Drugs and Environmental Damage
By Dialogo January 01, 2011
Cocaine hydrochloride is a fine, crystalline powder similar in appearance to confectioner’s sugar. According to estimates by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, 1 hectare produces enough coca to generate more than 4 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride. This means that to produce 1 gram of cocaine hydrochloride, drug traffickers destroy approximately 6.5 square meters of forested area.
According to the UNODC, the raw chemical materials used in processing cocaine hydrochloride destroy the ground cover of native plants, the ecological niches, the food chains, and the flora and fauna, drastically altering rainfall and weather patterns.
The damage caused by illegal cultivation is “very dangerous because 1 hectare of illegal cultivation can destroy 3 hectares of forest in protected areas of Honduras,” said Gen. Walter López Reyes of Honduran Community Development.
Nevertheless, the environmental impact of illicit cultivation cannot be measured solely in terms of the number of hectares or square kilometers affected, according to the Colombian Environment Ministry. The processing of drugs such as cocaine and heroin has a significant impact on the environment; that is, both coca and poppy are grown on a large scale in a process that involves deforestation, cultivation and the use of pesticides against weeds, insects and disease-causing organisms.
“Although the total surface area used for these activities is relatively small, a high proportion of illicit cultivation and drug production occurs in remote areas near to, or in critical parts of, the biodiversity areas, something that certainly may happen in the region of La Mosquitia,” the general affirmed.
According to a report by the Landscape Ecology and Environment Group of the University of Buenos Aires, or GEPAMA, refining coca into cocaine causes severe environmental damage because of the irresponsible disposal of the toxic chemicals used in the process. When illicit drug manufacturers dispose of the toxic residue, they often dump it indiscriminately into the nearest stream or river, where the damage increases significantly.
“So, as in Colombia, it’s not going to be easy or quick to repair the damage caused by the production of illicit drugs in the woods and forests of Honduras if we don’t start to do something immediately,” Gen. López Reyes said.
After Hurricane Mitch led to landslides and floods that buried towns and destroyed more than 100 bridges in Honduras, the practices that had exacerbated the floods such as indiscriminate logging, cultivating only one type of crop and rapid urban expansion continued.
The importance of protecting the forests lies in the fact that forests absorb, accumulate and release water, as well as protect the watershed from erosion caused by the winds and torrential rains of hurricanes. “Poorly-managed forests and drought conditions in Honduras have contributed to creating an environment in which the ecosystems are prone to forest fires,” said Rodolfo Stechmann Andino, a co-founder of Honduran Community Development.