the history of mankind.  Unlike other medical works by classical authors, De Materia Medica wasn’t rediscovered in the Renaissance because it had never really left circulation.

In sheer scale and thoroughness, De Materia Medica vastly surpassed all previous herbals.  It discusses the medicinal properties of over one thousand natural medicinal substances; most of these are botanical in origin, but drugs of animal and mineral origin were also included.  To put things in perspective, the entire Hippocratic Corpus only mentions about 130 different medicinal substances.  Dioscorides listed over 4,740 different uses for the materia medica in his herbal, and lists over 360 varieties of medicinal actions.”

Today we are familiar with holistic medicine and those who still research and qualify in its study and application know this ancient work of Dioscorides. But Big Pharma recognises the value of this work too and many international modern medicine production facilities still refer to this ancient knowledge within modern settings Derived from opium is the synthetic opiates, opioids.

As various medicines are helping to manage the symptoms of Covid, a vaccine is also being developed at a rapid rate. The richer nations are purchasing millions of batches for their citizens. The aim is to reach all global citizens but the logistics and safe transport requirements will be complex.

Some parts of the world do not have a local hospital, even small communities in the United States, and without even medicines to help them they are fighting against the tide of the virus. In Afghanistan, those areas whose farmers grow poppies are making the opium and using it as the only medication available.

The top countries which grow poppies to fulfill the demand for their use are found at Top Opium Poppy Producing Countries – WorldAtlas

The famous Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent

GOLDEN TRIANGLE –  It is an area of around 950,000 square kilometres (367,000 sq mi) that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The Golden Triangle designates the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River, since the term has been appropriated by the Thai tourist industry to describe the nearby border tripoint of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar

GOLDEN CRESCENT is the name given to one of Asia’s two principal areas of illicit opium production (with the other being the Golden Triangle), located at the crossroads of Central, South, and Western Asia. This space overlaps three nations, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, whose mountainous peripheries define the crescent.

From <https://getorgot.blogspot.com/2016/04/golden-triangle-golden-crescent.html>

And here a piece of what life is like for most Afghans caught between warring factions, their opium they grow is all they can turn to to ease the pain and symptoms of Covid.

“The first item on everyone’s minds is food. Some fear that, as flour prices rise, the small, local bakeries will close. ‘It is better to die of the coronavirus rather than die of poverty,’ says Mohammada Jan, a shoemaker in Kabul. Jan Ali, a labourer, laments, ‘Hunger will kill us before we are killed by the coronavirus. We are stuck between two deaths.’

Even without the disruption caused by the pandemic, nearly 11 million face acute food insecurity, according to UN projections. For the thousands of street children and casual labourers in Afghanistan, no work means no bread. For the poor in urban areas, the main priority will be to feed their families, which means being out in the street, looking for work, money and supplies. People are likely to be more worried about starving to death than about dying from the coronavirus. ‘They are too busy trying to survive poverty and upheaval to worry about a new virus’

With prices of wheat flour, fresh fruit and nutritious food items rising fast and no government control of food prices, there is a real danger of famine. Border closures, intended to restrict the spread of the virus, mean international supply lines of oil and pulses, mostly from Pakistan, will be severely restricted. Even though many farmers are optimistic for this year’s harvest, after plentiful snows and rains this winter, the virus could hit them just as the harvest starts in May.

At the time of writing, there have been 1,019 confirmed corona virus cases and 36 reported deaths, although with limited testing and many not seeking health care when sick, the actual figure must be much higher. The provinces most affected are Herat, Kabul and Kandahar.

The heart of the outbreak is in Herat, the busy border town from which, normally, thousands of Afghans, mostly young men, cross into Iran in search of work. Following fatalities and lockdown in Iran, last week alone 140,000 Afghans recrossed the border into Herat. Some are escaping the coronavirus itself, others have lost their jobs because of the lockdown so they have nowhere to go.

In Herat, a three-hundred-bed hospital has just been built to cope with the new cases. Afghanistan has set up new testing centres, laboratories and hospital wards, even roadside hand washing stations. The World Bank has approved a donation of $100.4 million, to provide new hospitals, safety equipment, better testing and ongoing education about the virus. The first medical packs from China, of ventilators, protective suits and testing kits, arrived in Afghanistan last week.

Many Western NGOs, however, have had to stop work as their staff has been ordered home by their own countries and there is a shortage of doctors trained in the intubation procedures needed to help COVID-19 patients.

Afghanistan’s 1 million displaced people [IDPs] will be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For those in camps, overcrowding means it is almost impossible to maintain social distancing. Poor sanitation, and scant resources, sometimes no running water or soap means basic hygiene is difficult. For migrant workers, a lock down means both their jobs and accommodation suddenly disappear; they have no choice but to return to their village, causing huge numbers of people to be on the move.

Commentators International Alert and Crisis Group analyse the fall out from COVID-19 pandemic. First of all western leaders, don’t have time to devote to conflict and peace processes, while focused on domestic issues. The UK prime minister has only recently recovered from the virus as I write.

It is thought the COVID-19 pandemic will ‘wreak havoc’ in fragile states, where civil society is not strong. While on one hand there is a sense that ‘we’re in this together’, as we know from our own situation in the UK the virus has also given rise to more surveillance and unusually heavy-handed policing. In a country where ethnic tensions turn into armed conflict, there is a danger that ‘othering’, in which particular groups, such as migrants for example, are blamed for spreading the virus, becomes violent and deadly.

Despite prisoner swaps between the Taliban and the Afghan government completed as a foundation for peace talks, and despite the Taliban joining in the campaign to educate citizens about the virus, attacks such as this one by ISIS, continue. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports 5 covert US air or drone strikes against the Taliban in March, resulting in between 30 and 65 deaths. A month ago, the UN Secretary-General called for ‘an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world’. Ongoing ceasefire and peace negotiations are vital for Afghanistan during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Voices for Creative Nonviolence-UK (http://vcnv.org.uk) is VCNV’s sister organization in the UK. When visiting Afghanistan its members are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (www.ourjourneytosmile.com)

Rich countries also struggle with economies running into deeper debt trying to cover the costs incurred by the consequences of fighting the virus. No nation is escaping the enormous challenges. But humans are the most successful life form since the dinosaurs, yet we have been around for a tiny fraction of the time they endured.

We all may wonder if our ingenuity and stamina will overcome this threat amidst all the other crises such as climate change. Whilst each day unfolds, those of us who witness the human caring and hard work to save lives and not needlessly destroy them, gives us a glimmer of hope for this to be a turning point for the better for humanity.


About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see https://www.abebooks.co.uk/products/isbn/9780749427917
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