There are no hard statistics on the number of heroin addicts in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, what is known is that since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 that number has grown to dizzying heights. Heroin comes from opium, a substance which for years Afghanistan has been the world’s principal provider. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s heroin consumption originates from this country’s growing fields.
During the reign of the mullahs, opium use by Afghanis was prohibited, even while its exportation reached new heights. Nowadays opium is transformed into heroin inside of Afghanistan and sold as such to the outside world via the west through Iran or the north through Russia. More significantly, the youth of Afghanistan have begun to consume heroin. And in addition, many of the Afghan refugees who fled the war return from Iran or Pakistan as addicts.
For over 30 years, Afghan society lives in a country scarred by permanent conflict. After the fall of the Taliban, everything seemed to indicate that the country’s reconstruction would begin. Unfortunately, reconstruction never takes hold and an entire generation of young Afghans loses hope for a future increasingly uncertain. They are the tender underside of the geopolitical conflict: a lost generation of youth beginning their journey to the darkness that is heroin.
While NATO forces expand their campaign against the southern opium plantations that economically maintain the Taliban, no resources are dedicated to prevent heroin consumption inside the country. In Kabul alone, only one center exists and that with barely 10 beds to treat addicts that could be counted in the thousands. After two weeks of tortuous treatment, a high percentage relapses. Heroin-refining laboratories are now found all over the country, but especially in Kabul. The local market price is 100 Afghanis--about $2: a high price considering the average income is $100 per month.
In Kabul, the majority of addicts take refuge in the Russian cultural center, now decrepit in the eastern side of the capital. Besides taking their heroin fix here, they live among these broken-down buildings in conditions of extreme filth and misery while the government and authorities remain passive. The only visitors are the few doctors that arrive every Saturday to hand out hypodermic needles and test the addicts for HIV. Not wishing to be quoted, they do recognize that Aids cases are rising--they try to convince the addicts not to share needles. But there is a total lack of knowledge among the users and we are reminded of the serious problems the Western world had with heroin use in the 60's and 70's.
In short, the problem of heroin in Afghanistan is only beginning. New generations of Afghans seriously risk finding themselves lost without any type of future before them.
The photographs were taken during the months of July-October 2008 in the Old Russian cultural center of Kabul.