We are in the middle of the 1st quarter of 21st century. It is a technologically advanced era, in which people across the world, and within a country are trying to excel in their lives, exploring new opportunities and trying to build on them to pursue happiness and satisfaction for themselves and their families. It is depressing, therefore, to see that even in this era entire families of some villages in our country are not only addicted to opium, a noxious substance, but also ignored completely, and thus deprived of basic facilities, like health, education, and electricity.
In this pieces, I am sharing the findings of a research conducted by Nazia Ali, a student of Karakurum International University Gilgit. Her study, “Impact of opium abuse on the living standards of the families of villages Bazaar Kuto, Matrum Dan, Ganjabad, Noorabad, Mujawir and Bouq”, was conducted in the upper areas of Ishkoman Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan. These villages are situated near the Pak-Afghan border, an hour’s drive away from Immit, the headquarters of Ishkoman Tehsil, District Ghizer. Although people in many other villages of that region are addicted of opium, but the focus of the study is on villages where the addiction ratio is believed to be quite high.
I applaud the teachers of KIU who have stepped in taking initiatives to identify real issues of our region through researches based in real sittings. Such endeavors will help not only to identify the critical situations in the hardly accessible marginalized families of Gilgit-Baltistan, but also, hopefully, trigger the government authorities and social activists to take remedial measures to mitigate these issues before reaching to the point of no return.
The findings reveal that almost all members of the families including women, children and infants are addicted to opium use. Insult to the injury; the infants are infused opium through blow of breath by the elders. When asked, the respondents replied that opium is deliberately infused in the infants and the children as there is no remedy available saving them from cold weather, particularly during winters when the temperature goes down to minus ten degree centigrade resulting in suffering from severe fever and other subject to weather diseases. In many cases, the parents don’t know the disastrous impact of the drug’s usage, and related diseases. Obviously it may not happen if they have basic facility like either a health center or even a health worker. An impact study is imperative to execute whether lacking of basic facilities do have a direct or indirect link with opium use. Unfortunately, I don’t have authority on health education to write on its adverse effects on health.
The study finds that at an average, 250 to 2500 rupees are spent by an addicted family on Opium, even if they don’t have adequate earning resources.
The only source of income of these families is the irrigation of the land. Many of them have sold their lands on cheap rates to buy more Opium. The media has been exposing such cases how extreme desire for drugs compels the users to sell even their loving belongings.
Most of the drug users are also seen indulging in stealing, robbing, snatching and many other socially evil practices in the society. It seems that it is difficult for them to give up using such abusive substances resulting in taking away their health, happiness, and wealth of their own and their families.
When asked they said that till a decade back they had been growing opium in their own fields and that they did not have the need to spend money on it. However, since the ban imposed on cultivating opium, the need for the drug has increased, and the supply has also continued through smugglers, many a time in connivance with officials of the law enforcement institutions.
The respondents have told the researchers that the supply mostly comes from Diamer and Kohistan, through drug traffickers.
Many a time, the addicts, or their children, travel for several miles to get the dose, ‘in time.’
The study paints a bleak future for the families that have fallen into the trap of addiction. There is a need for concrete rehabilitation measures, and awareness-raising, as well as provision of medical facilities, to fight the menace that has been devastating families for a long time.
The government’s decision to ban the cropping of opium is appreciable, but there needs to be more emphasis on stopping the supply. Sheer proscription has failed to do any substantial good, but the supplies keep coming. Better policing of the entry and exit routes of the districts, in general, and Ishkoman Tehsil, in particular, is needed to stop the flow of the death and destruction.
The deliberate silence and the lethargic attitude of concerned institutions, public health and education sector towards fixing such critical issues is nothing more than criminal negligence. Those at the helm of affairs need to be taken to task. The civil society institutions and the social, political, activists, also have a lot of answer for.
The situation is dire, but we will still invest our hopes in the local government for curing and rehabilitating the addicts, and improving the governance mechanism to stop the drug traffickers who make profits at the cost of human lives.
Moreover, aware sessions are to be conducted for the families to inform them about the dire consequences of Opium addiction, while also training them to give up the substance abuse.
It is pertinent to note that the Government of Pakistan has committed to meet Millium Development Goals (MDGs), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by virtue of which primary education is to be freely accessible to every child of the country. If villages do not have schools, then how will these goals ever be met?